Monday, March 26, 2007

Fighting Words

Have you ever been offended by a comment you read on the Internet? If not, do you know of this thing called the Internet?

Pretty much, if you read, you've been offended. Here an interesting column from Howard Kurtz on racist comments on the Washington Post Web site and how their paper is struggling with it: Executive Editor Jim Brady says he does not have the resources to screen the roughly 2,000 daily comments in advance. He has one staffer deleting offensive comments after the fact, and banning the authors from further feedback, based on complaints from readers. Brady plans to devote more staff to the process and to use new filtering technology. ...

Post reporter Darryl Fears is among those in the newsroom who believe the comments should be junked if offensive postings can't be filtered out in advance. "If you're an African American and you read about someone being called a porch monkey, that overrides any positive thing that you would read in the comments," he says. "You're starting to see some of the language you see on neo-Nazi sites, and that's not good for The Washington Post or for the subjects in those stories."

I bring this up because of a conversation I had several weeks ago with a reporter friend discussing this very thing. She had written an article about an education initiative at Carter-Riverside High School, a school that is 73 percent Hispanic. What she found when she looked online at the comments shocked her. Most of the comments didn't have anything to do with the specific education initiative. Most of the comments were the vile, racist comments that you'd expect from the people who believe that building a wall at the border will solve American immigration problems.

"If I am a young Hispanic kid," she asked. "Do I look at this newspaper and think it has anything for me? No I don't. I'm thinking that this is for white people." That's a pretty powerful argument. Newspapers need all the reader they can get.

Kurtz's solution: "What is spreading this Web pollution is the widespread practice of allowing posters to spew their venom anonymously. If people's full names were required -- even though some might resort to aliases -- it would go a long way toward cleaning up the neighborhood."

That's right on target. People are bound to say anything anonymously. If you make them back it up with even an e-mail address, that's something.

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