Controlling the Comments in the Digital Universe

The information age is really the age of disinformation.

We all know that, of course. Not only is public discourse marred -- or perhaps defined, which is even more unfortunate -- by various propaganda campaigns waged by one party against the other.

Not only is coverage of news events weighed toward the catastrophic (tune into the of nightly local news features for a feat of disasters, fires and murders, or spend a few minutes with the Weather Channel for a sample of daily apocalypse). Not only is the public trust betrayed by those in public office and those who report on it, but disinformation has leached into our personal lives.

Consider this: If you've ever left an anonymous comment on a website, and been a bit, shall we say, more aggressively than you would have been under your own name then you are, in some way, part of the disinformation age.

If you've ever read a review of a hotel or restaurant that proved to be entirely false, then you're a victim of the disinformation age. If you've ever left a negative comment because of some slight, or trashed a book without reading it because you'd heard something about the author or the topic that didn't appeal to you, then you're just like so many people who use modern technology to disseminate age-old vitriol.

Now, TripAdvisor and American Express are trying to tone down the disinformation with a new program. The reviews, on a new section of TripAdvisor, by holders of American Express cards will be identified as "Amex cardmember review." Similarly, The Huffington Post has stopped accepting anonymous comments.

It's a start. So-called trolls who use comments sections to espouse negative views or to threaten or foment discord will always find ways to keep fanning the flames of disinformation.

Will traffic drop to the sites that require a person behind the comment? Who knows? And if traffic is strong as a result of anonymous comments, which by their anonymity play to the cowardly worst in human nature -- that tendency to be cruel without being discovered -- then if traffic drops when anonymity is banished then the site is attracting a better class of visitor, even if there are fewer of them.

I'm all for transparency. I would never leave an anonymous comment. For me, the Internet is for building relationships, not for belittling others or for dropping insults behind a false screen name. I realize that in some news reporting, anonymous quotes are essential (though some papers, in my opinion, rely too much on them), but in the conversation that's supposed to occur in an online community, anonymity breeds contempt.