Posted by: William Perrin | May 15, 2009

Community sites ‘ain’t afraid of no trolls’ (and the new Northcliffe platform)

The group that owns the Daily Mail has announced that they are going to set up websites in towns that don’t have newspapers.   We shall see if this works – it could be another top down platform without any bottom up engagement from people on the ground.  But the reporting of their plans is only partial so I can’t easily form a judgement.

I was struck though by the entertaining debate that ensued at this post on Hold the Front Page.  People who seem to have a stake in the traditional media weighed in suggesting that the sites will be swamped by waves of libellous trolls.

Insightful comments from people who seem to be connected  to the current local press include

‘The only people who read such illiterate ‘local’ online rubbish are the halfwits who spend the wee small hours writing such tosh and railing against the unfairness of life, instead of going out and getting one’


‘These sound more like community websites than anything relating to actual news. Is anyone involved in this going to have any kind of qualification? If not, it’s no different to it being set up by a villager who allows all and sundry to write whatever they want, regardless of its news value. That’s not my understanding of journalism, citizen or otherwise.’


‘Wonder how long it is before one of these sites face libel action because those running them are ‘citizen journalists’ who wouldn’t have a clue about defamation law?’

These views might apply to The Mail, only time will tell, but it doesn’t axiomatically have to be that way.  On Kings Cross Environment we have 700 articles and about 500 comments over three years produce by volunteers – we have had about half a dozen comments to block for being abusive or plain mad.  Our content often tackles difficult community issues and is of high quality – we have a good relationship with the Islington Gazette who borrow our stories (but are polite enough to ask first). Yet we don’t have a rolling battle with trolls.

Sites run by community activists, people campaigning to change things in their community have a strong interest not to be full of internet nutters.  If activists sites are perceived to be bonkers then people don’t take the campaigns seriously. Troll abuse is not an issue that local web publishers raise with me – either they don’t attract at as in my case, or they manage it fine.

Tom Steinberg once said that that, on the web;

If you don’t want a fight, don’t set up a  boxing ring and invite people in‘.

Good community sites follow this maxim and create a climate in which people don’t get abusive.  Traditional newspaper websites of course don’t – by setting up a story as a ‘controversial issue’, you invite people to have a scrap.



  1. Totally agree with this.
    Our experience with Harringayonline is that people manage their conversations in a respectful way and as site admins I can count the number of times I have to deal with ‘trolls’ on the fingers of one hand.
    Being a neighbourhood located in the borough of Haringey we often have very emotive stories raised by the users but we have fostered a climate where people behave in a responsible way.
    Being local, most people seem aware that they people they are talking to are their ‘neighbours’ and that being abusive is self defeating. Looking at national newspaper comments lists, I am often quite shocked by the abusive behaviour of contributors and thank my lucky stars that the citizens of Harringay, Haringey show more restrained behaviour.
    We also have a good relationship with local papers who ‘borrow’ from us as we do from them and we also have been able to engage local representatives from the political parties including David Lammy’s office on the site, as well as the police. I think there was a little fear that people would use the anonmity of the web to be abusive but that has never happened and we have found people to be highly appreciative of this chance to engage directly with their councillors and MPs and SNT
    Oh and we are very aware of the defamation laws and so are our members!

  2. This made me kind of mad (as you may have gathered from my Tweet!). In all the time I’ve done Digbeth is Good I could count the number of potentially damaging comments I’ve needed to moderate on one hand. And I’ve never got into hot water in that area myself despite not being qualified – because I’ve got a brain on my shoulders. And I do have a life.

    Right. Rant over. Sorry about that. 🙂

  3. […] week I got a little angry for a couple of reasons.  First, Will Perrin linked to an article on Hold The Front Page about hyperlocal news sites, which was full of some […]

  4. […] Community sites ‘ain’t afraid of no trolls’ (and the new Northcliffe platform) […]

  5. […] Community sites ‘ain’t afraid of no trolls’ « Talk About Local – Tom Steinberg once said that that, on the web; ‘If you don’t want a fight, don’t set up a boxing ring and invite people in‘. […]

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