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A woman walks by a Toronto Sun newspaper box in Toronto, October 6, 2014.

MARK BLINCH/REUTERS

Just imagine what the comment section trolls will say about this.

The Sun chain of newspapers – with titles in Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto and Ottawa – has told readers it is closing the commenting system on most of its online stories, at least for now.

Sun is rethinking the usefulness of comment boards that have become increasingly filled with "anonymous, negative, even malicious personal attacks, albeit by a minority," wrote James Wallace, vice-president of editorial for the chain, in a note to readers on Thursday. "We pride ourselves both on dishing out and taking criticism."

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But some of it goes too far.

The problem of policing comments that are often filled with invective – sometimes offensive, and occasionally libellous – is hardly unique to the Sun. Newspapers everywhere have grappled with ways to keep their stories open to comments, which they hope will engage readers and spark worthwhile debates, while keeping the conversation civil and blocking the worst repeat offenders.

But the Sun thrives on strong opinions, and to dig through the daily stream of comments – a slow day might yield a thousand comments, but on busy news days a paper might get 6,000 to 8,000 – and remove those that cross the line, is time-consuming and expensive. Web staff at the papers have had to constantly monitor the boards.

"We have wrestled with this, particularly at the Sun, because the Sun was founded on the notion of being an alternative voice," Mr. Wallace said in an interview. "For the poor souls who are trying to keep up with several thousand comments a day, there's some relief."

The reaction among readers has been mixed, but mostly muted. "Clearly there are some readers who are unhappy. There are some who are applauding it," he said.

The National Post, which like the Sun papers is owned by Postmedia Network Canada Corp., came to a similar conclusion earlier this month, and now requires readers who want to comment to sign in using Facebook credentials. It's a change that Postmedia's other major urban dailies had already made, and aims to take away the anonymity that shields the most hateful commenters, since Facebook Inc.'s policy requires users to use their real identities.

"Online comments are the lifeblood of communication between reader and audience at a modern newspaper," said Anne Marie Owens, the Post's editor, in a note to readers. But that lifeblood is routinely polluted as "the online conversation can careen between incisive and perceptive responses, to vitriolic personal attacks."

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Faced with the same challenge, The Globe and Mail works with Winnipeg-based social media management firm ICUC to moderate comments on online stories.

And while comment boards have presented a conundrum for years, the timing of Postmedia's recent decisions isn't entirely arbitrary.

"During the election campaign, it's certainly been lively," Mr. Wallace said.

He said the Sun papers "are working towards getting a better solution," and considering adopting Facebook authentication as one option. He has also noticed other media trying "community-based moderators" – a model he finds intriguing but also potentially problematic, particularly at unionized newspapers.

Both papers are encouraging readers who want to comment, but who may not want to sign up with Facebook, to "keep your comments, views and opinions coming" through other channels such as social media or letters to the editor.

But for goodness sake, keep it clean.

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