Have you ever read below the line on an article where the commenters have demonstrably not read the piece they’re offering insights on? Of course you have – that’s really like asking a person “have you ever seen a cat?” or “do you know what a chocolate bar is?” The technology section of the Norwegian broadcaster NRK has come up with an ingenious answer to this problem: in order to comment on certain articles, you need to prove you understood them, via a multiple choice quiz.

You don’t need to be an expert in the field to get through. Like competitions where the answer is written just above the answer field, all the information is right under your nose. If you don’t have time to find the information you need, then you lose your right to comment on it. It’s beautiful, just beautiful.

This, according to journalists responsible, has two effects. The first is that it ensures that everyone agrees on the content they’re discussing before they begin: pretty much essential for intelligent debate to flow. The second is that by interrupting an angry user’s path to commenting, they’ll maybe have time to reflect and tone down their rage. “If you spend 15 seconds on it, those are maybe 15 seconds that take the edge off the rant mode when people are commenting,” NRKbeta editor Marius Arnesen told NiemanLab.

While it’s fairly trivial to sidestep with the right know-how (there’s already a script available that dodges it completely), it’s not really aimed at the knowledgable regulars who take that step, so no harm is done.

It isn’t appearing on every article, but if it’s successful it may roll out further. It’s a little time consuming, as article authors have to devise the quizzes themselves, but NRKbeta’s Ståle Grut thinks the time is well spent if it improves the environment for its users – especially as NRK is a licence fee supported broadcaster. “We want to provide a way in for people so that they get more value for their money… they have to pay thousands of kroners every year for us to do our job,” Grut explained.

While it would be naive to think that this simple step would prevent furious arguments breaking out on the internet’s most volatile flashpoints, it seems like a good idea to me. After all, a debate can’t really function if nobody can agree what it is that they’re arguing about.

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