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In Defense of the Anonymous Commenter 198

Posted by Soulskill
from the seems-familiar dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "Doug Feaver has an interesting story in the Washington Post 'in defense of the anonymous, unmoderated, often appallingly inaccurate, sometimes profane, frequently off point and occasionally racist reader comments that washingtonpost.com allows to be published at the end of articles and blogs.' Feaver says that during his seven-year tenure as editor and executive editor of washingtonpost.com he kept un-moderated comments off the site, but now, four years after retiring, he says he has come to think that online comments are a terrific addition to the conversation, and that journalists need to take them seriously. 'The subjects that have generated the most vitriol during my tenure in this role are race and immigration,' writes Feaver. 'But I am heartened by the fact that such comments do not go unchallenged by readers. In fact, comment strings are often self-correcting and provide informative exchanges.' Feaver says that comments are also a pretty good political survey. 'The first day it became clear that a federal bailout of Wall Street was a real prospect, the comments on the main story were almost 100 percent negative. It was a great predictor of how folks feel, well out in front of the polls. We journalists need to pay attention to what our readers say, even if we don't like it. There are things to learn.'"
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In Defense of the Anonymous Commenter

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  • political leanings (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Speare (84249) on Sunday April 12, 2009 @09:50AM (#27548245) Homepage Journal
    It's an interesting indicator of the swing and countervailing political views of a given paper. I've noticed that in "blue state" papers, the comments are often very conservative and red-meat. Conversely, browse a rural paper and you'll find quite a bit of commenting coming from a relatively blue/liberal point of view. It's almost entirely ugly illiterate trash, but it's an outlet for those who may feel oppressed in the general population in which they live.
    • by moderatorrater (1095745) on Sunday April 12, 2009 @12:53PM (#27549295)
      I always thought it probably had to do with the fact that the editors who choose which letters to print would want to choose a balanced view anyway, so they'd print as many of one side as they would the other, regardless of the actual ratio that came in.
    • --Conversely, browse a rural paper and you'll find quite a bit of commenting coming from a relatively blue/liberal point of view.--

      We have one of those here. It actually reports more of just news and lets the reader decide. I don't think it is either liberal or conservative or whatever label that you want to apply, but it sure does have a lot of gossip in it.

      And... the local TV stations here are MUCH more unbiased than the national news. The paper here is almost totally unbiased except for the gossip column

  • by LordKaT (619540) on Sunday April 12, 2009 @10:02AM (#27548291) Homepage Journal

    Journalist learns that other peoples opinions count. News at 11!

    • Re:This just in... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Z00L00K (682162) on Sunday April 12, 2009 @10:53AM (#27548589) Homepage

      Journalists learns which articles that draws the most comments and therefore are the most controversial. This means that they get an indication about what may be disturbing for people.

      But sometimes we also need informative articles and not only the disturbing articles.

      As for anonymous comments - they may be valid, but it must be possible to moderate those articles to get rid of the noise and the worst forms. And in controversial questions the availability of anonymous comments may be a life saver. It must be possible to express an opinion, at least in a polite way without revealing your identity. The question is sometimes more important than who the messenger is.

      • Journalists learns which articles that draws the most comments and therefore are the most controversial. This means that they get an indication about what may be disturbing for people.

        And there's no other way of measuring interest in a story that might be more accurate, say looking at which stories get the most clicks or moderated comments. Or taking a poll. Or just using your jounalistic insight to know that some people care deeply about issues of race and that fewer care about import tariffs.

        And in controversial questions the availability of anonymous comments may be a life saver. It must be possible to express an opinion, at least in a polite way without revealing your identity.

        It's not like any online comment system is completely non-anonymous. If you absolutely need to say something and absolutely can't reveal your identity, set up a hotmail/gmail/yahoo e-mail accoun

  • I disagree (Score:5, Insightful)

    by guyminuslife (1349809) on Sunday April 12, 2009 @10:02AM (#27548297)

    As one who frequents it...frequently...the Washington Post comment section really is a cesspit. Imagine what you would get if the Slashdot mod system worked in reverse, and people were karma whores for "flamebait," "troll," and "offtopic" tags. It isn't 4chan. But it's amazing that it's on the same site as one of the country's most respectable news outlets.

    Of course, Feaver's points would carry more weight if the boards were structured differently. For instance, if WaPo had nested threads instead of a flat message board, you might see more of the "correction" and "dialogue" between different posters than you otherwise do. As opposed to ranting, which is what happens when I...I mean, some person...stands on a soapbox without having dialogue. Empty flames cast into a void.

    On the other hand, I'll say with a straight face that I think Slashdot has the best comment section around, if not for the quality of the posters themselves, then because it's good at suppressing and elevating voices based on the wisdom of crowds.

    But yet I go back there again and again...

    • Re:I disagree (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 12, 2009 @10:50AM (#27548577)

      As one who frequents it...frequently...the Washington Post comment section really is a cesspit. Imagine what you would get if the Slashdot mod system worked in reverse, and people were karma whores for "flamebait," "troll," and "offtopic" tags. It isn't 4chan. But it's amazing that it's on the same site as one of the country's most respectable news outlets.

      ...

      Amazing?

      Hardly.

      Have you ever been involved in anything the Washington Post reports? I have. Twice. Once even made the front page, albeit below the fold. The litany of inaccuracies, half-truths, made-up crap, and downright falsehoods would shock you.

      And that's for simple "factual" news.

      Wait until "journalists" get to spin news that's related to politics.

      "News" as reported by today's media is orthogonal to reality.

      So no, "one of the country's most respectable news outlets" really never has been much better than 4chan, and there's no reason whatsoever for you to be "amazed".

      Never mind the utter incompetence and lack of fact-checking.

      There's a reason why newspaper circulation is dying - it's the internet, but not for the reasons newspaper fanboys think. It's because if today's newspapers were asked to implement standards, they'd misspell the word. The internet allows much wider dissemination of data contradictory to what the mass-media spoon feeds us. And it's that flow of information that has stripped the veneer of "factual news" from organizations like The Washington Post and The New York Times.

      One wonders if that veneer was fake all along, and the only reason we used to think newspapers were accurate was the lack of other information channels.

      I strongly suspect it was.

      But now, no one wants to pay for the "privilege" of having to work to read what you know is all-too-likely to be UTTER CRAP.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Snark365 (1150861)
        And where exactly do you think we will get our news from if newspapers do die out? The internet is ripe with commenters and aggregators, but is almost entirely devoid of actual reporting. Trust me if the "evil MSM" goes, so too goes your precious internet "journalism."
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Nazlfrag (1035012)

          In Australia there is crikey.com.au that employs journalists and publishes exclusively online, I believe other sites such as the Huffington Post do the same in the States. Get a grip, the newspapers won't die, just evolve away from the paper format altogether.

          • You won't catch me reading crikey. But now The Age has started trolling for page views [theage.com.au].
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by jakykong (1474957)
          I will grant you that many news stories we read online originated on paper or from a major news reporter. But not all, and not all has to. The key is to realize that you don't need people dedicated to reporting. Instead, you need lots of people who are all over the place, who can, by chance, find the news themselves. Given an internet of users, it seems absurd to me that none of them would post interesting news they come upon. Aggregators are just a way to help that information to flow.

          I think the real
      • I've been reading blogs and internet news since they started. God damn it, if I have to choose between the Washington Post and New York Times or the political shill-blogs and conspiracy websites, I'm damn well taking the Post and the Times. I'll pay money for their reporting that at least comes closer than anything else to balanced and factual!

    • Re:I disagree (Score:5, Insightful)

      by MikeURL (890801) on Sunday April 12, 2009 @11:01AM (#27548633) Journal
      I agree with your disagreement. It is supremely irresponsible to just throw up an unthreaded message board that allows anon posts and is open to anyone. My UID isn't all that low but i go back to the BBS days and us "old timers" know damn well that those kinds of message boards will eventually become a cesspool of trolls.

      It isn't like slashcode was refined over and over JUST because they liked to play with code. It was done in response to dealing with what happens when you run a large message board. But here we are a decade later and big companies still just throw up unthreaded message boards as if they have no idea what will happen.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Scrameustache (459504)

        a decade later and big companies still just throw up unthreaded message boards as if they have no idea what will happen.

        The print dinosaurs have no idea, no understanding, and no respect for anyone who does.
        They're doing too little, too late.

      • Some sites (boing boing being an example) seem to think it is better not to thread. I am not sure why though.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by massysett (910130)

      As one who frequents it...frequently...the Washington Post comment section really is a cesspit.

      Agreed. The Post comments are a total waste of time to read. I have stopped looking at them.

      Nearly always, the threads degenerate into a pile of worthless partisan, hate-filled garbage. No matter what the story is (war? Gun control? Floods? I mean, ANYTHING) the thread turns into "It's all Obama's fault" or "It's all Bush's fault" or "liberals suck" or "conservatives are evil" or "Bush is an idiot" or "Obama is a monkey." Other unmoderated comment threads, like on Politico, are similar. The posts have no th

    • by WCguru42 (1268530)

      the Washington Post comment section really is a cesspit.

      Well, that's what you get with internet news, complete and utter lack of concern for professionalism or quality. Now, I haven't been to the Washington Post's webpage but my experience with many other online news sites that are based on paper or television news are incredibly sub par. Grammar, spelling, lack of details, it's really appalling that a large news organization can't take the time to properly edit their online submissions (actual articles). And this lack of quality floods over into the comments

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 12, 2009 @10:03AM (#27548303)
    This is your time to shine! Bring on the Tsarkon Obama reports, Yoda doll insertion tutorial, "*BSD is Dying" announcement, and the GNAA recruitment posting. Don't disappoint me!
    • by HexOxide (1375611)
      Apparently you're _such_ an anonymous coward, you're even too cowardly to simply post them yourself _as_ an anonymous coward.

      Congratulations.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 12, 2009 @10:09AM (#27548347)
      We are torn. This does present a great chance at ruining another thread with our tripe, but we are also morally opposed to posting anything that could actually be taken as on-topic.
    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I, for one, welcome our new anonymous flamebaiting, trolling, cowardly overlords.

  • by BadAnalogyGuy (945258) <BadAnalogyGuy@gmail.com> on Sunday April 12, 2009 @10:11AM (#27548359)

    This type of interaction is what used to be part of the Letters to the Editor section of the newspaper. Before we could spam online forums with our unmoderated comments, newspapers used to publish the best responses to their stories on the old Opinion page.

    Nowadays, with that removal of editorial moderation, we are exposed directly to the effluvium and vitriol that was so carefully screened away from our eyes in those old days. Whether this is a good thing or not, I don't know.

    What I do know is that opinions of low or nil value are exposed to the light of day. With this shining light most of these errant posters are shouted down and pummeled (figuratively) by right-thinking mainstream posters.

    Whether this represents a significant change is debatable, though. Whereas unpublished letters to the editor forced these people to seek out each other underground, the new method still forces these posters to seek out forums where they are the majority. Perhaps it is Slashdot with its geeks and nerds. Or it is Free Republic with its right wingers, or its counterpart LGF. On the extreme ends you have StormFront and the ADL.

    The result is a polarization of the web, people talking only to themselves, and less of a conversation than before. When you become a "troll" for holding a contrary opinion, how easy it is to decide to seek out communities that support you rather than shout you down.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by HexOxide (1375611)
      I don't think people should be labeled as trolls simply for having a conflicting opinion. It's when they decided to voice that opinion like an asshole that they become a troll, or even completely drop the discussion and go out of their way to try and derail the discussion by posting crap like the Yoda doll or whatever it is the trolls are spamming these days.
    • by JoshuaZ (1134087)
      You know most of what you had to say was reasonable until you got to the point where you compared the ADL to Stormfront and I had to do a little WTF and reread what you wrote to confirm that's what you mean. Disagreeing with the ADL is one thing. I certainly think that they do sometimes make claims of anti-Semitism that are just not supported by the evidence or are weakly supported by the evidence. Comparing that to a racist, white supremacist organization staffed by neo-Nazis... not the same thing at all.
      • by a whoabot (706122) on Sunday April 12, 2009 @11:40AM (#27548883)

        This is , who is the head of the ADL:

        "Can you be anti-Zionist and not be an anti-Semite? Almost never. Unless you can prove to me you're against nationalism. If you're one of those unique individuals in this world that's opposed to American nationalism, French nationalism, Palestinian nationalism, then you can be opposed to Jewish nationalism. Is it racist? You bet it is. Every nationalism is racist. It sets its laws of citizenship, it sets its own capital... It sets its songs, it sets its values. It is, if you will, exclusive, and you can even call it racist. But if the only nationalism in the world that is racist is Jewish nationalism, then you're an anti-Semite.. I don't want to make any apologies for it."

        Notice how what Foxman says is no different from what the Storm-Front members say about white-nationalism They say: "Yeah, white-nationalism is racism. But you can't oppose it unless you oppose nationalism of other groups: Japanese nationalism, Jewish nationalism, Arab nationalism. If the only nationalism in the world that is racist is white nationalism, then you're anti-white."

        • by a whoabot (706122)

          Messed up the link.Should say: This is Abraham Foxman [philipweiss.org]...

        • by JoshuaZ (1134087) on Sunday April 12, 2009 @12:20PM (#27549121) Homepage
          Yeah, Abe Foxman is a bit of an ass. He is incidentally wrong about the nature of nationalism. To use an obvious example, US nationalism can be non-racist in nature. And I'd be inclined to argue that one can be a nationalist for pretty much any country without being a racist. However, white-nationalism is distinct in the following ways: 1) white nationalism isn't connected to any country, but rather a desire to rule pretty much everywhere. White nationalism is fundamentally wrapped in neo-Nazi and other views where the most tolerant forms advocate large scale oppression of other groups. 2) Zionism was made in response to genuine anti-Semitism so that Jews would have somewhere to go when there was severe persecution. Let us not forget that Zionism was founded after the Dreyfus Affair http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dreyfus_Affair [wikipedia.org]. Jews continue to be the target of severe anti-Semitism all over the world. And again, the ADL has helped when other groups have been persecuted. See for example part of the ADL's ongoing effort to help stop Mormon persecution. The ADL also helps run an interfaith/interethnic summer camp for highschool students. http://www.boston.com/news/local/articles/2006/04/06/a_different_kind_of_camp/ [boston.com]. Yeah, that's real racist of them.
          • by a whoabot (706122) on Sunday April 12, 2009 @01:21PM (#27549461)

            Okay, I don't want to defend white-nationalism or Stormfront, but I just want to muddy your picture of the issue.

            Take this thread [stormfront.org]. This is the Intro to Stormfrontian(sic) white-nationalism which is affixed second to the top of the forum [stormfront.org] for anyone who wants to "know more about White Nationalism".

            The main point of the OP seems to be conspiracy theory: "the Jews" control the media and the government and are hurting all the non-Jews, especially whites. So they see themselves at the victims of anti-white sentiment among Jews and "useful idiots" among non-Jews. "Also, I should have been more clear that the Jews are using non-White immigration and Blacks to destroy White America and Europe. They want everyone dumbed down and different Gentile races at each other's throats to prevent Whites from coming together against the Jewish threat" he says.

            Notice the other poster, H2H: "Study demographic statistics and future racial population projections and you will see just how dangerous the situation has become. Again, it's not about "hate" or "Supremacy," but SURVIVAL and being able to control our own destiny. ... Remember we are not a "hate group" but a cultural and racial preservation group. In fact we are the true "Multiculturalists" and genuine believers of cultural and racial diversity. By keeping the different races and people separate the world can enjoy the diversity of the human species. ... Although Egypt and most non-white counties have nothing to worry about (except maybe Tibet), it is only White Nations that are invaded and threatened with genocide."

            It's seems clear that the general theme on Stormfront is white survival and sovereignty. It does not seem to be fundamentally connected with ruling the entire world as you say. They have this saying the 14 words which is their sometimes motto. I can't remember the exact 14 words, but it's something about securing a future for white children. It doesn't say anything about dominating others. And you're right, you can seem them extolling Nazis and Hitler too. But then you have to remember that they are Holocaust deniers; they just think Hitler was protecting white people from Jewish domination and did not try to exterminate any Jews!

            If you go to the forum which the thread was in, the one thread that was above that Intro was about how Barack Obama's church hates whites. Again, there you can see that their focus is on elites being against white people.

            The big thread down [stormfront.org] from there is on the question: "Separatist is NOT supremacist?" Notice that the first answer to the question is from "WhitePowerMom": "We want to be with our own. ... I wish no harm to other races, I wish the[m?-ed.] the same purity we strive for. I just want to be surrounded by my tribe. In fact, our way of thinking is probably the most respectful and honorable way possible. We wish to be left alone...and by way of that, to leave others alone."

            Anyway, you're right. Stormfront is not like the ADL. I think the poster that compared them did a weird thing. But I don't think white-nationalism is so clearly different from the Zionist, ADL position, as is evidenced by Foxman's comments. That white-nationalists are largely white-supremacists, you're probably right. That white-nationalism is fundamentally white-supremacist, you're probably wrong, as is evidenced by the general opinion on Stormfront about what white-nationalism is.

  • but...... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by omar.sahal (687649) on Sunday April 12, 2009 @10:14AM (#27548377) Homepage Journal

    online comments are a terrific addition to the conversation

    what if these online people express a view that does not flatter one of your advertisers. Would you take them seriously then.

    • what if these online people express a view that does not flatter one of your advertisers. Would you take them seriously then.

      The irony here is that a readership who feels involved in the publication, is probably going to come back more often. For an advertiser this means being exposed to negative comments, yet at the same time have more chance to influence said eyeballs.

  • Umm why should you have to defend what is a right guaranteed in the constitution?

    No one says you have to make sense or add value when exercising your right.

    • Re:Defense?? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by betterunixthanunix (980855) on Sunday April 12, 2009 @10:43AM (#27548537)
      Sadly, the constitutional guarantee is not equivalent to a practical ability to make anonymous comments. Yes, anyone is legally allowed to anonymously comment on whatever they want, but the question of whether or not anyone will see that comment is entirely different. You can create a website and write everything under a pseudonym, but unless you manage to get to page 1 on Google, your opinion will never be heard. On the other hand, if you write a comment on a popular website (such as slashdot), your comment will at least have a fighting chance. This is what is being defended: the system that allows you to post anonymously on the Washington Post's website, where lots of people will see the comment.

      Of course, the whole situation is a bit twisted, since you now need the permission of large media companies to make anonymous comments in a meaningful way. As the Internet becomes more popular, that will become more true.
    • Re:Defense?? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Beelzebud (1361137) on Sunday April 12, 2009 @10:57AM (#27548609)
      No one says you have a constitutional right to free speech on a privately owned message board, either.
      • by nurb432 (527695)

        I also agree with that, except that once a forum becomes public, it should fall under the jurisdiction of the 1st amendment. ( many will disagree with me, but thats ok )

        I would argue that the forum in question is public.

        I would also argue that regardless of public status if the forum hoster has accepted ANY public funds, they are also bound.

        • You can argue that all you want, but you're wrong.

          Just because something on the internet is public, doesn't mean that the administer has no right to moderate comments. It's no different than in the real world. Go to the local coffee shop and see how long you get to exercise your right to free speech if you begin yelling obscenities and/or try to prothlesize to the other customers.

          You also overlook the fact that the internet is a worldwide forum. Should a site that is funded by the government provid
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Responsibility. Saying something is a right, taking the time to think it through beforehand to make sure that it contributes positively to the discussion is a responsibility. Would that there was a little more responsibility in the exercising of quite a few rights, not just that of speech.

  • by Baldrson (78598) *
    Feavered says: 'The subjects that have generated the most vitriol during my tenure in this role are race and immigration,' writes Feaver. 'But I am heartened by the fact that such comments do not go unchallenged by readers. In fact, comment strings are often self-correcting and provide informative exchanges.'

    Uh, maybe Feavered didn't notice (even though it is the subject of his commentary) it but those "exchanges" are edited by politically correct editors who will edit out the most politically threatening

  • Anonymous Coward (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    To ban anonymity is just a simple (and hypocrite) way to repress freedom of speech. Politicians would desire that, for sure.

    On the contrary, anonymity is a practical way to express opinions without loosing time in unuseful registration procedures.

  • by woverly (223564) on Sunday April 12, 2009 @10:30AM (#27548467)

    The Washington Post has merely realized that it needs to allow ignorant posters their forum in order to compete with talk radio. I have seen little evidence that ensuing discussions necessarily iterate to rational, informed conclusions.

    Providing a forum for extreme ideas is a bit like teaching creationism in science classes.

  • by kencoe (1474539) on Sunday April 12, 2009 @10:34AM (#27548495) Homepage
    I am somewhat surprised that a longtime editor would make such an absolutely ridiculous statement. Apparently, the journalist (OK, editor) did not do much research before publishing his view. It is pretty common knowledge that comments on a story are not a cross section of the readers views. Most readers are passive, and do not comment on every story they read. They will only respond to those which strike at their sense of values, or that the reader strongly oppose as false (obviously, this is my reason for commenting now). If everyone who read a Slashdot story commented on it, Slashdot would need far more storage space than they use now. Almost any Blog or News Site would have ample material to reference from their comments section to demonstrate the fact that the fringes of the audience's views are echoed in the majority if the responses, and that only an exceptionally striking article will receive more of a balanced response (yes, Virginia, there is an audience).
  • by mtapman (1259686) on Sunday April 12, 2009 @10:34AM (#27548499) Homepage
    By definition the world is mostly made up of average people. For those of us that were products of public schools and other institutions that accepted everyone regardless of their abilities or backgrounds we can probably think back on groups that showed exactly what "average" means.

    This combines with the most common failure of unfettered democracy, the tyranny of the loud (and perhaps underemployed/bored/obsessed), to create a perfect storm of vitriol, ignorance, and selfishness in places like an open forum online.

    Quite simply, people without knowledge or experience in a field deserve less speaking time than those with knowledge and experience. If those people that are excluded from a discussion because they are ignorant or inexperienced want to participate than they should take the time to become knowledgeable and experienced in the field.

    I always like to see open discussions but I also like to see comments rated and organized so that I can sift through the crap to get to the gold, something that guyminuslife mentions is missing from the Post's website system.

    And to speak directly to a comment from the original article, the fact that the comments show the true feelings of the citizens of this country is interesting from a polling/election point of view but the details of those comments don't add much, if anything to the discussion at hand. This is especially true of indefensible positions like racist or sexist comments.
  • by 517714 (762276) on Sunday April 12, 2009 @10:35AM (#27548501)

    Journalists should report the news as objectively as they can. Paying attention to their readers is pandering, and it results in a feedback loop with predictable consequences. We need a thoughtful critical press capable of asking hard questions and not settling for non-answers from those in the news. We need a system in which the President (and others in power) cannot exclude a journalist because he/she asks those hard questions.

    Anonymity is an interesting concept, but we should recognize that the guy up on his soapbox in Hyde Park is not anonymous even if we do not know his name.

    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Well, in a world where C-SPAN (a camera pointed at Congress) gets labeled as having a liberal bias, is that even possible to do? To many people, the mere act of asking a question about what you've been told is considered being "liberal". How can you be objective when arguably half the country doesn't understand what objectivity even is?
    • by 99BottlesOfBeerInMyF (813746) on Sunday April 12, 2009 @11:14AM (#27548721)

      Journalists should report the news as objectively as they can. Paying attention to their readers is pandering, and it results in a feedback loop with predictable consequences.

      This isn't a truism. Paying attention to readers can lead to pandering, or it can lead to providing factual information that reporters had assumed was well known enough to not need to be stated. I think an interesting experiment would be a paper that does allow comments and pays attention to them, and directly responds to ones that present factually incorrect information or premise conclusions upon it.

      Such an experiment might result in much more informed readers and discussion, although it would also be a lot of extra work and might drive away those who are so set in their beliefs they refuse to consider the facts.

      We need a thoughtful critical press capable of asking hard questions and not settling for non-answers from those in the news.

      Agreed. Moreover, we need a populace that demands answers both from the press and from politicians who refuse to answer direct questions. We need a populace who is willing to vote based upon which politicians actually answer questions.

      We need a system in which the President (and others in power) cannot exclude a journalist because he/she asks those hard questions.

      I'm not sure our current system isn't the best we're likely to get in that regard. We just need the public to be aware and care enough when t happens and vote the bastards out.

      • by u38cg (607297)
        If there's information that readers really need to get to journalists, there are channels for that. Other than that, I am yet to be convinced that comments sections on *any* mainstream news website are anything other than places for idiots to vent about things they obviously don't understand. To my mind, the lengths to which some outlets, like the BBC, go to accommodate blatant racists, homophobes, bigots, etc, undermine intelligent debate and reporting. I wonder how it feels as a reporter knowing that y
  • This is about money. It's not enough that news be reported accurately from reliable sources, vetted and checked for accuracy. These days it is paramount that the news outlet must show a profit to the parent company that owns the news outlet.

    Trying to make this into "I'm now open minded" or "I've rethought my position" isn't the full story.

    The business is "show a profit". Not "reporting news" or journalism.

  • Journalists are learning that listening to people might be newsworthy. Or, at the least, indicate where the news might be.

    I can handle censors editing out the most obscene language. I might handle censors deleting or editing calls for unlawful actions. I can even handle censorship of the most obscene pornographic material on a public forum.

    Otherwise, unmoderated forums are a valuable tool to society, the journalists themselves, and even to government. Anonymous posts have been acceptable since the days

  • by EWAdams (953502) on Sunday April 12, 2009 @12:02PM (#27549023) Homepage

    I started using the Internet when it was the ARPANET. Nice place. Interesting people. Cool projects. Then it became the Internet, then AOL hooked in, and suddenly I discovered that a large percentage of my fellow countrymen are ignorant, illogical, paranoid, quasi-literate, parochial, xenophobic, homophobic, sexist, racist, anti-intellectual believers in UFOs.

    I mean I knew they existed, but not in such numbers. The Internet is democratizing, and it sure as hell shows what's wrong with democracy.

    • believers in UFOs

      I don't believe that every flying object is identified; it would be quite illogical to do so.

      Then again, I don't believe that an unidentified flying object is of extra-terrestrial origin based on its lack of identification either, maybe that's the belief you were implying.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        You're right: he did forget to include nit-picky pedants in the original list. ;-)

      • The Air Force has these secret radars that can tell the difference between a mosquito and a gnat, and right now they're using them to track all the alien spacecraft that they're not telling us about, because of course you know that the Air Force is really run by a bunch of nigger lesbian feminist illegal immigrants who are secretly in the pay of the international Jewish banking conspiracy. See, if the international Jewish banking conspiracy ever let honest God-fearing white Americans find out just how many

        • The Air Force has these secret radars that can tell the difference between a mosquito and a gnat...

          Heh. You don't need a secret radar to determine that. Any old radar can distinguish between the two... a gnat's radar return is *much* smaller than a mosquito's. The *really* tricky part is distinguishing between a gnat's return and that of the wind-blown trees outside!

    • by tripmine (1160123) on Sunday April 12, 2009 @12:59PM (#27549331)

      ...I discovered that a large percentage of my fellow countrymen are ignorant, illogical, paranoid, quasi-literate, parochial, xenophobic, homophobic, sexist, racist, anti-intellectual believers in UFOs.

      That does seem to be the picture you get by reading people's opinions online. I find comfort in believing that the sample of opinions posted online isn't representative of the total population since it suffer from a sort of volunteer bias, where the people with the most outrageous opinions have the greater will to express those opinions to a bunch of strangers.
      Either that, or we ARE surrounded by ignorant, illogical, paranoid, quasi-literate, parochial, xenophobic, homophobic, sexist, racist, anti-intellectual believers in UFOs and are all screwed.

      • by Dhalka226 (559740)
        Either that, or we ARE surrounded by ignorant, illogical, paranoid, quasi-literate, parochial, xenophobic, homophobic, sexist, racist, anti-intellectual believers in UFOs and are all screwed.

        We are surrounded by those people, and always have been. How much that means we're screwed is really up to your own interpretation. I suppose it's as much as you think we're screwed right now.

        The uncommonly intelligent, the free-thinkers, the men who change the world have always been in the minority; whatever progre

        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          by maxume (22995)

          Imagine if the uncommonly intelligent were the majority!

        • She was too optimistic. I would paraphrase that to read: "Never doubt that a small group of vicious, ruthless, bigoted bastards motivated by religious zealotry can change the world; it happens all too often." Applies equally well to Al Qaeda and the Bush administration, although the relative scales of their crimes are different.

      • > I find comfort in believing that the sample of opinions posted online isn't
        > representative of the total population since it suffer from a sort of
        > volunteer bias, where the people with the most outrageous opinions have the
        > greater will to express those opinions to a bunch of strangers.

        You may be right about the bias, but that does NOT imply that the opinions are not representative.

        > Either that, or we ARE surrounded by ignorant, illogical, paranoid,
        > quasi-literate, parochial, xenopho

    • by couchslug (175151)

      "I discovered that a large percentage of my fellow countrymen are ignorant, illogical, paranoid, quasi-literate, parochial, xenophobic, homophobic, sexist, racist, anti-intellectual believers in UFOs."

      They also vote. Sleep well. :)

  • by hwyhobo (1420503) on Sunday April 12, 2009 @12:12PM (#27549085)

    Online media, unless operating purely on subscription basis, needs ads. Ads are priced according to unique clicks and time spent on that page by readers (reader's interest). A lot of posts indicate interest. Controversial, or even flamebait articles frequently generate the longest comment trails. Scholarly, analytical articles go with scarcely a comment. Thus the tendency of some online media to adjust their content downward.

    This is not a new phenomenon. TV has learned it a while ago - witness daytime shows, Ricki Lakes, Montel Williamses, Jerry Springers, and other tabloid trash programs. The difference now is with the immediacy of feedback, hence this spiral happens much faster. Anonymous posts (and to a lesser degree even nicknamed posts, like mine), only add an accelerant to this process.

  • by redelm (54142) on Sunday April 12, 2009 @12:56PM (#27549313) Homepage
    This is not a new observation. It applied just as much and was equally discussed on USENET vis-a-vis moderated vs unmoderated newsgroups.

    The fundamental problem with moderation is that it inevitably slows and stifles conversation. Often it actually loses creative contributions which really discourages contributors.

    Sometimes the slowing might be a good thing. More often, it is thought to be a good thing by people who are more annoyed by undesireable postings than worried about postings that might have been dropped. The underappreciated "false postive" problem.

  • by MrSteveSD (801820) on Sunday April 12, 2009 @02:21PM (#27549723)
    The BBC has it's own reader's comments section called "Have Your Say". It's moderated by a BBC team and it's notorious for censoring completely valid and non-abusive opinion. For example, when they had a topic on Google's participation in censorship in China, some posters pointed out that the BBC also censors things. The BBC responded to this by removing their posts (the topic that day had pre-moderation switched off, something that virtually never happens now). This prompted other people to point out the irony of the BBC removing posted about BBC censorship on a topic about censorship. The BBC then quickly pulled those posts. This prompted more similar responses and eventually the BBC gave up.

    These days all of the topics are premoderated and if they don't like your opinion, it won't go up. Those posts pointing out cases of BBC censorship would never have made it onto the website. For example, I made a recent post on the topic of How should the police handle protests? [bbc.co.uk] (coming after a protester died after being assaulted by the riot police). I pointed out that assaults on unarmed and non-violent protesters are routine, that the media knows it and that they are only writing about it this time because someone died. The post was rejected without explanation (as all rejections are).

    I firmly believe that members of the public should be able to make posts on news stories without being pre-moderated by some faceless team of people with rather nebulous posting rules. I think if we could make posts on any news topic (e.g. each news item could have a discuss button) on the BBC (or any other outlet) it could really affect the way they report. For example, during the massive Israeli military assault on Gaza earlier in the year, the BBC website was plastered with images clearly showing the use of white Phosphorus. The problem was that despite these clear images, and despite people writing in and pointing it out, the BBC refused to use the term "white phosphorus" for a whole week. Would they have been able to get away with that if the top-rated post under their Gaza news stories was about White Phosphorus being used?
    • "I pointed out that assaults on unarmed and non-violent protesters are routine, that the media knows it and that they are only writing about it this time because someone died."

      The first comment on your bbc link says...

      "I have benon a few marches but am reluctant to do so any more because of intimidation by the police even when the marches are peaceful and orderly they film you and basically treat protesters as criminals. It seems to me that individually the police are OK and some are wonderful, bu whe
    • by Raenex (947668)

      Even worse than filtering of comments is rewriting of comments. I experienced this first hand in the Los Angeles Times comments section. During the 2008 election I wrote a controversial post and they changed it into something like "Obama is the change we need". What drivel.

      The Slashdot comment system is the best. No editing, no filtering, say what you want, and moderation keeps it readable.

  • He must have gotten word from Karl Rove. Those guys love anonymous web comments.

    By the way, have you guys seen this one? Clumsy British Centipede Stings Itself To Death In Public [wired.com]

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