Koko and I, out walking beneath grey clouds, ran into Farmer Jerry on his way to work. He pulled over to chat, and I could hardly hear what he was saying because a bird was singing so loudly over my shoulder.
“I’m back from the land of platitudes,” he said, and when I raised my eyebrows in question, he explained. “The Lege.”
Seems he was there for a confirmation hearing on his appointment to the state Board of Agriculture, which was approved. Way to go, Jerry. It’ll be nice to have his thoughtful, akamai presence in a state arena.
We got to talking about my blog, and he said he was really disgusted by a lot of the negative comments that are left, all behind cover of anonymity.
“What a bunch of chicken shits,” he said, and I could only agree.
“It’s probably somebody who’s all nice to your face, but then…” and he made the motion of a knife being plunged into my back.
Now, I know that Farmer Jerry often does not agree with what I write, and I’m sure that’s true of others. And if they want to argue a philosophical point, or express another point of view, that’s fine. Discussions are good, though so often rare in comments, and I have been known to change my mind when presented with a thoughtful argument.
But when people, as Dawson so aptly observed, confuse inflicting abuse with stating an opinion, that’s where things go down hill.
Andy Parks sent me a link the other day to an op-ed piece in The Advertiser titled “Anonymity ruins online discussion.” The author, Leonard Pitts Jr., wrote:
As any student of Sociology 101 can tell you, when people don't have to account for what they say or do, they will often say and do things that would shock their better selves.
I’m not convinced that some of these posters actually have better selves, so when there is nothing but the delete button to keep them in check — and then how they howl — they just crap all over the place.
John Temple, the editor of Peer News, Hawaii’s pending new experiment in journalism, noted in a talk at the Newsmorphosis confernece and on his blog that one of the publication’s goals is to create “a new civic square,” where folks can civilly discuss the issues. He wrote:
We all know how comments on news sites can descend into racism, hate, the ugly side of humanity...how they can reflect badly on news organizations and often only reflect a narrow slice of their communities...in truth, the comments sections of most news sites often act as a keep out sign to decent people...why would anybody want to participate given the tone and nature of the speech found there?
The problem...or at least a big part of the problem...anonymity...
In a civic square...you have to show your face ...you can’t avoid responsibility for your words.. We plan to recreate that experience ..
It’s not always easy in a small place like Hawaii and a smaller place like Kauai for people to feel comfortable expressing their views in a public forum. I know some of the people who comment on this site anonymously, and why they don’t use their names. I value their opinions, which is why I haven’t eliminated Anonymous posts.
Some have suggested requiring folks to come up with a Google ID, but that doesn’t eliminate flamers; in fact, the name choice simply gives some of them the opportunity to be more creative in delivering abuse.
It’s clear to me that two or perhaps three people are the cause of 99 percent of the comments that we could all do without.
So how best to deal with that?
I’m looking today for comments from readers about how they feel about the comment section, and their suggestions on how to improve and manage it.
Should I close it down completely?
Is there someone out there who would like to moderate comments? If so, send me an email.