Read & Respond – Week 13

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.

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13 Responses to Read & Respond – Week 13

  1. hillbillie22 says:

    Honestly I think that there shouldn’t be anonymous commenting. If someone is passionate enough about sharing their opinion, they should have enough pride in showing the public who they are. Granted they shouldn’t put up too much personal info – like last names or anything like that, but usernames or first names should be sufficient. Emails probably wouldn’t work out so well, since no one likes being harassed on their emails. One the other side, I don’t think websites should reveal identities of those commenters. It’s morally wrong and they’re are just as responsible as the harassers are if something happens. It’s like being an accessory to murder.

  2. ecmoore19 says:

    Sometimes (most of the time) anonymous comments do create a hostile environment where the guy with CAPS on wins but maybe that’s the way most sites should be. The reason the internet thrives as a place of discussion is because of the anonymity, but how do we sort through the wasteland to find comments that actually promote conversation? I think YouTube has developed a framework that other blogs and sites should check out. Everyone is free to comment, but the best comment wins the most prominent spot. The system isn’t perfect but it’s making headway in the wilds of commenting.
    Also, commenters should realize that they aren’t always as anonymous as they would like to believe. Just like the judge in the previous reading found out, emails and usernames aren’t necessarily shields of armor. Whether her daughter made the comments or not, an email address might as well be a phone number or home address these days. Commenters beware.

  3. gavinwv says:

    Anonymity is one of the greatest rights the Internet allows, and also one of the biggest annoyances. Anonymity was one of the huge factors that lead the Internet to take off so quickly. People who at one time were too shy or were social outcasts learned that they could be whomever they wanted in the online world. Many could finally share the opinions that they were afraid to speak out about before. If people playing World of Warcraft and other online games could easily have their real identities looked up, the curtain of having another virtual life would be lifted and most wouldn’t enjoy it anymore.
    Other people rely on secret identities for their own protection. Some bloggers couldn’t keep their day jobs if their employers knew about their online content. See here: http://kissingsuzykolber.uproxx.com/2008/04/update-ape-got-dooced.html
    I am all for continued anonymity in the online world.
    That being said, a lot of people who post anonymous comments are idiots that shouldn’t be writing at all. Either their comments have nothing to do with the content, do not add anything interesting to it, or are just racist and or hateful. Why people would feel the need to add these things at all is beyond me.
    I really like what gawker has done and I think that I would do the same, if at one point my blog required it. The idea that people have to audition to become a commenter and that they could lose those privileges if they continuously post uninteresting or stupid comments is great. Not only does it weed out those who are just trying to be annoying, it also makes everyone else that much more inclined to write excellent comments that are funny or meaningful.

  4. nochickflickmoments says:

    I agree with Hillary, you’re already volunteering your opinion…you should volunteer your name. The “star commenter” restriction is a bit much, though. I think it’s up to those who run the website to decide what stays and what goes, after all…it’s their site.

    Truthfully, I’ve never been so overcome with a topic that I just have to comment on an article. I just read what I’m interested in and move on. I rarely read them either. I don’t need to see their opinion when I have one of my own.

    I think comments are useful to those running a site. They should have control over what others see/don’t see. They can use the comments to see what people like/don’t like and so on. The hateful or racist comments just have to be ignored. It’s not hard to ignore them.

    As for creating online conversations…it’s a nice idea, but how often does that really happen? create a chat room option if you want to go there.

  5. grcarey says:

    I like the idea of what Gawker has done for a commenting policy. While many may believe it is too strict of a policy, the facts are useful comments will be posted and ones that don’t offer much will not be. Even if you are new to commenting on Gawker, your comment can be accepted without being an approved commenter. This gives people a fair and equal chance of providing insightful feedback, but it will also keep meaningless hostile comments away.

    One aspect I would change is the ability to post anonymously. I have always frowned upon anonymous posts, because journalism is a field of accountability. While professional journalists are and should be held to a higher degree of accountability, anonymous posts are the exact opposite. It doesn’t take much creativity or thinking to come up with a one or two word name to call yourself as a commenter on a specific site. If you care enough and have the time to comment on websites, it should at least be done with a name. That way readers know who you are and what you believe, and they aren’t left with 50-100 anonymous posters sharing different thoughts.

    The case in Cleveland with judge Shaffold is somewhat of a gray area, as the posted comments outweighed the privacy policy, according to the Plain Dealer. I can see why both parties are upset, but a privacy policy is supposed to be just that. Even if comments become over-the-top and controversial, public information is not supposed to be distributed in that manner.

    I think most sites should run their comments section by making people sign up and provide a user-name and not allowing just another visitor to contribute comments. Comments should be regulated more so there aren’t a bunch of meaningless thoughts from people who like nothing more than to push another person’s buttons.

  6. I think that the cartoon which the New York Times article referred to summed up the allure of anonymity on the internet in a nutshell. You can be whoever you want on the internet. The internet also gives you the ability to reinvent yourself into an online personality, which of course can have either a positive or a negative outcome.

    If a person chooses to comment anonymously, perhaps there are reasons behind it without negative connotations. Maybe an intelligent person who comes from less than desirable circumstances doesn’t want to be immediately judged as having nothing important or credible to say. Or, maybe they care enough about an article to say something about it, but not enough to go through a site’s registering process. On the other hand, people who hide behind anonymous comments drawn from hatred, prejudice, or any other form of negativity are just taking advantage of it.

    It really bothers me when scrolling down comments I see that every comment that has offensive material or opinions is anonymous. Why bother?

    As far as revising comment policies goes, I think that it’s perfectly understandable for sites to require commenters to register with additional information, provided that they don’t publish or share this information anywhere. From what I’ve seen, the majority of anonymous comments bring nothing to the table except for negativity and offensiveness.

  7. I agree with Greg’s reaction to the whole commenting thing on websites. It is very easy to come up with a screen name or user-name that allows you to comment and not be an anonymous user. Like the South Park episode ” So you don’t have the two seconds to add me as a friend on Facebook?” It seriously takes two seconds two create a user name and I think this would help people be held accountable.

    I also like what Gawker is saying about his commenting policy. I do not think it is too strict. I think everyone should have a fair chance to comment and so they should have a user name and their comment should be helpful or useful in some way and not hostile meaningless comments. Even if you are not a user on Gawker and you post something meaningful you will be approved.

    This brings me to my next point. I touched on it earlier, but posting without representation is something that is not acceptable in the journalism world. In journalism people need to be held accountable and have a responsibility to produce the truth as accurately as possible. When people post anonymously no one is held accountable and this is an injustice to journalism.

    I think most websites should have people sign up and provide a user-name and not allow anyone or any visitor to contribute comments. Comments should be regulated and used in a way that is helpful for other users. If this problem can be resolved than I think comments would be used in a better way than they are right now. Comments are a great thing because it gives people feedback and information that they might have never known before the comment. The problem is when meaningless comments happen and are not dealt with in an appropriate way. I don’t want to be a new person on the internet or become somebody else (some people might), to me I want to be known for what I say all the time or so other people can recognize me… hopefully things will change for the good!

    As for the group blog commenting. I like constructive criticism and I like hearing other people’s opinions. As long as people are trying to comment useful information than I think things are going well. Like I said earlier just not meaningless or hateful comments, if this started to occur than we would have to make a change or put something on our homepage telling users how to comment on the group blog.

  8. I really have no problem with anonymous commenting. But at the same time, the person posting the anonymous comment has to realize that they could still be accountable for what was said.

    I think, overall, most websites should make people have a username and password in order to comment. That at least helps filter out a lot of the unnecessary stuff that sometimes gets posted.

    As far as the case with the judge suing the Plain Dealer, I’m kind of in the middle about it. On the one hand, I think the judge has a very solid point. Her personal information should not have been given out due to the privacy policy. Therefore, she was entitled to post under whatever name she wanted. But on the other hand, if you are in the position she’s in as a public figure, why even take the risk of posting something that would make you look bad is someone happened to find out you posted it?

    I think we all expect a certain level of privacy on the internet, but I think the actual amount is starting to become less and less. If you aren’t able to stand up for your comments and have to post them “anonymously” then maybe you shouldn’t be posting them in the first place.

  9. kenziekat says:

    I agree that commenters should always be required to provide an email address when they choose to let their voice be heard. On the other hand, I think that Gawkers method may be too restrictive. If I have to do much more than provide my name/email, I’m not going to go the extra mile to leave a comments, and chances are, not many others will either. Isn’t America the land of free speech, afterall?

    With that being said, I think YouTube’s new method could have vast potential. Perhaps sites could create “comment filters” that way those reading the comments could choose to see either the best rated comments, the most responded comments, or all comments, by choosing a particular filter. Of course, this would create a lot of work for the site.

    Overall, I don’t see a huge issue in commenting. As I said, we have the freedom of speech here in America, and although I’m not advocating hate speech or threatening speech, people should be allowed to comment however they want. This process of sifting through comments and taking out those the site doesn’t like is a bit deceiving.

    If my site were more popular and received both good and bad comments, I would keep them all. Unless of course, they made threats against Kenzie Kat…then repercussions would have to be made (like clicking delete and sending the commenter, who would be required to provide an email address, hate email).

  10. I think that it doesn’t matter what name you use to make comments. The internet is so big that people can have multiple usernames, I have a few myself. I don’t have two facebook or twitter accounts, but I’ve used different names on those accounts. Anyway, I think part of the reason people use usernames on the accounts like these is because they may want to complain about something. Personally, if people are stating their opinion on something, explaining something or telling someone what they are doing right now; what would an average Joe use the internet for? I don’t really have any problem with people signing up and using different user names. Part of the reason people use usernames is because they may not want people to know who they are.

  11. I really think comments are kind of pointless on somethings, but if people do feel the need to comment they should be willing to identify themselves. I really don’t see the point interacting and having a conversation with someone you don’t know and will probably never know. A lot of people use comments to vent about problems they have with an issue so it then turns into a big internet fight with someone you don’t know. Seems dumb to me?

    I’m not saying all commenting is bad, for example comments on Facebook or retweet with comments on twitter are ok, because you know these people.

    But hiding behind screen name is kind of cowardish to me.

    If my site or any site i’m envolved with were to become popular and start recieving comments, I would filter it by requiring eveyone to sumbit their information and have their identity be known. I would also have them agree to terms that they would not sumbit any harmful or pointless comments. If done they would be removed from the site.

  12. rzawodni says:

    For starters, I think you should be held responsible for anything that comes out of your mouth in a conversation. And on the web, that is no different. In the case of internet commenting you should use even more caution when speaking your mind because of the vast majority of people that can see what you write.

    This is why I agree that commenting should be monitored closely and should not be anonymous. I think in class we have talked heavily about how different sites handle their commenting. I think that not only should comments on sites (especially a respected newspaper site like the Washington Post) be monitored but the people leaving the comments should be easy to find and get a hold of. Contact information (only e-mails) is needed from users especially in cases that leaked information like in the Strickland case.

    People should be held responsible for their words, because bad things come when people feel that they can say whatever they want without repercussion.NOT having anonymous comments will not only keep people from saying things that will get other people in trouble, but it will clean up the conversation.

    I think that they should not only make most sites have mandatory registry to comment, but also have commenting done kind of like Deadspin. If you are not intelligently or purposefully adding to the conversation, your comment can be removed easily.

  13. Commenting widely on the internet is something that has just begun to kick off in the last couple of years… and with the spread of comments… came the controversy. I have a Love Hate relationship when it comes to commenting.
    I think it is important for some outlets to have discussion between the reader and the writer. But when commenting resorts to name calling and petty remarks, it makes a site lose credibility.
    This I believe is the sole reason commenting is not widely regulated on the internet. And a good reason, In my opinion. When people write derogatory or hatful comments toward you hard work, not only is it discouraging, but also immoral. The comment about YouTube having to start regulating their comment posts because the “I had a dream” video was being ridiculed just makes me sad. Its kind of hard to believe we live in a world that still acts this way, aren’t we past all the racial slurs and unfair treatment.
    And that goes for any other aspect of comments, stop calling people names already, we live in a thriving, wonderful, successful country let’s keep the comments positive.

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