We are living in an era where everything is fast, concise and there is an inevitable overload of information. While all of this information is sometimes useful, it can become a problem. Many times the content is not verified as much as it should because everything has to be published much faster. Unfortunately, there are all types of content on the web.
One of the most problematic side effects of this phenomenon is the overload of anonymous offensive comments by people who read stories on the web. News organizations have to deal with the ethical issue of not knowing if they should delete or not these comments. Does this undermine the free speech practice? Or is it that leaving offensive comments is unethical, because it could be insulting to many people?
Many newsrooms are struggling with this issue, and a perfect example of this is the CBS drama with Sara Logan’s assault in Egypt. The foreign correspondent was sexually assaulted when covering the Egypt conflict. Editors at the CBS decided to moderate the comments because it was a sensitive article. Many people were writing harmful and disrespectful things about the reporter and the organization’s decision o send a “blond female” reporter overseas.
On another case, The Times wrote a memo announcing that their comment page would be “scrubbed against a word filter, which will block an extensive list of vulgarities.” Many organizations are doing this and I think it is the only way to approach such a problem. Cutting the comments section is a bit too drastic because the public should have the right to participate and share their ideas.
If I was running a newsroom I would make sure a group of people are paid to monitor the comment sections in each story that was published. Also, I would remove the comment section from the bottom of each story and make people click a link if they want to access them. This way, only people that really want to take time to write something a bit more productive will waste a few seconds waiting for the page to load.
Comments that are offensive fall under these guidelines, as set by the LA Times:
- Abusive, off-topic or foul language;
- Racist, sexist, homophobic or other offensive terminology;
- Solicitations and/or advertising spam;
- Attacks that celebrate the death, injury or illness of any person, public figure or otherwise.