In the mid-1990s, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, said, “We’ve all heard that a million monkeys banging on a million typewriters will eventually reproduce the entire works of Shakespeare.
“Now, thanks to the Internet, we know this is not true.”
I can’t help but be reminded of this famous quip every time I peruse the comments section of any popular news website.
It seems people believe that, under the cloak of anonymity, it is OK to launch personal attacks against 13-year-old girls (see Rebecca Black and the fame she achieved with the music single “Friday”), make utterly untrue statements and air beliefs about race and culture that would brand them pariahs in real life.
Yes, ladies and gentleman, the Internet can be an ugly, ugly place.
I don’t even have to look beyond our own Times/Review websites to see the utter nastiness the World Wide Web draws out of some people.
It’s been a while since we’ve addressed the do’s and don’t’s of commenting on our websites, so here are some of our guidelines.
• Personal attacks are not allowed. That goes for everyone, including elected officials, people who have been arrested and Times/Review staff members. (Except for Tim Kelly. He’s fair game … just kidding, sort of.)
Lobbing personal insults at people is way too easy when you don’t have to give your real name, and that’s unfair to the person on the receiving end.
That is not to say comments disagreeing with or criticizing someone will all be deleted. Such remarks are allowed if done in a respectful manner. For example, saying, “I think Politician X really messed up the way he/she handled issue X and here is why …” is acceptable. However, “I heard Politician X sells drugs to kids in the 7-Eleven parking lot” is not going to fly.
• Posting under multiple handles in an attempt to create a fake conversation is not allowed. Guess what? As site administrators we have access to your IP address. And pretending to be multiple people is sort of creepy.
Don’t pull a Scott Adams. He’s the creator of the Dilbert comic strip who recently posed as his own fan on an Internet message board only to be outed by the site’s administrators.
Doing so is considered abuse and is grounds for being banned from commenting.
• Racist comments are in no way permitted. You would think — or at least, hope — I wouldn’t have to say this, but you’d also be surprised how often our Web team has to delete a comment that features the most offensive racial slurs in the English language.
This subject is particularly sensitive given the discussions that ensue every time a story touches on the immigrant population on the East End.
Here’s a comment on our Facebook page that is pretty much a perfect example of what not to do: “THE PROBLEM IS MY TAX DOLLARS SHOULDNT BE GOING TO HOUSE THIS WASTE OF LIFE … CHANCES ARE HE DOESNT EVEN BELONG HERE … JUST KILL HIM AS HE WILL NEVER BE PRODUCTIVE TO OUR SOCIETY.” And that’s from someone who posted this under his real name.
Note that this was posted on Facebook, a third-party website we don’t moderate. Believe me, it would have been deleted from our website.
If you want to state your views on the immigration system in this country, fine. If you make overtly racist comments or assumptions about people because of their race, you’re gone.
So there you go. Follow those simple rules and we should be able to create a discourse that is engaging, informative and, most importantly, non-offensive.
We do try to give some leeway to our commenters, though ultimately it is our discretion that determines what is OK and what is not. As readers, you can always report a comment as abuse and we will evaluate it and decide whether or not it violates our policy.
Let’s make our comment section something we can be proud of.
Ms. Chinese is a News-Review staff reporter and associate Web editor. She can be reached at 298-3200, ext. 232.