By Scott Tibbs, February 6, 2014
Sometimes, technology itself can be useful in bringing civility to online discussions. In January of 2012, the Herald-Times implemented a new feature for its story comments - a "three strikes and you're out" rule. If you had three posts deleted over a fourteen day period, you would be automatically suspended for two weeks. This was an excellent feature that was very effective in maintaining civility on HTO.
Once you had a comment deleted, you knew that another deletion would bring you close to the penalty box. Once you had two comments deleted, you were on your best behavior - if you wanted to continue posting on HTO. Those who got the third strike got a two week cooling off period before they were allowed to comment again.
If the awful TownNews.com template allows this, HTO administrators should re-implement it. Since HTO admins are far too lax in banning people who truly do need to be banned, the "three strikes" feature regularly removed the worst trolls and forced them to calm down. Of course, at least three of the most aggressive Leftist trolls actually purchased second subscriptions to keep posting during their suspensions, and one even purchased two extra subscriptions!
While the feature was good, the implementation was problematic. For example, it was certainly abused - people would spam the "report" button when they knew a political opponent had a couple of strikes. When combined with poor and wildly inconsistent moderation decisions, it could (and did) result in people being suspended unjustly. Any tool can be misused, of course, and it was a very good tool overall.