Rather than abandon online comments altogether, as one ABC affiliate did earlier this year, exhausted editors are putting their faith in the final frontier: Technology. Technology, they hope, will save them from trolls, those ubiquitous commenters who derail conversations in hateful directions. Trolls are a growing problem: In fact no less than three well-regarded editors and writers invoked the term to describe the current state of Internet discourse this month. "Comment Sections Are Wastelands Ruled by Trolls," declared Wired's Mat Honan today. "Trolls are just getting more and more aggressive and uglier," explained the Huffington Post's Arianna Huffington on Wednesday as she announced a new policy banning anonymous commenters altogether. (Some find this move misguided.) And in a post for the site earlier this month, The Atlantic's own Bob Cohn described comment sections as "cesspools of vitriol, magnets for haters and trolls and spammers."
Up until recently, media organizations relied on teams of moderators to weed out the most hateful of trolls — like the kind who make rape threats. That, however, takes more resources — read: eyeballs — than many companies can afford. (As of October 2012, The Huffington Post employed 30 full-time moderators.) Editors and media technologists are hoping that new platforms and algorithms will further discourage or disregard trollery. These higher-level commenting systems loosely fall into the following three categories: