Welcome to comment culture! We’ve been posting plenty of comments of our own, so you’ve got some familiarity with the process. Briggs (chapter 11) this week talks about building a digital audience, but what do we do with that audience when it starts responding? Let’s get right into it with the worst of the worst: YouTube comments. Watch this seemingly harmless (and adorable) clip of President Obama calming a crying baby. Scroll down a hair to the top comments. Now take a deep breath and wade into the rest of the comment thread – try to get through a few pages, if you can. Yikes. Why does something like this seem so familiar?
Comments are a part of today’s news. There are multiple cases of news organizations being sued for content appearing in their comments, as well as this 2010 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 other side of the “NymWars” (warning: Wikipedia source), we’ve got the argument from commenting houses like Disqus that pseudonymous comments (e.g., BlogMastaB) actually tend to be better in quality! So what do you think? How important is it to connect individuals with their 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); video of Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech at one time had comments disabled “since many of them were hateful and racist.” The New York Times recently changed its comment policy to reward “trusted commenters” and “improve the community experience.” 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?
There’s also the question of identity. 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. Read this Jeff Jarvis post on the role of identity – it’s not as simple as we tend to treat it. 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?
Finally, an important message about trolls:
What’s your identity (and do you only have one)? Are you a troll? How should comments run online – what would you like to see improved, and what should 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?
Remember to respond to these readings (including Briggs) in a comment to this post by noon on Monday, March 12. More importantly, come prepared to discuss these examples and, ideally, some of your own.
(Also, unrelated to comments, have a look at the #SWSWi tag on Twitter this week. There’s a number of sessions you might benefit from vicariously participating in – it’s just like being in Austin!)