Generally speaking, most of the people I hear from because of this site are very nice. The rest are mostly made up of people trying to convince me to participate in dubious-sounding content partnerships with them or people threatening me with legal action by pretending to be lawyers who do well to spell words like legal and action correctly. But every now and then I’ll get something that’s totally befuddling. Somebody will get angry about a post and go off about it, which is fine. I don’t expect everyone to agree with everything I say even though I’m usually right. But what I do expect, perhaps foolishly, is that before someone disagrees and goes off, that they’ve at least taken the time to read what I actually wrote. Those times, especially combined with instances when I make the mistake of looking at other people’s comments sections (I’m looking at you, YouTube), make this seem like a very interesting idea.
Two weeks ago, NRKbeta, the tech vertical of the Norwegian public broadcaster NRK, published an explainer about a proposed new digital surveillance law in the country.
Digital security is a controversial topic, and the conversation around security issues can become heated. But the conversation in the comments of the article was respectful and productive: Commenters shared links to books and other research, asked clarifying questions, and offered constructive feedback.
The team at NRKbeta attributes the civil tenor of its comments to a feature it introduced last month. On some stories, potential commenters are now required to answer three basic multiple-choice questions about the article before they’re allowed to post a comment. (For instance, in the digital surveillance story: “What does DGF stand for?”)
They settled on the quiz function because they thought it would ensure that commenters had at least read the story and had a common set of facts on which to base the discussion. NRKbeta also thought that the quiz functionality might help keep the discussions on topic.
“We’re trying to establish a common ground for the debate,” Arnesen said. “If you’re going to debate something, it’s important to know what’s in the article and what’s not in the article. [Otherwise], people just rant.”
They’ve apparently made this functionality into a WordPress plugin, a fact I will keep in mind in the event that one day you all suddenly forget how to behave yourselves.