Given the general level of intelligence and erudition of commenters here, rare would be the need for a product such as this:
(Fortune Magazine) — Internet veterans have long complained about the steady erosion of civility — and worse, intelligence — in online discourse. Initially the phenomenon seemed to be a seasonal disorder. It occurred every September when freshmen showed up for college and went online. Tasting for the first time the freedom and power of the Internet, the newbies would behave like a bunch of drunken fraternity pledges, filling electronic bulletin boards with puerile remarks until the upperclassmen could whip them into shape.
Things took a dramatic turn for the worse in 1993, when AOL (Charts, Fortune 500) loosed its tens of thousands — and then millions — of users onto the Net. The event came to be known as the Endless September, and true to its name, it continues to this day.
It’s a serious problem. Fools and bandwidth hogs have a way of driving traffic away from the most successful online destinations, a phenomenon that could ruin the emerging social networks and user-generated aggregators like Digg.
But there’s still hope for intelligent life on the Internet. A team of software developers is hard at work on a “stupid filter” that promises to do to idiotic online comments what a spam filter does to junk and unwanted e-mail: put it in a place where it can’t hurt anyone anymore.
As I said, only a very small percentage of my commenters would ever run afoul of the Stupid Filter, but think of how much nicer it would be. In fact, though, you can help by visiting the StupidFilter page and contributing examples of stupidity for the crack programmers there to use as examples as they develop their filter. They’ve already gathered around 225,000 stupid comments from YouTube and elsewhere and are working on a stupidity ranking system, but they can still use more.
Actually, I’m a bit ambivalent about this project. When a troll invasion hits, as so frequently happens whenever I post about vaccines, anthropogenic global warming (PZ got an even larger influx recently), secondhand smoke, or homeopathy, there are times when I wish I had such a filter. On the other hand, the impressively unsinkable stupidity of many of the “vaccines cause autism” crowd, homeopathy supporters, or global warming “skeptics” is a bit entertaining to behold. It’s also educational, as such people are perfect examples of logical fallacies, cherry picking of data, and just plain stupidity. Shutting them out may in some cases be counterproductive.
At the very least, they provide us something to laugh at.