Thursday, May 19, 2011

No More Comments

As regular readers will have noticed, I have not been posting additional comments here at NO Comment. I have other obligations and, frankly, the daily task of reading the NOLA.com comments is both depressing and redundant. Suffice to say, I think that this media criticism experiment has successfully highlighted the fact that there are numerous and largely unchecked comments that appear daily on NOLA.com, and many other media websites, that are racist, sexist, and otherwise offensive in a manner that degrades the possibility of civil discourse on the important issues that our city, state, and country faces.

I very much believe in free speech and encouraging a diversity of view points, especially those that confront majority view points, but I believe that a review of the comments on this blog as well as those that appear on stories on NOLA.com reveal that the Utopian ideal of open dialogue that the internet promised has devolved into a hellish, bullying fora that most sensible and thoughtful people avoid.

I would encourage NOLA.com to either eliminate comments altogether or to make a aggressive effort to create accountability among its users and to minimize the likelihood of exposing its readers to needlessly offensive comments. Possible steps would include eliminating anonymity for commenters (by, at the very least, requiring a Facebook profile or a user account associated with a Times Picayune subscription), eliminating comments on certain news stories (like crime reports) likely to generate offensive comments in the way that comments have been barred from society stories, enabling comments on society stories and offering the same level of scrutiny for comments on stories about the city's poor as with the city's elites, moving comments from the bottom of articles to a separately linked page so that people are not confronted with the comments if they do not choose to read them and so that the comments do not get equal footing with the article, barring users at IP addresses that routinely make offensive comments and creating other means of accountability for users who violate the posted NOLA.com policies, premoderating comments from users before they post or creating constant, 24 hour a day moderation of comments as they post, and, in general, creating policies that recognize the centrality of the Times Picayune and NOLA.com to public discourse in this city and taking seriously its role in protecting this important dialogue and its readers from thoughtless, offensive, and degrading comments.

If you have other thoughts and ideas, please post them.

Yours,

Billy Sothern

6 comments:

  1. "the Utopian ideal of open dialogue that the internet promised has devolved into a hellish, bullying fora that most sensible and thoughtful people avoid."

    Mr. Sothern, I really appreciate the good intentions behind this blog's existence and in fact agree with nearly all of the posts here.

    But the fact is that anonymous speech is important - The American Zombie and Slabbed are two local blogs that have brought out incredible information about the inner workings of local corruption an in both instances anonymous comments on Nola have provided critical clues.

    The online ethersphere is a virtual representation of the real world; at times ugly, disappointing, grating, even offensive (and worse) but really silencing speech online has no more merit or constitutional grounds than silencing any other kind of speech.

    Thanks again for your great work on this important blog.

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  3. Yeah I hate it when there are abusive comments on a site. Especially when they are ill informed ones. I think having voting systems is the best way to deal with them. People can vote down comments they don't like and after a certain percentage of negative comments they get hidden or dropped to the bottom of the listings of comments. If people have user accounts you could even keep a running score of people who post poor comments and so make it harder for those people to post.

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