I love discussion. I've been involved in discussion and debate on the internet since 1988, when I got my first online account as a computer science student at Georgia State University, and discovered the usenet and bitnet forums. The internet was a much smaller world, then, mostly populated by people in the technology world. Trolling and flamewars were already common, but at that time the signal to noise ratio, or number of useful and interesting posts compared to childish rants, was acceptable.
Recently, though, I've reluctantly come to the conclusion that freewheeling and unmoderated forums on the internet quickly devolve into useless trolling, and either moderation or a requirement that people use their real names are necessary to ensure good quality discussion on serious news and political sites.
The Chicago Sun-Times recently turned off its comments. Craig Newman, the managing editor wrote:
The world of Internet commenting offers a marvelous opportunity for discussion and the exchange of ideas. But as anyone who has ever ventured into a comment thread can attest, these forums too often turn into a morass of negativity, racism, hate speech and general trollish behaviors that detract from the content.
He further wrote:
Again, we are not doing away with comments. But we do want to take some time and work on the qualitative aspect of how they are handled and how we can foster a productive discussion rather than an embarrassing mishmash of fringe ranting and ill-informed, shrill bomb-throwing.
When moderation of comments is proposed, commenters often complain about censorship and first amendment violations, issues that have nothing to do with moderation policy. Publications have the right to control the quality of the material which is distributed in their name and at their expense, including comments by readers.