Where We Live: Online Civility

Discourse's wild west

<< Previous
0 of 1 Images
Next >>
Photo by Chion Wolf
Where We Live: Online Civility
Download Audio
Audio Playlist
Where We Live: Online Civility

We used to discuss the news around the water cooler, at the barbershop and sometimes at dinner. Now, we can get right online and tell people how we REALLY feel...

Is there anyplace more cringe-worthy than the “comments section” of a news website?

The intentions were good: providing readers with a place to discuss the stories.

But all too frequently there’s name-calling and hateful comments, all disguised by anonymous “handles.”

Some organizations have revamped their commenting policies with varying degrees of success.

Today, we’ll have a conversation about online conversations and the limits of “free speech.”

We’ll talk with one columnist who thinks hyper-local sites are eliminating anonymity.

Do you comment on articles online? Do you do it anonymously? Would you be willing to contribute your views if your name was attached to it?



I have significant problems

I have significant problems with the coming loss of privacy in the Mobile Internet age.
The harrassment of Prop 8 supporters and opponents by donor lists as in California will become more common place. Google's attempt to link email addresses to physical addresses are part of a larger privacy problem where a users GPS movements will be for sale, their credit, criminal and employment history, resumes, search history, and any posted media like photos or music.
We are coming to the day where a cell phone can snap a picture of you, match that up to a photo on the web, and pull your entire life for someone to view while talking. View your last 3 addresses in 3-D? No problem. Fetch your high school? Car make, model and GPS tracked movement? No problem.

We are 15 years into the internet tracking age and the paranoia of the movie 'The Net'. Changing a past isn't as easy as obtaining one. That will be the first step. Then there will be the smear jobs by people gaming the search systems and feeding them false information.


Uncommonly named, appropriate commenters unite!

First, thanks to John for a much-needed program, especially for those of us who remember the old Topix-run message boards on the Courant's site.

I would like to append to Sharee's comment:

"Except in specific circumstances," per caller Luther, anonymity is a dishonorable idea. One would not have to go very far to wonder, in this economy, if a boss or hiring manager can pre-cross you off a list for saying the wrong things about taxes, a particular industry, generic, non-named corporate practices, or even the glories of capitalism, in an online forum.

Per our host, I'll give you an example of what people are rightly hiding from: It is important to have some deniability in an era when the apocryphal story of the Texas employer says "We need to lay some people off. Everybody in favor of 'change' is the first to go", (regarding the Obama bumper stickers on their cars in the work parking lot) is a "I see by your reaction that I'm joking" kind of joke.

About two decades ago, letters to the editor were printed, then forgotten in about a week, if that. Now they can be screened by employers or interviewers for, well, forever.

By the way, when it comes to civility, I'm all for it, as long as moderators don't go pretending that everybody has a point. Susan Campbell may never knew she was signing up to be a, well, detention monitor. The effort she takes to make her place a spot for grown-ups (by and large) is appreciated.

In 12 hours this thread at

In 12 hours this thread at HuffPo has over 23,000 posts. it speaks volumes about something. I don't think anonymity is the problem :).


1) As a long time internet

1) As a long time internet user its important to remember mainstream media is late to the party and wants their standards imposed on the anonymous culture. It would be like going after CB radio in the South in the 70s and telling everyone they need to use their real names. It would be laughable if these Johnny come latelies weren't so serious and so gosh darn bad at embracing these 'new' technologies and trying to co-opt it to their Letter-to-the-Editor model.

2) I've been banned everywhere. There's no hardened relationship between civility and being banned. On some sites opposing gay marriage is simply enough. There may be 30 bloggers at that site and then you need to re-register to comment on other blogs. Now you can't use your real name any longer. And so on.

3) The SEBAC thing should scare some. Voters on both sides of the fence trying to track down people who are posting and hold them accountable, The claims against Yankee were a small indication of some of what went on in the comments area. Also in Google.

3) Sexism. Deep down Campbell knows the real issue. I find guy bloggers to be more receptive to differing views and happier with chaos and poster dissension in their blogging ranks. Susan Campbell struggles more with dissenting opinions. It simply has nothing to do with sexism. She leans to the far Left and acknowledges it. Even moderate liberals give pause when reading some of her stuff. Once again, she knows this and I respect her for not hiding behind gender. That reminds me, I need a new set of ISP addresses and emails :)

5) Sites can set their own rules. Period. I think Mainstream Media made their own bed by editing letters for so many years that there is a backlash. Some aren't happy with the backlash against the gatekeepers who are more prone to believe the stuff graduate journals say about their social worth versus the unvarnished John Q Public. What many media bloggers really want is a fashion show. If William F Buckley returned from the dead they would be interested in a Conservative rebuttal. Otherwise its the work of Tea Party idiots and so forth.

Personally, I enjoy the nonsense from both sides of the fence. No registration (and no moderation) as on the Courant's old Toxic boards are an answer. Tight moderation models should be self-policed and listed as such as in "I don't like opposing views and publish all compliments"

Finally HuffPo does light moderation based on user complaint. Works OK. Hot topics there get 25,000 or more posts in 6 hours. Does anyone really care who the posters are? If you have something of real value to post submit it to them as a blog entry not as a blog response. That's the other response to the Letters to the Editor approach. Publish as blog entries intelligent responses (if so submitted) and simply ignore the psychotherapy of the comments sections.

Listener email from Rob

Why not place a warning (in big red font) stating "all poster's IP addresses are recorded for security reasons". I think those who use anonymity to simply vent vitriol or hate speech might moderate themselves if they realized how un anonymous they really are.

Listener email from Sheree

I want to comment on the value of anonymity online. I frequently choose to leave anonymous comments or use a pseudonym. For example if I comment on something regarding my medical condition, my employer, or something potentially controversial that could affect future employment or relationships with people who disagree. Not that my comments are inappropriate, but because they could be sensitive in nature.
Also, comments are often published with first names only. This gives a degree of anonymity if your name is "John", but no anonymity if your name is uncommon.

Listener email from Barbara

If you've already addressed this sorry-- last week I had a conversation with a local online site where I saw some scary hate filled anti-semitic comments. They had no mechanism for monitoring this and I believe they will now institute a " flag if inappropriate" button. I do post anonymously because of a scary backlash contingency and often remove my own comments so I don't have to deal with this level of threat or incivility.

Listener email from Tracy

I'd like to call your attention to the gender component that is often present In uncivil online postings. A few years ago, Salon.com writers observed that when on-line incivility was directed at women, a particular breed of bodily threat and nasty insult was included, forcing one of their contributors to remove her website and cancel speaking engagements. Because of the threat of sexual assault that women in our culture experience, the stakes are higher for women who are objects of online nastiness than they are for men.

Listener email from Dave

I think the best way to ensure accountability in online comments is to create a democratic vote based system for the comments. Good comments are voted up to the to of the page and comments with no substance are voted down. The bad comments are then in turn banished to the bottom with no intervention from an official editorial staff. I have seen this used on several sites to great results. Getting rid of anonymity online would not only just reduce the amount of comments, it is probably impossible to enforce.