My second “free research idea.” (Note: This one is not as good as the first.)
People can be nasty. When people are nasty on the internet, they are called trolls. Urban Dictionary’s definition of a troll:
One who purposely and deliberately (that purpose usually being self-amusement) starts an argument in a manner which attacks others on a forum without in any way listening to the arguments proposed by his or her peers. He will spark of such an argument via the use of ad hominem attacks (i.e. ‘you’re nothing but a fanboy’ is a popular phrase) with no substance or relevence to back them up as well as straw man arguments, which he uses to simply avoid addressing the essence of the issue.
Q: What is the best way to inhibit trolling?
A: Depends on how you define “best.” Ideally, the process is seen as fair, and thus would not involve censorship (i.e., someone deciding that a comment be taken down). With that in mind, I suggest using the crowd that is viewing the comments to decide the comments’ fate. The crowd can vote comments up or down. Good comments move up and troll-like comments move down. That way people’s comments will not be removed, but they will move so far down the list that few people will see them.
Q: How might this backfire?
A: If the average person reading the comments enjoy troll-like comments.
UPDATE: After I wrote this post, I noticed that CNN uses the technique I suggest. Scooped!