San Diego U-T Website Dumping Angry Trolls Feature

by on September 5, 2011 · 44 comments

in Media, Popular, San Diego

The angry bees are a-buzzing over at the Union-Tribune and its companion website, Sign On San Diego.  As of Monday, September 12th, the paper/website will require people wishing to comment on articles to log in via Facebook. No longer will anonymous commenters be allowed to post comments.

As the article announcing the change put it:

“…the veil of anonymity also enabled people to publish some dreadful, hate-filled and heartless comments on our pages and those of every other site that went this route… … Real-name comments also helps lay a foundation for one of our larger efforts: to build communities of expertise around the topics we cover, with commenters known by name and background enriching our coverage with their knowledge, insights and wisdom.”  

I am supportive of the Union-Tribune’s decision.  The comments section of that web site has long been a black mark on the paper’s credibility.  If you happened upon it—say as an outsider thinking about re-locating to San Diego—you’d this town was filled with rabid, frothing, nutcases in desperate need of professional anger management therapy.

While Facebook log-ins are not completely foolproof, the system does provide some level of an identity that can be verified or — in the case of sockpuppets (fake accounts) — shut down.

Meanwhile, the anonymous commenters are having a field day.  Here’s a few of my favorites:

**Everyone, cancel your subscriptions now.  Stop financing this anti-American, anti-free speech tool of the Socialists…. Lets send the UT to the trash heap of history to join the Third Reich, the Soviet Union, and other anti-freedom slave masters that were rejected and defeated by the People.

**I detest your policy change 9/12.  This is to stiffle
(sic) free speech, I refuse to link my facebook account to SoS just to comment, you already have my real name.  It seems like you are getting too much heat from the left and don’t want to use a moderator.  If this goes into effect please cancel my print subscription as of the date this policy takes affect and I will change my home page to one that doesn’t sensor in this fashion ..

**Hey, wait a minute, what kind of a world would it be without publishing some dreadful, hate-filled and heartless comments?  Besides, what kind of a publication would the U-T be if it stopped quoting politicians?  Equal time, pal, if the politicians get to do it then so do we!

{ 44 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Jack September 5, 2011 at 12:10 pm

I am afraid I am bit conflicted over this decision by the UT. I believe we can agree we do not want the government to control our speech and right to express our views, but should the media be allowed to do so as well?

The vitriol spewed by someof the hate-fueled writers have turned my stomach and made me really wonder from where such acrimony grows. But I for one am glad they have an outlet. Let’s face it, people who write in such a way are troubled folk, and I would rather they have an outlet to vent…and to give us a clear idea what kind of emotionally disturbed people are out there. Wouldn’t you much rather see the faces of the Klan, Nazis, and Westboroians? Or would you rather they be forced to fester in the dark because we have alienated them with regulation? You need to expose the wound to heal it…

Additionally, with such a new policy, who is to say the UT will not use it to merely suppress opinions contrary to their position or agenda?

As a billy-goat gruff, I would rather know who and where the trolls are than to have someone hide them from me and to think all is right with the world.

My thoughts, yours?

Peace, Jack


avatar Mike September 5, 2011 at 1:33 pm

I agree with you completely. Seems the hate was pretty well spread around and was what it was. I have always been surprised Sign-on allowed as much anti Tribune (read that: anti- rabid right wing) comment as it did, but do believe the public anonymity did facilitate a comfort level for dissent that be lost otherwise. Tiem will tell. I won’t cancel my subsciption to the Trib regardless since I haven’t subscribed, or read, that rightwing rag in many years. I do follow Sign-on because it’s online where I get the bulk of my news education. Ah the Internet, is there anything it can’t do?


avatar Goatskull September 5, 2011 at 1:18 pm

Keep in mind the UT is a private entity. If they want they could simply not have a comment section at all, so in a matter of speaking the media IS allowed to curb free speech. Again, they could opt not to have a comment section at all. In the long run I think this will be better.


avatar Jack September 5, 2011 at 1:42 pm

With regard to private v. public entities and free speech, I could not agree more. The UT has every right to print whatever it pleases, and so it should be under our Costitutional protections. That particular right, however, should be excersized in a manner which demonstrates a fiduciary and responsible relationship to it is readership.

Part of that responsiblity, as I understand, would be to print contrary views without censorship. Isn’t that how we should make up our minds, to read contrary and oft times offensive viewpoints? And where does the UT’s responsibility derive to decide if we are grown up enough to hear viewpoints from those corners? If they are out there, I want to know.

We cannot change that of which we do not know.


avatar Theo September 5, 2011 at 2:26 pm

I subscribe to a Libertarian (default Republican) philosophy.. I say this first so that no one may misunderstand where Im “coming-from”.
I have a strange fondness for the Comments section for articles but have rarely (ok..never) written my own. (I think there is some truth to the notion of “thin-skinned” righties). I agree that there are many commentators that do not skate along the edge of reason rather they dive across it with a grenade in one hand and an AK in the other. Yes, too many of these people are..or claim to be.. of the conservative persuasion.
But many more right-leaning commentators (there has to be a cooler name for us), make perfectly valid points.(of course I would think that) Those points, however, run counter to the bias that runs through-out …. ahem.. (this is where I start to sound like “them”) the main-stream media.
I understand the right has there own outlet of sorts, Fox and the WSJ, but come on thats two…. TWO. (sorry “Great Americans” Hannity does not count as news)
Ultimately, the big reason so many folks on the right feel compelled to write..not counting the crazies.. is because the vast majority of news presented in the media… ahem.. (this is where I start to sound paranoid).. trumpets a liberal philosophy while subtley/not-so-subtley ridiculing the conservative philosophy… all the while concealing itself with a veil of “objectivity”.
In other words, the problem isn’t that the views typically presented in the majority of newspapers are what they are (obviously left-leaning… though the UT is more conservative than others) the problem is that these views are presented as objective.. therefore anyone who disagrees “must-be” crazy. Who would be against an objective view-point…unless of course it were not objective.
Due to that thin-skinned problem mentioned earlier, many perfectly rationale commentators know they will be singled out by the much larger U-T and .. ahem..more paranoia.. be attacked.. only now people know your name and what you look like.


avatar Shane Finneran September 6, 2011 at 10:44 am

Theo, why does your libertarianism default to Republican in the voting booth? I’m no big fan of what the Democratic party has accomplished lately, but I do think Demos are clearly less of a threat to personal freedoms. I hope you don’t say it’s because of taxes… so many supposed “libertarians” turn out to be tax-dodgers conned into thinking Republican policy will save them a buck or two.


avatar Theo September 5, 2011 at 2:29 pm

Oh snap… I just realized this was a progressive blog.. my bad guys.


avatar xenubarb September 5, 2011 at 2:40 pm

Well, that’s too bad. I’m not a troll, nor do I play one on the internet. However, I also don’t do Facebook. I am not to be studied and marketed to, and I think Facebook is detrimental in many ways.

So, you silence those without an account on a site that tracks your every move online? I only login to google to check my gmail. It’s not that I’m buying killer whale fetuses online, it’s just I want to be able to without google or facebook sending me ads for plushy killer whales.


avatar Christopher Moore September 5, 2011 at 2:44 pm

I’m OK with this – if I want to ready angry rants by anonymous NAZI dingbats and trolls, I can always go to 4chan.


avatar pragmatism September 8, 2011 at 12:13 pm

congrats! you proved godwin’s law.


avatar Christopher Moore September 10, 2011 at 12:25 pm

I don’t mean NAZI-ish – I mean actual NAZIs.

Godwin’s Law doesn’t count when you’re talking about genuine card-carrying Hitler-idolizing National Socialists (well, I don’t know if they actually have cards…)

You’d be surprised how many of them are out there.


avatar Gail September 5, 2011 at 3:29 pm

Hello, stopping people from saying stuff doesn’t stop them from thinking it. And the problem’s not that they say it, but that they think it.

Yes some posts are horrible and yes some are hate-filled but so what? Under a news story about how 750,000 Somalis are projected to die of famine, you’re worried about a few racist discussion board posts? Some perspective here, please!


avatar Liz September 5, 2011 at 3:38 pm

I think this is a great idea. I have occasionally posted when I had additional information to share. The result was a string of horrible comments that never addressed the factual information and just went on and on saying hateful things. It makes you wonder how bad the comments were that they removed. I stopped reading the comments and stopped giving my opinion.


avatar El September 5, 2011 at 4:15 pm

Inquire into Social Media background checks. They are here to stay and will only be more comprehensive in time. I found the necessity for ‘Detagging.’ to be of particular interest.
What the U.T. is about to do is worse than censorship. Requiring facebook can be a trap for the unaware, especially those entering the job market, or looking for a spouse.


avatar Kelly Johnson September 5, 2011 at 4:17 pm

“rabid, frothing, nutcases in desperate need of professional anger management therapy”

Uh, excuse me – have you driven on San Diego freeways? That’s what I call truth in advertising.


avatar Ask AMessican September 5, 2011 at 5:08 pm

So what?

The UT is going broke anyway


avatar spabbin September 5, 2011 at 5:43 pm

–“you’d this town was filled with rabid, frothing, nutcases in desperate need of professional anger management therapy.”

——It is.


avatar Dave Mason September 5, 2011 at 6:02 pm

Hey….here’s your chance. Build your own website, use your fake name and put all the hateful comments you like on it. Free speech? Go yell “FIRE” at a Padres game and see how your free speech works. It’s about time the UT got smart and made it necessary for people with the brass to make comments to have the brass to use their real name.


avatar Bill Ray September 10, 2011 at 2:13 am

The message boards will begin to resemble MySpace on 9/13. Good riddance. I stopped posting there not only because of the vile rhetoric that many of the “regulars” there spew, but also because you couldn’t speak your mind on their board without being given the flag “This post must be approved by a moderator”.

Yeah, right. The guy in charge of approving posts…doesn’t. So I took my eyes elsewhere. See-ya!


avatar Goatskull September 5, 2011 at 10:47 pm

Overall I think this is a good step. I think the discussions will be better informed and more interesting. The hateful comments are one thing (and they come from nut cases on both sides of the political spectrum), but the worst part of it is they often attack people who are featured in the articles. There could be a story about someone who was hit by a car while riding their bike and sure enough, there will be comments about what an idiot the person was for riding their bike. Or expressing hope the driver (even though it may have just been an accident) gets tossed away in prison and beaten to death by fellow inmates. I’m not joking, that’s how bad it gets.


avatar Seth September 5, 2011 at 11:58 pm

Agree with everyone saying this isn’t a free speech issue. You are on their site that they are hosting using their bandwidth to peruse their content. In return, they bombard you with advertising and sell information to advertisers about your surfing habits. This is the tacit agreement you have with the U-T when you are on their website. It is not a public piece of “cyberspace”, and you lay no claim at all to be able to anonymously use hate speech or spout political opinions or even to say anything at all. Even if you subscribe to the print version.

Don’t like it, log off or go to one of the millions of other websites where you can say anything you want.

On a related note, as someone who has been online since the early 80s, I think many people have a grave misconception that being online is an anonymous activity. I used to help moderate a rather busy discussion forum, and trust me, with an ip address, an email address or even the slightest bit of personal information, anyone with the slightest ability to use google can often know crazy amounts of stuff about you. In fact, I would say that being online is generally one of the least anonymous things you can do.

Anonymous internet forums are magnets for miserable trolls engaging in cowardly and hateful behavior, as evidenced by basically any comment section for any article the U-T has posted online the last several years.

Good riddance.


avatar Goatskull September 6, 2011 at 6:53 am

The worst thing is if it’s an article about someone struggling. Maybe a person who lost their job, a vet suffering PTSD, a person in a life changing vehicle accident, someone who lost their home, any number of things, and bloggers will make horrible comments about that person, why may very go on to sighonsandiego, read the article they were featured in, and then read the comments. The more I think about this, the more i’m in favor of it.


avatar Seth September 6, 2011 at 10:28 pm

I have seen people talking trash about people’s dead loved ones in those U-T comments sections. It’s horrible. In any event, it is not a political issue at all, IMO. There’s nothing that stops anyone from posting their political opinions from a Facebook account, and you aren’t going to get a ton of backlash about that if you do it reasonably and respectfully.

Just like real life.

What that level of (rather minimal) moderation does prevent is people being able to troll anonymously from the shadows, calling people n-words or posting porno links or spam or other people’s personal information or hurtful slander about real, live people that exist on the other side of your monitor.

Fine with me.


avatar Frank Gormlie September 6, 2011 at 8:53 am

The U-T needed something to change. Have you ever noticed that every time the U-T published a story or article about Ocean Beach, the comment section would be filled with more rapid anti-OB crap than Doug could shake a stick at. Congrats to Doug for jumping on this; lots of comments – most clean at least (editorqueen did have to remove a bunch) however. Quite the irony, you say.


avatar MaoTzu September 8, 2011 at 8:35 am

Well, there were a few of us that suffered the slings and arrows of the Wingnuts to try and present a Left of Democrat point of view. Wish you’d been there.


avatar Barry September 8, 2011 at 12:15 pm

More like nobody wanted to here your leftist rant and called you out on it.


avatar Shane Finneran September 8, 2011 at 12:45 pm

Barry, I notice you didn’t leave your last name. Which is exactly the point of all this.


avatar Barry September 8, 2011 at 10:09 pm

My last name is really none of your business and my point was made in my statement.


avatar OB law(yer) September 9, 2011 at 11:48 am

hear hear!


avatar OB law(yer) September 8, 2011 at 12:53 pm

I don’t support grammar trolling or calling out the obvious troll post…Ah….but here (notice the spelling) you have an example of both. I’m sure if Mr. Barry had left a number we’d give him a call and hear (notice sp) his actual views or perhaps he could support a position or opinion even… vice just jumping on our “stoner hippie” website and trolling. Thanks for your contribution Mr. Barry, and for backing the author’s point so perfectly. :)


avatar MaoTzu September 10, 2011 at 7:29 am

Actually, for someone with my avatar, I got a surprising amount of “likes” on my posts.


avatar Eleanor Rigby September 6, 2011 at 7:23 pm

Since the SD Tribune was acquired a couple of years ago.
The paper is way overpriced, we canceled last year because
of the rates and the crappy, in yo’ face rub ah dub dub three men in
a tub reporting. Furthermore the music writing and columnists is nothing
but sophomoric pap, biased and slanted towards the hidden agenda.
As a result I recommend that all readers avoid doing any business
with their advertisers and their parent company Platinum Equities.
Don’t do business with any of ‘dem dare companies. When the Tribune
gets the hint by hit to their padded pocket book maybe the management
will grab their reporters necks, ring them and rub their noses in their writing then
we’ll have to look for the brown nosers amongst the crowd, pig nosed,
snarling and clicking their hooves and contemplate hey there’s goes another
Tribune reporter.


avatar Seth September 6, 2011 at 10:32 pm

There’s a lot of brick-and-mortar news outlets that were slow on the draw when it came to the internet revolution, whether it came to the adaptation of their business model or how they interacted with their readers.


avatar Barry September 8, 2011 at 11:14 am

The stoner hippie rag in OB concurs with the leftists at the UT?



avatar doug porter September 8, 2011 at 12:31 pm



avatar Goatskull September 9, 2011 at 7:46 am

Leftist UT?? That’s a new one.


avatar Bill Ray September 10, 2011 at 2:18 am

If he thinks the U-T is leftist…. Mr. Kaczynski is that you?


avatar Goatskull September 9, 2011 at 8:14 am

And you just had to just had to make a point to go on the Rag (pun intended)of all places to make sure all the “hippie stoners” are put in their place. Bad bad bad you hippies, take that. Your posts are pretty much the whole point of why the UT is switching to FB for comments.


avatar annagrace September 11, 2011 at 6:53 pm

John Wilkins, in today’s U-T gives a shout out to Ragster Doug Porter. Wilkins explains the new comment policy and quotes Doug: “One local blogger, Doug Porter, wrote last week that the comments section “has long been a black mark on the paper’s credibility. If you happened upon it — say as an outsider thinking about relocating to San Diego — you’d think this town was filled with rabid, frothing nutcases in desperate need of professional anger management therapy.”



avatar obmama September 16, 2011 at 4:21 am

Doug, It’s been four days since UT required a real Facebook identity to post on their comment board. I think the “clean up” is more aptly described as a “clean out”. Most stories show (0) comments, but here’s an excerpt from the comment section of an article about a teenager who was stabbed at the trolley station.
R: just let them kill each other, saves us the money to pay for them in jail and thins them out.
G: GO to hell with the rest of the crackers
Z (Hells Angels of California Avatar): G . . .go hang yourself B*TCH BOY!!! Hopefully you’ll die in a fiery car crash soon or yo’ mama will be slapped for not aborting your immigrant ass!”

Here’s another colorful post . . .
Facebook Pic of Poster giving the finger, both hands: “Well UT…..I went out and got a facebook just for you. My picture was taken just for you….hope you like it. There now you can see who I am everyone…..your all #1 with me! :)”

NOTE: I kinda like this guy, in fact I recommended we invite him to join our group of former UT posters, “Signed Out San Diego”, who refuse to give up our anonymity to post through Facebook. We don’t represent your ugly comment, we are a screen name persona that represents a real personality, not the Fakebook people who either participate in stifled conversation, or commentary far more outrageous than we had seen on the DISQUS board. The first exchange on the Trolley Stabbing would have been immediately flagged by us. If you follow that link, you will also find posters “signed in with Yahoo” and using screen names, so this Facebook requirement is no longer relevant.

Since this change in UT policy, a Yahoo group was created for us “regulars”, and quickly became unmanageable due to the growing membership. We liked the DISQUS comment features, and created a DISQUS message board, which is linked to a new DISQUS board with streaming news. We all use our former screen names. New members are welcome, but must maintain a respectable presence.

I will agree with one of your observations, however. That is the lack of intervention by UT, that allowed the “vitriol” to continue. We didn’t like it either, and most ignored it. It is too bad the UT didn’t convey these concerns with the posters who made thousands of contributions, instead of giving a week’s notice that our community would cease to exist.

We are more than a discussion board, we are a group of mature adults who like and respect each other, even when our opinions differ. We are proud of our accomplishments this week, and will continue our newsworthy discussions in a forum that was an important part of our routines. Since Monday, the day SOSD shut down the DISQUS site, our Welcome Back and News Comment Boards have generated far more comments than all the UT stories combined, with over 1,000 comments. Our success makes quite a statement.


avatar Whatever September 16, 2011 at 1:41 pm

I noticed this one poster named: Langhap Pekpek who is listed as a Top Commenter on Ut’s new “classier” comments section.

I doubt that’s his real name. PekPek is Filipino slang for female genitalia. Looked further into it and Langhap means inhaling or smelling. So this UT Top Commentator’s name translates to “smelling p**sy”.



avatar evoc September 16, 2011 at 2:58 pm

Regarding ‘real names’ the first commenter on the jewelry store robbery is
Confidential Hawkins. Real names, real people…


avatar SimplyCommonSense September 16, 2011 at 6:05 pm

“The comments section of that web site has long been a black mark on the paper’s credibility. ”

Yep, their credibility has sure been enhanced by exchanges like this –

Tommy Rees – Gary? did you see this in todays news?
Gary Hungerford · San Diego, California – OH SHIT!
Rayonna Dayon-Hungerford · Lakeside, California – LMAO… Karma’s a bitch, so is the chick that was working!! Dumb ass should’ve locked the door!!


avatar obmama September 16, 2011 at 7:53 pm

Simply, Here is a link to our new site. Please join us, and thanks for your comment.

OB Ragsters . . . You are invited too. We’d love to have you.


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