Are news outlets in the Springs getting troll rolled? 

Your weekly roundup of Colorado local news & media
Corey Hutchins
September 01, 2017

This week, writing for the alt-weekly in Colorado’s second-largest city, Nat Stein reported how anti-fascists in the Springs believe they’re being framed by rivals. If that account is correct, then it’s a good reason for other local reporters in the city to be concerned about overly credulous reporting. In her story, Stein laid out a case that “a mounting propaganda campaign to villainize left-wing social movements has touched down in Colorado Springs.” The reporter quotes a “spokesperson” for a local anti-fascist group who “requested a pseudonym for security purposes.” The anti-fascists say they’re being set up by others who are vandalizing property and costing the city hundreds of thousands of dollars in ramped-up security. The unnamed spokesperson for Colorado Springs Anti-Fascists told the paper the group does tag with graffiti— and indicated they would vandalize private property— but says the group did not tag a community park with the anarchy sign, hammer and sickle, and the words “left solida” and “Antifa.” The group thinks it’s a propaganda effort to sow negative sentiment about left-wing social movements.

Later in the story, Stein notes how multiplelocalTV stations in Colorado Springs recently ran with broadcasts about a flyer posted at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs allegedly written by a Terry Steinawitz. (No student or faculty member with the name exists, but unscramble the letters and see what you come up with). The alleged author posted a flyer called the “Social Justice Collective Weekly” around campus that carried over-the-top commentary suggesting four-year universities like UCCS ban veterans for reasons that are so off-the-wall you have to wonder if the flyer isn’t fake. For instance, part of it reads about veterans: “Their socialization into the military culture is that of a white supremacist organization,” and “all veterans have far right-wing ideologies.”

A UCCS spokesman told the alt-weekly, “There’s a chance it’s satire meant to slander several groups.” But that didn’t make the coverage on TV and in the local daily. Instead initial reporting on the flyer took it at face value. One station went straight to getting reactions from veterans, and another said “being that Colorado Springs is such a large military community, this article and publication have been met with a lot [of] backlash.” A third station, said “several viewers asked 11 News to look into the origin of the newsletter,” but the station didn’t get far in doing so. Nor did it raise the question about whether the flyer might not be legit and could be an attempt to stir the pot.

Don’t read the comments, don’t feed the trolls.

It’s something you hear plenty in digital media as comment sections become swirling cesspools of incivility.

One of those cauldrons of scum boiled over last week in South Carolina leading The Charleston Post & Courier for the first time to shut down comments on a breaking news story about a local shooting. The piece unleashed a “torrent of racist, conspiratorial, politically-charged and outright bizarre comments.” (Here are just a few.) What’s that have to do with Colorado? The Denver Post is experimenting with a new system that seeks to make comments easier on readers— and on those in the newsroom who moderate them. That’s not an inconsequential task, either. Remember The Boulder Daily Camerakilled off comments last summer in part because it didn’t have the resources to police them.

This week for Columbia Journalism Review’s United States Project I wrote about the Post’s experience with Civil Comments as a troll-slaying testing ground. The vendor, a tech startup, sells its platform to news sites and provides a self-moderation system that requires commenters to rate multiple other comments for civility— and then rate their own comment— before a comment shows up on the site. The system also uses algorithms and machine-learning artificial intelligence to pool data concerning the voting and comment histories of frequent users, in order to filter out bad behavior.

Moving to Civil has been “transformative” for the Postsays Dan Petty, who recently took a corporate audience development job with owner Digital First Media. Meanwhile, “We felt like we could invest in a better commenting tool versus a free system, given the time, resource and mental health savings of not having to moderate hundreds of vile comments from trolls,” says Becky Risch, the paper’s digital director. (The Post’s online producer Dan Schneider, who has overseen the paper’s various comment sections for a decade, says staffers used to spend up to 20 hours a week moderating comments—many times what they spend now.)

Not everyone thinks it’s working, however.

There are other tech startups out there, too, like the Coral Project, which seeks to help newsrooms engage with their audiences in more meaningful ways. Read the full story here about newsroom comments sections and engagement that stretches from Australia to South Carolina and Alaska to our own Colorado.



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