Read & Respond – Week 13

April 11, 2010

This is going up fairly late for this Tuesday’s class, but it’s an easy read. We’ll be exploring the often weird world of commenting this week. We’ve been posting plenty of comments of our own, so you’ve got some familiarity with the process. All of you have your own usernames with which you post to different sites. You might use the same name at multiple sites (for example, I show up as either “Aaaaaargh” and “The Bob The” in most places I go), you might have different identities in different places, or you might be one of the dreaded unregistered users.

How you comment suggests something how you view the formation of online identity. The more you use a name, the more history that name develops, allowing those who’ve never met you in the flesh to nonetheless know something about you, or at least about your persona. Your online identity(s) may not be identical to who you are at home, but to what extent are you responsible for it?

Consider this story about a judge suing a newspaper for linking her name to her comments. Several news organizations are rethinking anonymous comments for exactly this reason. On the one hand, individuals may expect a level of personal privacy when they register as commenters; on the other, a county judge is an elected official held to a definite standard. How ethical was it to connect her with her anonymous words?

Beyond expectation of privacy, to what extent should commenters be free to say what they like? Consider places like Youtube and Amazon, which boast some of the worst comments on the Internet (although Youtube has recently changed its policy); this video of Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech, for example, had comments disabled “since many of them were hateful and racist.” Take a look at Gawker’s comment policy, which requires commenters to audition and privileges the comments of “starred” commenters. Is this too restrictive, or do you think they’re on the right track?

How should comments run online? What would you like to see improved, and what do you think needs to remain unregulated? Imagine a world where your group blog for this class is widely read (hey, it could happen) – how would you manage your comment section to freedom of speech with civility of discourse?

Seeing as I’m late, you’ve got until class on Tuesday to post a response (to this post). More importantly, come prepared to discuss these examples and, ideally, some of your own.