Norwegian news website forces readers to pass test on article before commenting

Posted at 10:32 AM, Mar 02, 2017

How often do you read a headline online and race to the comment section, desperate to vent?

It may be natural to many, but it's exactly the type of behavior that NRKbeta, the technology section on the news website of Norway's public broadcasting network, is trying to stop.

On some stories, potential commenters must answer three simple multiple-choice questions about an article before they can post responses to it.

On a recent NRKbeta article about a new Facebook search tool, for example, readers have to correctly answer these questions before they can post a comment: Who developed Stalkscan? Should you be terrified of Stalkscan? When did Facebook Graph Search launch? Three options are given for each, and the answers can all be found in the story.

The site has few problems with its regular community of readers, NRKbeta editor Marius Arnesen told CNN.

"But when we share our articles on the home page, they attract a lot of readers not familiar with the topics," he said. "They just read the headline, assume certain things and race to the comment field.

"The aim is to make people take 30 seconds before they comment, to take the edge off."

The initiative was launched three weeks ago. Arnesen admits that its success will be difficult to measure: "Are fewer comments a sign of success? Better comments? How do you measure good/bad comments?"

But he said the initial reaction from the site's regular audience has been positive.

Over the last few years, many news platforms, including CNN, have disabled the comment field entirely on some or all of their articles, choosing to encourage discussions on social media channels instead.

Last year, tech site Engadget disabled its comment system for a week because "so many of the replies" to stories dealing with topics such as gender, race or harassment were "hateful, even threatening," according to a statement posted on the website.

The comment system was re-enabled soon afterward with a new series of safeguards, including in-line moderator tools and user profiles.

Other sites are taking advantage of tools such as Civil Comments, which uses crowdsourced moderation, or Disqus, which uses ban lists and word filters to moderate reader comments.

Like many other platforms, NRKbeta is committed to keeping comment fields open if at all possible.

"We believe that you reading NRKbeta are at least as clever, and often smarter, than us who work here," Arnesen wrote in a statement on the website in August. "We believe in the idea that comments help to make the articles better by deepening, enriching and questioning the themes."

But NRKbeta is the only section on the NRK website to have any comment fields still open at all, according to Arnesen. "The comment fields on the rest of the site have been turned off for years," he told CNN.

With this new tool, Arnesen said he hopes to reinvigorate reader engagement across the NRK platform. "This could lead to us turning on comment fields elsewhere on the site," he said.

Whether it can halt the slow death of comment fields on sites across the Web, however, remains to be seen.