I have an idea to change the bottom half of the internet.
Lots of blogs, including mine, use captchas to prevent robot spam, but these are powerless in the face of human stupidity and aggression. Many other blogs moderate comments before publication, but this makes work for the blog owner, and that work is often very tedious.
What we really need is some kind of automated filter for human responses. I’d call it the Comprehender. It would test each commenter’s reading comprehension before allowing them to post on your blog.
For example, imagine that you’ve just written a carefully-argued blog post explaining why, with reservations, you support the death penalty. In the normal course of events, you would receive a stack of comments telling you that you’re wrong to oppose the death penalty. Then you feel frustrated that so many people have completely missed your point, and you risk getting embroiled in a boring argument that nobody really wins.
The Comprehender would change all that. It would require the commenter to answer the question “Is the writer of this post broadly for or against the death penalty?” before allowing them to comment.
Another example, this time from my own experience: you’ve written a post responding to a specific Times article about the Green Party’s science policy. You’ve carefully rebutted that article by going back to the original sources and argued that it’s informed more by prejudice than by the facts. Then you get comments saying “You’re stupid. Of course the Green Party is anti-science!” And nothing else.
The Comprehender wouldn’t allow those through. Asking “Does the writer of this post seem supportive of Green Party science policy?” wouldn’t be enough, because the knee-jerkery in this case is at least roughly in the right direction. So it would also ask: “This writer is rebutting a newspaper article. In which newspaper was the article published?” and “She links to a blog post that gives quotes from political parties about stem cell research. Please paste the URL of that link into the box below.” That’s a lot of work for a guy who just wants to drive by, yell at me anonymously and zoom off.
The Comprehender would be the internet equivalent of requiring cat-callers to answer a survey every time they shout at a woman in the street. “Before commencing your comment about this woman’s legs, please select one of the following options. Are her tights a) plum, b) mauve or c) dark lavender?”
For me, the beauty of this idea is that some of the work of engaging is taken away from the blogger and pushed onto the commenter. People who’ve already read a post and want to comment in good faith will find the questions easy, but drive-by derailers will find them a pain in the backside. So the blogger who’s already done the work of writing a carefully argued post won’t have to spend unnecessary time and energy saying “No, I was arguing for an easier driving test!” or “What makes you think I’m American?” or “Sorry, I can’t see how your comment relates to what I’ve written.”
The Comprehender would make the internet a nicer place. So could somebody build it, please?