I would have loved to have been in the audience at this panel this panel discussion blogged about over at B. Rox. The title of which was “Online user comments and its impact on news coverage, news Web sites and freedom of speech.”
My basic argument hasn’t been against the inclusion of comments on mainstream media blogs, it is against anonymous comments on mainstream blogs. When I was at a weekly paper in San Diego, we wouldn’t allow any anonymous letters to the editor to be printed in the paper. We wouldn’t even allow anonymous sources to be cited in stories. With stories comments essentially being adrenalized letters to the editor, similar rules should be established by the papers to see that there is a name and a real person applied to each comment.
The papers have to find a way to make people responsible for what they put on the sites. I don’t mean responsibility in that the paper can track down readers who make offensive comments, but so anyone who makes a comment will have their name attached to it and take ownership of it.
Part of what makes a person willing or unwilling to spew their drivel is how it (and they) will be viewed by their peers. Society’s norms are influenced by the society on the individual. If the individual in this case is simply NolaEastboy75 and he owns no other responsibility for his statements other than that pseudonym, why should he care weather his words offend or hurt people? He bears no responsibility toward them. If it’s a father or son who is saying them, it doesn’t matter because it’s a few digits on a computer screen.
I have also asked that the paper monitor their comments more closely, as the “deleted after 3-5 minutes” time period reference in Bart’s post is 3-5 minutes too long. Family members of victims could very well have seen it in that time. I wrote a few weeks back about a man who had finished mowing his grass on the West Bank and was electrocuted leaning against a metal building. Many of the comments following the story on Nola.com made references to it being a “shocking” story in callous references to the man’s death. Did the comments vanish after 3 – 5 minutes? Nope. They are still up there three weeks later.
I’m not sure how the big papers are going to go about doing it but if they wish to maintain their integrity and standards, something papers have over many (but certainly not all) blogs, then they need to find a way to become something more than an avenue for anonymnous racists to burn crosses on before the new millennium’s white sheets become user names like GrandDragon65 or xpureBreed72x. I suppose I have a lot of problems with Nola.com, but their providing racists with an avenue to spread hatred is probably my biggest.
Perhaps all comments should be made through audio or video? Perhaps people should pay $5 a year for accounts and include a profile page with their picture?