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Thoughts about comments and commenters

August 2, 2012 - Harry Eagar
RtO would be pleased to have more comments (and more readers, too). But RtO is pretty happy with the few commenters it does have,

Other places are not so fortunate. Consider the Spokesman-Review.

That Idaho paper allows reader comments on news stories, something The Maui News tried and quickly thought better of in 2008. (We tried for a while to get the level of discussion up; I personally spent more time than I had to spare tracking down and blocking a persistent Jew-hater before we gave it up as a bad job.)

Spokesman-Review columnist Shawn Vestal says the reader comments at his paper are a sewer of stupidity. He has several other cogent things to say about the (at best) naivete of the Internet promoters who thought that the Interwebs would be good for free speech.

(It is cruel justice that all threads about the technology consist of sniping by Apple and Microsoft fanboys at each other for being stupid. They're right. All of them.)

If you comment or read comments, Vestal's thoughts are worth reading. Nut grafs:

"But what has emerged in the era of online commenting is, about three-quarters of the time, a sewer of stupidity and insults and shallowness. The visions of a digital public square, with less gatekeeping and more democratic forums for discourse, seem quaint and comical in the light of what has actually come to pass.

"I have mostly stopped reading the comment threads on the newspaper’s website, because it is almost always infuriating and pointless. It is especially so when I have persuaded someone to share their story – only to see them mocked for their painful experiences or physical appearance. Which is common.

"The idea that the newspaper has to spend time and treasure defending this nonsense – not protecting a whistleblower; not battling the government for access to public records – is repulsive. It’s a perversion of what, in other circumstances, is a valuable journalistic relationship: helping to get at the truth by protecting people for whom it’s dangerous to speak the truth. That relationship has been distorted and demented on Internet bulletin boards, and now the monkeys who are in there throwing poop want to be treated like Karen Silkwood."

Well, I'm glad this corner of the Web is above that.


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