The climate of online comments

In a word, it’s nasty.

I knew this from scanning news stories on media sites, but I got a firsthand dose when the Boulder Daily Camera posted online their article and video about my take on the old ponderosa pine that burned in the Fourmile Fire. (Update: The Camera’s video is no longer available, but the article is available here at the Denver Post.) Within minutes, the comments section was filled with off-topic speculations about my private life, contentless rants, and plain old snide and snarky ridicule.

I wasn’t surprised, but this time I was pissed. The nastiness is a teensy bit harder to ignore when it’s directed at you.

So I wrote a letter to the editor of the Camera and three days ago sent it in. They have not yet published it, so I offer it here:

Dear Editor,

Thank you for your recent article on the 600-year-old ponderosa pine on Bald Mountain, which burned in the Fourmile Fire. I was glad to see this old sentinel of the hillside get some well-deserved media attention. The problem is that the online story attracted a host of comments that included gay-bashing, personal insults, and attacks on the beliefs and religion of the woman featured in the story—me.

That I was the target is not the issue. This kind of online behavior is widespread. Check out the comments section of most online news stories, and you will find insulting, snarky comments with no intellectual content and no intention of contributing to honest or constructive debate.

Snide, derisive speech and gay-bashing are the first tools of bullies. With the tragic teen suicides we are witnessing as a result of bullying in schools, it is time to rethink the open invitation we are giving hateful speech online.

It is time to moderate online news forums. Does this amount to censorship? Not unless your own letter-to-the-editor guidelines, which stipulate “no name-calling or ad hominem attacks” are also censorship. A moderated forum could ensure that online comments adhere to this same standard of respect.

Moderated online forums are better able to promote honest debate. When snarky, derisive speech proliferates, it only shuts down dialogue. By not limiting these kinds of comments online, you are not promoting debate but rather stifling it.

If we hope to address bullying in schools, we need to start addressing the tools of bullying online. Let’s stop pretending that derisive speech contributes to public dialogue. Let’s stop publishing it.

Thank you,

Priscilla Stuckey, PhD

Meanwhile, friends and media colleagues have been alerting me to commentary on what is now recognized as a pervasive problem with online content especially on news sites. Nasty comments—none of which I intend to reproduce here—abound after even the most heart-wrenching stories and are often aimed at those who have suffered misfortune or loss.

The problem is becoming so acute that computer science and communications researchers are beginning to investigate. Here is a sample of research that has been done on comments on a news site by a scholar at Pomona College, Sara Sood, teaming up with a Yahoo research scientist, Elizabeth Churchill. They found that

the quality of content a potential participant sees on a site is highly influential.

Which means that the tone of comments sets the stage for the discussion—or lack thereof—that follows. They go on:

off-topic, negative comments are a particularly strong boundary to participation.

Snide and ridiculing speech discourages, not encourages, dialogue—a point I made in my letter. (But it’s nice when research backs you up.) A news story on the Yahoo research scientist, Elizabeth Churchill, can be found here. She is hard at work on software that will alert site owners to hateful and repugnant speech being posted on their site and will help to ferret it out.

On the local level, another Boulder blogger, Doyle Albee, some months ago tackled this same problem regarding offensive online comments in the Daily Camera. His list of action items is well worth reading. Most of them involve closer monitoring of comments sections, including enlisting the public’s help. More on that below.

Albee’s first recommendation is to eliminate anonymous commenting altogether. Anonymity is not allowed in letters to the editor; why allow it in comments? As he says,

Allowing people to completely hide their identity behind [pseudonyms or avatars] practically encourages bad behavior.

True, but we shouldn’t be putting up with disrespectful speech no matter who utters it. If we put in place disincentives to snide speech, it will eliminate the attractiveness of anonymity in the first place.

Doyle’s post brought some comments from the executive editor of the Camera, Kevin Kaufman, to the effect that the Camera is free to choose its own method of moderating comments.

Good! And, Kevin, please use that freedom to choose more rigorous strategies. Your comments sections are public spaces, and we’d rather not see those public spaces get trampled by disrespectful bullies.

I also have a question for you, Kevin: I’ve had more than one Camera reader complain to me that you are allowing offensive, snide, and ridiculing comments because the paper believes that this kind of conflict-ridden speech—à la Fox News—will generate more readership. How do you respond to their view?

(My own experience of the two Camera interviews backs them up. The reporters asked questions designed to set up an opposition between me and the county parks about cutting down the tree. The story I wanted to tell was instead about the magnificence of an elder tree and what it can teach human beings about trees, forest ecology, and life in general.)

Until the Camera and other news sites do institute more rigorous moderating of online comments, I have this suggestion for all readers of Internet news sites:

Flag every offensive, snide, off-topic, contentless comment you see.

At the Camera site, a little “Report” button sits to the right of every comment. Get familiar with it. Use it. Regularly.

A proliferation of flagged comments would alert site owners to the fact that the bullies are not the only ones reading the comments, and respectful people care about what gets published. It might also alert site owners to the reality—if they don’t know it already—that the people who write bullying, ridiculing comments are not by any stretch of the imagination a cross-section of readers or an accurate sampling of public opinion.

In closing, here are six reasons why online comments, especially on news sites, should be moderated more rigorously:

  1. Promote democracy. Public spaces, including Internet sites, that allow speech that ridicules others is helping to erode the respect needed for democracy to function.
  2. Protect free speech. It’s pretty simple: snide speech shuts down dialogue; respectful speech encourages it.
  3. Set an example of respectful speech for children. If we expect kids to clean up their speech acts, adults are going to have to take the lead in setting boundaries on bullying speech. (Don’t even get me started on political campaign language.)
  4. Be responsible. In an era when bullying, which begins in hateful speech, is wrecking the lives of some youth to the point that they commit suicide, it is irresponsible to give hateful speech free rein in any of our public arenas, let alone publish it so more people can read it.
  5. Get a more accurate sampling of public opinion. The disturbed, angry, and unhappy individuals who post the vast majority of snarky comments are a tiny minority of readers.
  6. Preserve a brand. The research scientist from Yahoo knows it: hate-mongering and snarky postings demean a website’s brand. The reputation of the Daily Camera is at stake. Don’t ruin it.

Thanks to Laura Tyler and Lyla Hamilton for pointing me to Doyle Albee’s post and the research on hostile online comments, and to Sandy Hockenbury for suggesting flagging offensive, off-topic comments.

UPDATE:

22 October 2010

  1. My letter to the editor of the Daily Camera was never published, either in print or online.
  2. Kevin Kaufman, the executive editor of the Camera, sent me an informative email about the paper’s comments policy but declined to comment publicly.
  3. After this blog post appeared, many of the offensive comments following the Camera story about me were removed by the administrator. I hope similar action follows on other Camera stories.

4 November 2010

I received an email from Aaron Trujillo of the Daily Camera apologizing for missing my letter to the editor and saying it has now been posted (almost three weeks later!) on their website. You can find it here (link no longer available).

 

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51 Responses to The climate of online comments

  1. Liz says:October 20, 2010 at 9:13 am

    Excellent points. I have stopped participating in most online discussions for all the reasons you cite and am sickened by the comments on most news articles I read. I had no idea I could flag incendiary, off-topic comments and will look into doing more of that.

    • Priscilla Stuckey, PhD says:October 20, 2010 at 9:30 am

      Liz, I don’t know if every news site provides the opportunity to flag, but if they don’t, they should! We could get a grass-roots reader movement going here.

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  3. Priscilla,

    The larger issue–that we seem to have a lack of common decency in our society–is troubling. Cowards and bullies have always sniped, but it is easier to do today than ever. We can see their comments for what they are and ignore them, but doing so does not address the sludge they leave behind, both energetically and in very concrete ways. By their behavior, I would say that the Daily Camera seems to be in major trouble with subscriptions. Newspapers were once the homes of intellectual journalists who aroused thoughtful debate. This is just cheap thrills.

    Should anyone questioning Ms. Stuckey’s mental vigor stumble upon this site, let me assure you (as one who knows her) that she is sane, intelligent, vibrant, compassionate, and aware. My guess is that many of her naysayers are none of those things.

    Melanie

    • Priscilla Stuckey, PhD says:October 20, 2010 at 9:34 am

      Thanks for your good words, Melanie! My guess is that societies always face the problem of maintaining common decency. Ours has let the balance slip toward glorifying conflict. I think it’s part of a larger problem in our culture: the kind of storytelling we do. Does a good story require conflict, even cheap conflict? I don’t think so–and there seem to be a lot of people who agree on this.

  4. Excellent points! And it’s lame that you were subject to ridicule by people hiding behind a computer. I rarely comment at all anymore, mostly because my experiences have been so awful (I wrote about some of them here). Sites like Gawker have gone as far a “devoweling” people who leave objectionable, off-topic comments, which at first worked but now to even see your comment you have to be deemed worthy by other commenters (by being “promoted” or “starred”). In that case, overmoderation has created what amounts to a high school clique of readers who dominate the conversation. This is why I depend on Twitter for most of my conversation.

    As I recall from class, someone had said that moderating opens up a legal can of worms because once you do, you can be held accountable for whatever libelous or incendiary comment slips through the cracks (whereas if you don’t moderate, you can’t be accused of promoting hate speech because you allow *all* speech). Can anyone confirm or refute this?

    • Priscilla Stuckey, PhD says:October 20, 2010 at 10:11 am

      Adrienne, I’m interested in the answer to that question too. There seems to be a theme developing–that people don’t comment because the climate of comments is so hostile.

  5. HURRAY, Priscilla! Thank you for speaking up about this! I have found Daily Camera comments to be consistently offensive, even on beautiful stories like yours! And I think your point about off-topic and offensive comments shutting down meaningful dialogue is a really good one….I know I had absolutely ZERO interest in commenting on your story because I didn’t want the trolls to jump all over me.

    Hopefully the Camera will begin paying closer attention to how out of control their commenters have become. In the meantime, I’m going to keep clicking that “Flag” button. Thanks again.

    • Priscilla Stuckey, PhD says:October 20, 2010 at 10:12 am

      Yay! Another grassroots reader flagging nasty comments! Thanks for chiming in, Beth. The more people letting the Camera know that offensive comments are inhibiting sane ones, the better.

  6. Morgaine says:October 20, 2010 at 9:57 am

    Priscilla,

    Please accept my heartfelt empathy. I’m so sorry you and your partner were attacked like that. This just goes back to our earlier discussion on education. Most of the comments are distinctly lacking in educational basics, not to mention the human basics of kindness, compassion, kinship and respect.

    The internet is but one medium in which cowardice thrives. We sit behind our keyboards, anonymous to the world, and even I have had to retract things because I would not have said them to the recipient’s face. We have to be mindful of how we communicate through this relatively new medium, and sometimes, we really don’t see the reader as a real human being in my mind’s eye as we crash out words in haste without having considered them carefully.

    Bullying comments are so much easier to make when we don’t have to face the people we injure with our words. (And yes, we’re wearing purple today like many who oppose and want to be counted in our opposition to the bullying climate we currently have.)

    Thank you for taking the opportunity to address the subject – it’s quite fitting, and I’m so pleased that you brought attention to the trees – those old and wise ones.

    Blessed be.

    Morgaine

    • Priscilla Stuckey, PhD says:October 20, 2010 at 10:15 am

      Yes, anonymity increases the temptation to be nasty. I’m all for face-to-face communications to keep people being civil to one another. And I’m glad you like giving attention to the old trees–let no elder tree go unsung! 🙂

  7. Flagging inappropriate comments is a great idea. Thanks for being part of the solution, Priscilla.

    • Priscilla Stuckey, PhD says:October 20, 2010 at 5:37 pm

      Thank Sandy! It was her idea, and I think it’s a good one.

  8. Lisa J says:October 20, 2010 at 5:54 pm

    Priscilla

    I know. It’s really horrifying how horrible unmoderated comments can be — Editors should be WAY more vigilant — I was just reading about the new mayor of that town near Juarez — the 20-year-old woman — on Yahoo news, and the comments are just disgusting. I’ve been called horrible things in Amazon reviews — I think it just comes with the territory. Hang in there & know you’re not alone — anyone who has the courage to say what they believe gets it from the loonies.

    • Priscilla Stuckey, PhD says:October 20, 2010 at 6:06 pm

      Yes, raise your head–or your voice–and you quickly become a target of loonies. But I think we need to stop giving privileged space to this kind of lunacy. We need to change the climate of conversation, don’t you think?

      • Ihla Nation says:October 21, 2010 at 8:14 am

        I do agree. And, Jon Stewart, my favorite “fake” journalist agrees also. In fact, on the Larry King show last night he didn’t want to respond to “tweets” because he said how does he know who these people are if they don’t have the courage to sign their names to what they are asking. The issue with the Internet in all its communicative forms is that things can be said because of anonymity and not having to look someone straight in the face, that someone might not ever say otherwise.

  9. I was the subject of this type of attack following a story about a hard time I was going through. The comments were incredibly hateful, all about what an obvious loser I must be. It struck me so clearly at the time that we have set up online forums as if we were asking people to speak at public meetings wearing bags on their heads. Why should these forums be anonymous? What kind of “dialogue” is that? Remove the anonymity and the problem will disappear. Until then, I never read the comments sections, because they have become nothing but garbage and vile. The Daily Camera is the worst of the worst in that regard. They should be incredibly ashamed that intelligent readers will never bother reading their comments sections because of this problem.

    • Priscilla Stuckey, PhD says:October 20, 2010 at 9:51 pm

      Well said, Marilyn. Thanks.

  10. Agreed that we’re living an the Age of Obnoxia. I empathize, Priscilla, but I have the gift of a very thick skin. I really don’t care what people I don’t know think of me. We’re not living in a time of Jane Austen or Emily Dickinson, and IMHO, any writer — constantly rejected, ignored, edited, etc. — is well served by tough hide. Mine was put to the test a few months ago.

    Shortly after the oil spill in the gulf, I wrote on travel-babel.com what I thought was just a snarky post about the upcoming Shrimp & Petroleum Festival in Morgan City, LA. Its logo is an oil well embraced by a shrimp. I suggested this might be a time to soft-pedal the petroleum part. I posted a photo of the 2009 festival king and queen respendent in plantation white and wondered whether they’d at least have the good grace to wear black. Stuff like that.

    My post went viral and attracted more than 300 comments (usually three comments to any post is remarkable), overwhelmingly defensive and outraged. The nicest adjectives I was called were “stupid” and “ignorant.” In mostly foul and often ungrammatical language, I was given lessons in the importance of the petroleum industry to the economy of the Gulf Coast, reminded that petroleum and its byproducts allow all of us to lead our smug and comfortable lives, told thatthe festival actually a celebration of Cajun culture, told to stay away from Morgan City, invited to come to the festival and be welcomed by the fine folks of Morgan City, etc.

    Among other things, I was told to “go f–k yourself,” “f–k yourself with a windmill,” “take a bath in boiling pig shi-t” and that I would make good crab bait. From the scores of vile comments I received, I am hard-pressed to see these people as “fine” or “welcoming.” A few people who disagreed with my take on their precious festival were also embarrassed by and apologetic for their fellow citizens’ crude language and viciousness.

    I let every one of those comments remain, because I felt they said more about the Morgan City patriots, whom I think of as igorant rednecks, than about me. After a few weeks and a lot of repetitive and repulsive comments, however, I finally “unposted” the my original and the whole thread of nasty comments. Enough was enough, I felt, and it was time to move on and the Morgan Citizens unleash their venom on another target.

    This is not a direct parallel to your circumstances, but it also is an indication of the times we live in and the downside of freedom of speech.

    • Priscilla Stuckey, PhD says:October 21, 2010 at 7:53 am

      Claire, I certainly agree that the comments to your post were obnoxious, but I disagree in a huge way that this is a downside of freedom of speech. You say your original post was snarky, which in my experience always invites more of the same–and worse–in response. But in a newspaper where the reporting is meant to be straightforward and informational, and where printed letters to that same newspaper are held to a certain level of decency without accusation that the paper is curbing freedom of speech, it’s pretty clear that the issue is not freedom of speech. “The times we live in” are made by us. We made the rules–if not in the sense of making them up, then in the sense of agreeing to them. We’re the only ones who can change them.

      • As I wrote, Priscilla, I don’t find your situation w/ the CAMERA article and mine with the blog post to be direct parallels — but both resulted in comments that were uncalled-for in tone and viciousness. Perhaps instead of “freedom speech,” I should have written “abuse of freedom of speech.”

        • Priscilla Stuckey, PhD says:October 21, 2010 at 11:56 am

          Yes, well said, Claire. As an abuse of a freedom it therefore needs disincentives and/or consequences, if we want the kind of society we say we want.

  11. Cindy Morris says:October 21, 2010 at 7:43 am

    I am horrified and disgusted but not surprised at the general degradation of comments and posts to heartache and loss. It seems to go along with the chaotic breakdown of a society going quite mad with fear and separation. If you follow history it is clear to see how hate-mongering flourishes in times of economic strife, just as spousal abuse increases as well. It’s the externalization of fear and panic expressed outwardly as blame and hate.
    It takes the brave ones to speak out against it and to demand kinder more compassionate behavior and to insist that our media respond responsibly. I would be surprised to see a change at the Daily Camera, a publication whose vibration is so low its best use is in its plastic sleeves which I use for dog poop pick up.

  12. Valerie says:October 21, 2010 at 7:48 am

    I agree that the snarky comments are annoying but I hate the idea of censorship unless the rules of the forum are broken. I think that the solution is to post more sane, thoughtful, rational commenting. Remember: “All that is required for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing.” (E. Burke)

    • Priscilla Stuckey, PhD says:October 21, 2010 at 7:55 am

      My question: Why are the rules of the letters to the editor not the same as the rules for online comments?

      • Publications and individual bloggers all make their own rules. Unfortunately your tribute to Priscilla’s ponderosa, the comments were not just out of line but also off-topic, and the CAMERA chose to let them remain.

  13. Ihla Nation says:October 21, 2010 at 8:06 am

    Thank you for this great blog and your letter to Kevin Kaufman. It is time for us to take action and I loved your suggestions. I even stopped posting to the BMW list because I was attacked (“responded to”) with very harsh and nasty responses a couple of times. And I am not the wilted lettuce type by any stretch of anyone’s imagination. It just isn’t worth the time to get angry and distracted. When I was one of the Colorado Voices a few years ago, I was absolutely shocked by the vitriolic email I received over what I wrote about as my personal experiences. I know too many people who no longer feel they can express an opinion (even an intelligent informed one), because of the anger and hatred it elicits. And that is not free speech!!

    Thanks again, Phyllis. Great Job!

    Ihla Nation

  14. You’re performing such a valuable service to civil public discourse in this post, Priscilla. I agree wholeheartedly and plan to befriend that flag button with zeal.

  15. Margaret says:October 21, 2010 at 9:56 am

    Priscilla,
    I’ve been noticing the exact same trend for some time now, ever since the 2008 elections when I used to follow comments on Huffington Post in regards to stories about John McCain and B. Obama. On certain websites, the Daily Camera being one of them, the forum for hate mongering, snide and unintelligent comments and knee-jerk bashing is ripe. I’ve wondered if perhaps people are feeling so much anger but they can’t express it anywhere in their lives constructively, so they get on these news websites and go to town. They can’t express themselves at work, because they fear losing their jobs in such a tight economy. They can’t express themselves at home perhaps because the source of their anger isn’t their family anyway. Perhaps they’re angry and scared and they don’t know whom to blame, so they blame the members of society who have the most timid voice.

    Or, maybe this type of hatred and rudeness exists in human beings all the time, but the anonymous online forum has given it a vehicle for expression?

    I’m not sure what the answer is, or whether active moderation will solve the problem. It’ll just hide the problem. What will solve the problem (mindfulness, compassion and LovingKindness) is not something that our techno-obsessed, over-worked, stressed out and anxious society is open to these days. It seems easier for people to blame, attack and vent. Very sad.

    Margaret
    author of “Contemplative Hiking Along the Colorado Front Range”
    http://www.ContemplativeHiking.com

    • Priscilla Stuckey, PhD says:October 21, 2010 at 2:48 pm

      Margaret, I too think a little more loving-kindness is the solution. I’ve seen a huge change in recent years in implementing contemplative practices in industries and institutions were I never expected to see it–higher education, including medical schools, being just one example. A great resource is the Association for Contemplative Mind in Higher Education. They have compiled a wonderful list of books and publications on contemplative practices, which can be found here.

  16. Priscilla,
    I too have been dismayed to read the comments on many articles published by the Daily Camera, especially regarding the homeless. And I’ve wondered how to push back. Your suggestions are appreciated.

    By the way, I just visited the article and see that many of the comments have been removed by the administrator. Is that recent, implying that your actions were taken to heart?

    All good wishes,

    Anne

    P.S. And I mourn the loss of trees too. A large cottonwood that shaded the east side of our house was taken down in the spring and I miss it every day, and at night as the rustling leaves were great music.

    • Priscilla Stuckey, PhD says:October 21, 2010 at 12:05 pm

      Yes, the removal of comments is recent. One had been removed a week ago; the others were removed last night or this morning. One small step at a time.

  17. Lyla Hamilton says:October 21, 2010 at 11:12 am

    Thank you for a thoughtful and thorough discussion of this important issue. I hope readers and editors of the Camera and other sites will heed your call.

  18. Cathy says:October 21, 2010 at 1:34 pm

    I agree this is a huge issue. The snarkfests on the Daily Camera (and elsewhere) are awful.

    Doing away with anonymity can help, but it’s not a cure-all. On one listserv of science writers there is a very snarky guy who pretty much ruins it for others. And he’s not anonymous — no one is on that list. But apparently he doesn’t care how much he looks like a complete jerk. He tears down everyone else, essentially proclaiming himself the greatest science writer around. I don’t want to open myself up to his nastiness, so I don’t post much on that list anymore. And I’ve been a dues-paying member of that organization for 20 years.

    • Priscilla Stuckey, PhD says:October 21, 2010 at 2:49 pm

      Yet another example of how snarky speech shuts down dialogue–the opposite of promoting free speech. I’m sorry to hear it, Cathy.

  19. Priscilla! You go, girl! I was stunned to see the hateful remarks in response to your article in the Daily Camera until I started scanning other stories and comments there.

    I had no idea that I could flag anyone’s comments. Thanks for pointing that out.

    And, you make a good point when you note that hateful and bullying speech shuts down dialogue. Several years ago I attended a conference in TX that was focused on hate-motivated speech and crimes. The keynote speaker provided quite a bit of research indicating that hateful speech and hate-motivated crimes are simply home-based (and often socially acceptable) methods of terrorism – whether at home or abroad the intention behind the acts is the same i.e. to shut people up. By making it too scary to speak up, entire communities are shut down and effectively shut out of the democratic process.

    Tolerating comments online that lack substance without so much as even a rebuttal simply feed the intolerance. I’m not much of a debater . . . I don’t enjoy it and it’s not my strong suit. However, to sit by without addressing the hate-based language seems to be silently supporting the continuation of incivility.

    Thanks, Priscilla, for continuing the conversation here.

    • Priscilla Stuckey, PhD says:October 22, 2010 at 8:49 am

      Thanks again to Sandy Hockenbury, who insisted that flagging hateful comments is a good start. And thanks for the info on hateful speech shutting people up. Hateful speech inhibits, not promotes, free speech.

  20. Thanks for this post! I couldn’t agree with you more. And all this does seem related to the workshop my daughter and my ex and I recently attended at her middle school–on cyberbullying.

  21. I couldn’t agree more. I have several times asked the Daily Camera to disallow anonymous posts. Letters to the Editor have to be signed. What’s the difference? NPR’s online forum requires real names. That’s a national forum. So why can’t the Camera? I use my real name when I post. And when I see someone making a nasty comment without theirs I challenge them, using the authority of my name.

  22. I couldn’t agree more. Anonymity is a start though… I use my real name everywhere and challenge those who are nasty and anonymous, using the authority of my name.

    If the Daily Camera requires names on Letters to the Editor, what’s the difference with online comments?

  23. Robert Hill says:October 22, 2010 at 4:31 pm

    Hi Priscilla,

    I am sorry to hear about your recent experiences with the Daily Camera. I find your blog thought provoking and interesting. I read your recent blogs about the tree and also about the so-called Muslim Center at Ground Zero. I found these articles to be enlightening. I have never understood the so-called controversy regarding the New York site. Last time I checked we have a democracy. This means if you own property, you are generally allowed to do as you please as long as you abide by the covenants and zoning restrictions that may be in place. I have found in my travels and experiences that there is a huge amount of ignorance regarding our Constitution and the Bill of Rights. In the last several years, I agree that political discourse in this country has degenerated. So we have people sounding off and acting out in ignorance.

    So…keep on keeping on and I think this blog article points out what needs to be done. We need to react and provide feedback to newspapers and on-line news sources that act irresponsibly. I am not presently taking a newspaper just because I am fed up with the paucity of original thinking and the lack of original journalism. The Ads seem to predominate.

    Thank you for being an intelligent voice.

  24. Lys Anzia says:October 23, 2010 at 12:40 pm

    Thanks so much for bringing this important discussion deeper into the public forum, Priscilla.

    The Camera desperately does need to publish your great “Letter to the Editor” (even though they mysteriously don’t seem to know it). Why is it important? Because this topic is very interesting to most people and something all of us are facing right now every time we go online. A deeper public discussion on this would bring more, not less, readers to the page.

    I’ve also dealt with those anonymous snarky comments personally with pieces I’ve put up on Huffington Post. Last year, I had a long discussion with one of the HuffPo editors about this very topic. Unfortunately, the tide right now for so many larger online sites is to keep the moderation of comments to a minimum. I’m not sure if this because most sites/networks just don’t want to pay someone to moderate comments, or if they like the controversy of people saying stupid things. I do feel that moderating comments would (surprise!) bring more readers instead of less to the table.

    If everyone does speak up about being tired of looking at slanderous comments (enough to stop reading a publication), I know it will help bring comment moderating much higher on the list for agencies that have put this at the bottom of their “to do.”

    If The Camera started to act more like they care about their readership, I’m sure it would bring the newspaper up a notch (it’s been suffering for a long time now… falling as it goes).

  25. Well said. Wish the nasty, regulars who comment on Daily Camera were reading this. Alas . . .

  26. I hope that your letter to the editor is published. I was appalled at the comments…and appalled at the down-rating of my comment linking to your blog! Mine was one of the only 2 comments I thought were worth having on there. Not just because I wrote it but because of the horribly off topic personal attacks in most of the other comments. I post comments periodically on the Daily Camera just to offer a compassionate voice with further resources to explore regarding the topics….. Just to be a sane voice in the midst of all of the other crap people post. I’m glad they deleted all of those comments. I agree, something seriously needs to be done. It’s so disrespectful to allow crap like that to be posted.

    I loved your article, and love reading your blog. I hope to get together with you again soon!!

    Lauren

    • Priscilla Stuckey, PhD says:October 27, 2010 at 9:30 am

      Yes, off-topic personal comments are completely out of line. Thanks for posting a sane comment there!

  27. Sorry that you had to bear the brunt of rude comments. To extend the point I made on my blog: if this was an independent blog, the community “is what it is,” so to speak. I think a community newspaper owes more to it’s community. It’s OK to disagree. It’s not OK to just be rude and inappropriate.

    Thanks for stopping by my blog and for your comments!

    • Priscilla Stuckey, PhD says:October 27, 2010 at 9:28 am

      Disagreement can be intense yet respectful. Yes, the Camera is being completely irresponsible in publishing rude, hateful speech. One problem is that as a society we tend to mistake snide speech for true debate.

  28. Craig Strobel says:October 26, 2010 at 9:46 pm

    The problem the Internet ha unleashed upon the world is the democratization of bile. Because everyone has equal access to this particular media, there seems to be a no-holds barred attitude. My deeper fear is that not only is basic civility breaking down, but the basic human decency and restraint that makes human societies possible is unraveling. My gloomiest side fears a rising tide of fascistic society-wide bullying not unlike that which swept Europe in the 1930s. And now they have the media enjoying the spectacle. So much for the purpose of the 4th Estate. I express my deep sadness at the bile that has been directed at you for trying to help people think deeply.

    • Priscilla Stuckey, PhD says:October 27, 2010 at 9:24 am

      We made the rules; we can change them. The rule our society has made is tolerance for this kind of bullying speech. We need to change that rule to no tolerance for disrespectful speech.

  29. Legally, online “stuff” is not speech, it is the written word — available not on paper but digitally. I’m going make a wild guess and say that those who are willing to let ugly words stand in a letters to the editor section would reference freedom of the press, not freedom of speech. Personally, I am opposed to censorship, tho’ I truly believe in self-censorship, which few on-line commenters (commentors?) have any inclination to exercise. As a side issue, I can’t tell you how many times editors have asked me to be “edgy” or “snarky” in my writing — more than I’m inclined to be. There’s a continuum from restrained to “edgy” to “snarky” to “nasty.” Yes, “we” did make the rules, and “we” could possibly change them. But “we” is an broad-stroke plural, and the “we” who make the rules unfortunately are not reflective of the “we” that might wish to change them.

    • Priscilla Stuckey, PhD says:October 27, 2010 at 10:10 am

      Thanks for clarifying, Claire. Yes, a climate of snarkiness is definitely being promoted by the editors. For a comments policy to change, the editor would have to be behind it. As far as I can see, this is not the case for our local paper.