Saturday, July 17, 2010

SILive needs to change their anonymity policy

Enough is enough guys.

It's time to change this policy, the one that lets people sign up anonymously and make slanderous, hateful comments in the hopes that the babysitters over in headquarters won't take them down.

But first we want to make it clear: we are not disparaging the Advance or the sister Web site. They are - like it or not - the only reliable, consistent print and online news source that the borough has. And it would be a shame if they were gone.

But enough of the love; this shit needs to stop.

The practice of anonymous comments stems from a legal decision dating (we think) back to the early '90s. Basically it goes like this: publications, in this case Web sites, are not responsible for the comments posted on their site as they are coming from a third party. The decision came in the early days of AOL chat rooms and mostly pertained to those rooms but also, by implication, spread to online Web site and forums.

This is in stark contrast to the print publication liabilities, where a letter to the editor needs to be sourced and verified or else the content might be libel or slanderous to a person involved and can basically get the publication in a lot of hot water. (This is why newspapers need your name and addy in order to publish a letter.)

So, you see, the Internet quickly turned into the wild west when it came to online commenting and trolls abound on places high and low. But now, as the Web becomes ubiquitous and the conversations more mature, sites have added safeguards and transparent features to their 'comment sections.'

Even Blizzard, the company that makes World of Warcraft and Starcraft, has considered changing their anonymous policies in order to "cut down on nasty behavior and trolling in the forums and create a more positive environment." This is a video game company!

In the journalism world the Cleveland Plain Dealer recently unmasked an anonymous poster when they found the e-mail address belonged to a judge, and the comments were offering opinions on said judge's cases.

The unmasking caused quite a stir but Plain Dealer maintained that the "issues raised by (the individuals') comments outweigh any breach of trust that comes from exposing the poster.

This so-called sacred breach of trust is, for some odd reason, being guarded with an ironclad fist over at SILive where posters threaten to "burn down mosques," joke that African-Americans "look like Mr. Ed," and claim that victims of violent hate crimes "deserve it" because they are gay.

As we noted, alot of these comments get deleted, and rightly so, but how much baby-sitting do you need to do before exposing the racists and bigots for who they are so they can be held accountable by family, friends and coworkers?

Let's take right now for instance: Staten Island is in the midst of an dramatic, inexplicable rise in hate crime with attacks coming on people for their ethnicity and sexual orientation, as well as color and creed.

On SILive: An article about a community forum to discuss the current rise in hate crimes. Basically a well-put-together piece by the Advance's Tevah Platt that lays out the current environment, discusses the community's and city's reactions, and tries to parse some of the causes.

The comments section, which always devolves into the same themes, included some thoughts from a reliable poster called foxaddict
A bunch of whiners that got together to whine even more. The best way to fight "hate crimes" is to FIGHT BACK.
Inciting a race war, perhaps? Not exactly the best solution to this problem.

Here's the recurring theme of 'South Shore elitism from a poster who calls himself Ultimate Warrior
You wanna stop violent crime on the Island? Get rid of the ghettos on the North Shore.
Right, if we could just eliminate those pesky ghettos and the people who live in them: the island could be one big, homogeneous, gated community.

A click on the poster's page shows no name, contact information, e-mail address, mailing address, Facebook account, or Twitter handle.

Why?

Are the pageviews and ad revenue from Pronto Pizza so important? Is the publication afraid the trolls may run away to spew their hate somewhere else? 

In case the site hasn't noticed there is a serious problem of violence on the Island, particularly directed at people for certain characteristics. It just so happened that these same characteristics are consistently mentioned on a daily basis at this site then disparaged, ridiculed and cast off as inferior.

Allowing this behavior to persist, on your turf, while people are beaten bloody in the streets is reckless, irresponsible and contributes to the problem.

We believe that a policy of traceable accounts tied to e-mail or Facebook pages will lead to more mature discussions, create one less place for bigotry, and portray the Island and it's publication in a more positive light.

Sadly, this is only an incremental step to assuage the wave of hatred sweeping our borough. But at least its something.

7 comments:

  1. Hi, I wrote this about Peter Davidson, an up and coming 16 year old comedian on Staten Island. Please let me know if you have any ideas where I could help promote his work. His father was a firefighter who lost his life for our country in 9/11. His great grandmother is 95 years old and a long time Staten Island resident. Please take a look and let me know your thoughts. Thanks so much for your time

    http://anonymouspunchingbag.com/2010/07/14/peter-davidson/

    ReplyDelete
  2. Well-written. And trust me, no one is more infuriated and frustrated by the more hateful SiLive commentors than those of us who see them post on our stories on a regular basis. Sometimes I'm brazen enough to fight back, since usually my posts are sort of related to music, which is theoretically less inflammatory as a subject, and not hard news, thus I'm allowed my own opinion.

    Engagement with our online readership is something we like at the Advance; it helps us gauge the topics important to our readers (for better or worse), and helps to continue the conversation made possible by online journalism.

    But the issue of anonymity remains a very difficult one. SiLive folk who we work with are working on this in that plodding, patience-trying way that large companies deal with immediate problems. As you notice, one can now click on a commentor's name to see a history thread of all of their comments on stories--an effort to help inform the reader further about the specific commentor's opinions (and perhaps the veracity/balance thereof). We also do our best as writers to police threads on our own work--a process that can be fairly maddening when it's not technically part of our job description per se.

    My personal opinion: Anonymity is an important part of sourcing in serious journalism, but traditionally the journalist him or herself works with an anonymous source, and carefully checks that source's creds in their own, hopefully responsible manner. On online forums, the only argument for commenting anonymously is that it generates more comments than if a positive ID is required. Personally I don't think generating more comments is worth the grief by any measure.

    If it were up to yours truly, I would attempt to kill two problems of online journalism with one stone: require a nominal payment--and thus a positive ID--to see and participate in comment threads. This keeps the source content for free, but charges a tax for those who want to read and participate in the comments on any given story. If you're a hate-spewing bigot troll who has nothing better to do than feed your appetite for posting BS, not only will I require you to do it under your own name, I'll require you to pay me for it.

    Will that reduce traffic, trackbacks, rss feeds, etc? Probably. But it will also retain the spirit of the best traits of journalism: those which endeavor to continue and inspire a modicum of honesty, fairness, and integrity in both writers and readers.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Well-written. And trust me, no one is more infuriated and frustrated by the more hateful SiLive commentors than those of us who see them post on our stories on a regular basis. Sometimes I'm brazen enough to fight back, since usually my posts are sort of related to music, which is theoretically less inflammatory as a subject, and not hard news, thus I'm allowed my own opinion.

    Engagement with our online readership is something we like at the Advance; it helps us gauge the topics important to our readers (for better or worse), and helps to continue the conversation made possible by online journalism.

    But the issue of anonymity remains a very difficult one. SiLive folk who we work with are working on this in that plodding, patience-trying way that large companies deal with immediate problems. As you notice, one can now click on a commentor's name to see a history thread of all of their comments on stories--an effort to help inform the reader further about the specific commentor's opinions (and perhaps the veracity/balance thereof). We also do our best as writers to police threads on our own work--a process that can be fairly maddening when it's not technically part of our job description per se.

    My personal opinion: Anonymity is an important part of sourcing in serious journalism, but traditionally the journalist him or herself works with an anonymous source, and carefully checks that source's creds in their own, hopefully responsible manner. On online forums, the only argument for commenting anonymously is that it generates more comments than if a positive ID is required. Personally I don't think generating more comments is worth the grief by any measure.

    If it were up to yours truly, I would attempt to kill two problems of online journalism with one stone: require a nominal payment--and thus a positive ID--to see and participate in comment threads. This keeps the source content for free, but charges a tax for those who want to read and participate in the comments on any given story. If you're a hate-spewing bigot troll who has nothing better to do than feed your appetite for posting BS, not only will I require you to do it under your own name, I'll require you to pay me for it.

    Will that reduce traffic, trackbacks, rss feeds, etc? Probably. But it will also retain the spirit of the best traits of journalism: those which endeavor to continue and inspire a modicum of honesty, fairness, and integrity in both writers and readers.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Well-written. And trust me, no one is more infuriated and frustrated by the more hateful SiLive commentors than those of us who see them post on our stories on a regular basis. Sometimes I'm brazen enough to fight back, since usually my posts are sort of related to music, which is theoretically less inflammatory as a subject, and not hard news, thus I'm allowed my own opinion.

    Engagement with our online readership is something we like at the Advance; it helps us gauge the topics important to our readers (for better or worse), and helps to continue the conversation made possible by online journalism.

    But the issue of anonymity remains a very difficult one. SiLive folk who we work with are working on this in that plodding, patience-trying way that large companies deal with immediate problems. As you notice, one can now click on a commentor's name to see a history thread of all of their comments on stories--an effort to help inform the reader further about the specific commentor's opinions (and perhaps the veracity/balance thereof). We also do our best as writers to police threads on our own work--a process that can be fairly maddening when it's not technically part of our job description per se.

    My personal opinion: Anonymity is an important part of sourcing in serious journalism, but traditionally the journalist him or herself works with an anonymous source, and carefully checks that source's creds in their own, hopefully responsible manner. On online forums, the only argument for commenting anonymously is that it generates more comments than if a positive ID is required. Personally I don't think generating more comments is worth the grief by any measure.

    If it were up to yours truly, I would attempt to kill two problems of online journalism with one stone: require a nominal payment--and thus a positive ID--to see and participate in comment threads. This keeps the source content for free, but charges a tax for those who want to read and participate in the comments on any given story. If you're a hate-spewing bigot troll who has nothing better to do than feed your appetite for posting BS, not only will I require you to do it under your own name, I'll require you to pay me for it.

    Will that reduce traffic, trackbacks, rss feeds, etc? Probably. But it will also retain the spirit of the best traits of journalism: those which endeavor to continue and inspire a modicum of honesty, fairness, and integrity in both writers and readers.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Also, I'm a huge cunt who takes refuge in grammar, and makes thesis statements in every post my name is attributed to.

    ReplyDelete
  6. i understand this is a difficult issue, and i don't envy those on the decision end.

    it just seems that with the recent rise in biased crimes, along with an effort by other sites (gothamist and others) to link to the wider social networks of the commenters, there is a move toward more responsible discussion in these threads. Even the Daily News has taken the step of putting **** through the swear words.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I think this is a great idea. Also glad Ben Johnson has come clean about being a cunt.

    ReplyDelete