One of the nice things about the internet is its potential as a societal equalizer. Gone are the days of being spoon-fed news and information by major corporations, replaced by anyone with a camera, social media account, and a point to make.
In a lot of ways, this is great and helps to bring the viewpoints of marginalized people to the forefront. On the other hand, some marginalized people were marginalized for a reason and espouse ideas that can have a toxic effect on others. That is why Yahoo! Japan has recently announced stricter policies on how people can comment on news articles.
Yahoo! Japan is a very popular web portal in the country, especially as a news aggregator, and a single leading news item posted on Yahoo! can often generate hundreds to thousands of comments. These are all made through people’s Yahoo! accounts, most of which are relatively anonymous, with the account name partially censored. This anonymity can allow some people to really let loose with opinions, possibly for no other reason than just to do some trolling.
It’s something that Yahoo! has been working on since 2018 when they strengthened their comment suspension measures to stop repeat-offending accounts. Then in 2020 they set up measures to stop suspended accounts from just creating new Yahoo! IDs and going right back to posting, by requiring new accounts to provide a phone number.
Now, they announced that starting mid-November users must have a phone number registered before even being able to make accounts. The number is verified through an SMS message sent to the user, so you can’t skirt around it by just putting in 867-5309 or something like that.
In addition to curbing inappropriate comments, Yahoo! is hoping to move away from a password-based system towards either two-factor or biometric verification to log in.
The phone number requirement follows the creation last month of the Japan Fact-Check Center, an NPO largely funded by Yahoo! and Google and run by scholars and journalists with the goal of curbing misinformation online, especially with regards to COVID-19 and the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
However, Japanese news site Bunshun Online published a very critical analysis of the project, saying that it would be largely ineffective because its scope is too limited. As one example, they cited Yahoo! comments as a major outlet of misinformation that fell outside of the scope of the Japan Fact-Check Center, and said that if the IT giant really wanted to stop the flow of fake news, they could do a lot more good by starting with that.
Although Yahoo! never acknowledged Bunshun Online’s criticisms, the timing of this announcement would suggest that they are taking the advice to heart and working on cleaning up their comments section further while also addressing fake news on a wider scale through funding the Japan Fact-Check Center.
It’s early to see how effective this new measure will be or if it’s the ideal solution to the problem at hand. If you think Yahoo! should try something different, let us know in the comments below. You don’t even need to provide a phone number!
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