James Rainey on Civil Discourse by Commenters

Chip Hanlon’s Red County post about censorship by the Fullerton School District in blocking the Friends for Fullerton’s Future was an excellent post not only for the topic, but for the comments it generated.  One commenter had a comment blocked for violating Red County’s terms of service prompting a discussion of censorship (that term only applies when the government blocks free speech, not a blog or a publication).

The LA Times explored this in depth with today’s column by James Rainey.  And it’s fabulous insight into what goes on with Big media players to keep the conversation on topic and civil.  A battle that is hard to win.

From the column: “Comment board cretins went into overdrive again last week, leaving their ugly mark beneath many news stories about the attack in Egypt on CBS correspondent Lara Logan. Some of the knuckle-walkers insisted on blaming the victim, saying she was too blond or too female to be in a danger zone. Others sought to mete out their digital revenge by blaming all Muslims for the attack on Logan.

The ugly response to the Tahrir Square assault renewed the debate about how much latitude to grant the public when it comments on news stories online, including commentaries by the reader’s representative at the Los Angeles Times and the ombudsman for National Public Radio.

NPR intends in March to move to “more tightly moderated comments, in some cases before they are posted,” ombudsman Alicia Shepard wrote last week. Martin Beck, reader engagement editor for latimes.com, told me the newsroom’s website would like to find a better way to manage conversations that too often “get out of control or ugly.”

It seems long past time for reputable news sites to clamp down on the gutter talk. Otherwise the open-door policy at npr.org, latimes.com and many other sites drives down the quality of the conversation and alienates the kind of thoughtful guests that make the party worth coming to in the first place.

Why not even require online guests to post comments under their real names — as newspaper’s have required letter writers to do for decades?”

Rainey goes on to report that the Mercury News in San Jose has such a policy where commenters must provide their facebook profiles.  That small step has reduced the number of malicious and bigoted comments while elevating the discourse and doing what the First Amendment intended — an exchange or ideas and debate without wallowing in name-calling and sock puppetry.

And each publication is allowed to set its own standards and set of rules.  Comments on FFFF are a free for all and so is sock puppetry (thanks guys for that visit to my home by the Anaheim Police Department on the day of my son’s graduation for a comment by a “Dan Chimichanga-Cub Reporter” who threatened to cut Harry Sidhu’s brake lines.  I’m sure you found it hysterical), and Red County holds commenters to a strict but simple set of rules.  Comments on OJ, in spite of editor Vern Nelson’s insistence, are somehwere in between.  I have several friends who use some of the OJ’s own policies (anonymous commenting and personal attacks) to take shots at the bloggers there and those comments are either deleted outright or, when they are posted, are quickly gone.  For what it’s worth Vern, I’ve told my friends to not bother giving you the traffic and to take the high road; they are simply amused you guys like to dish but can’t take it.

And just try to post a comment on New Santa Ana that criticizes the City Council majority, Art Pedroza or Sean Mill; if the comment does see the light of day, it’s labeled as libelous even though it’s clear a number of political posts that would fit that standard as well.  We’re not immune; we have commenters who rail against others in the OC blogsphere and on us as well (several comments from “Dan Chmielewski is an A$$ Clown” were allowed this week) and some comments that are deleted are done so for violating terms of service.

We’re accused on occassion of censoring comments; usually, the reason a comment doesn’t go up instantly is because the editors here all have day jobs and we can’t get to reviewing the comment and approving it. 

Not all anonymous commenters are bad.  They stick to the issues, contribute to the conversation, tell us where we’re wrong and why or tell us why we’re right.  There is also some underlying rage that we need to not only disagree with our conservative opponents in the OC blogsphere but we need to hate them.  Hate is a pretty strong word.  I had a great phone call with Chip Hanlon this week about the FFFF censorship by FSD.  I also have good and respectful conversations with FSD trustee and sometmes FFFF blogger Chris Thompson.  Matt Cunningham and I have debated right and left issues before a couple of community groups; we have similar business operations and we’re like minded when it comes to our families. 

That said, there are some in the blogsphere I don’t see eye to eye with. But hating someone because their politics are different just isn’t part of the game.

  11 comments for “James Rainey on Civil Discourse by Commenters

  1. junior
    February 26, 2011 at 11:53 am

    “.. censorship (that term only applies when the government blocks free speech, not a blog or a publication.”

    I must respectfully disagree with this statement Dan. Censorship is censorship whether it is a 1st Amendment issue or blog comments.

    The difference is that the government does not have the right to censor me but you do have the right to censor this or any comment – it is your blog.

  2. junior
    February 26, 2011 at 11:56 am

    “There is also some underlying rage that we need to not only disagree with our conservative opponents in the OC blogsphere but we need to hate them.”

    Hate the opponents or the comments?

  3. February 28, 2011 at 12:18 pm

    Hate the people Mike. Our favorite hater these days is DKMFAN (short for Drop Kick Murphys..a band) seems outraged if I post a comment on Matt Cunningham’s Facebook page. And I have to admit, sometimes I’ll post a note there just because I know it sends him over the edge. We think DKMFAN is Sean Mill for several reasons: 1) He hates Matt Cunningham. 2) He is a Drop Kick Murphys Fan 3) Loves the Green Bay Packers (a team DKMFAN has mentioned in comments he loves) and 4) Sean Mill posted in comments to an OJ Post that someone was using sock puppetry to pose as DKMFAN; since Sean doesn’t have access to the Blog any longer, how would he know?

  4. junior
    February 28, 2011 at 5:01 pm

    Completly understandable under those circumstances – but SM conservative??

    To throw the qualification of conservative in there offends me. If he calls himself conservative – we don’t want him. If he is conservative I will eat a bug.

    • Dan Chmielewski
      February 28, 2011 at 9:02 pm

      Junior — didn’t say SM was a conservative; but he hates that I don’t hate Matt. Too many coincidences that point to his identity.

  5. Dan Chmielewski
    February 28, 2011 at 9:27 pm

    Junior — more evidence our buddy Sean is DKMFAN; today’s FFFF post about me has a comment from DKMFAN referencing the OC Flyers which my business was a sponsor two summers ago when Sean blogged for us. I gave him free tickets. He was one of a handful of people I did.

    And yes, I have a business license; so does the blog.

  6. junior
    March 2, 2011 at 3:31 pm

    “Attacks on Civility” by Wisconsin dems:

    Male dem rep to female reep rep: “You’re fucking dead”

    Sen. Glenn Grothman (R-WI) was attacked by an angry mob of protesters in Wisconsin.

    Were is the outrage? Double standard much …?

    • March 2, 2011 at 4:47 pm

      you should have heard the Teabaggers in Irvine when Pelosi came to down;

      • junior
        March 2, 2011 at 8:33 pm

        Dan – It could not possibly be worse than, “You’re fucking dead.”

    March 3, 2011 at 12:55 pm

    Well I usually refrain from taking the bait, but an innocent man’s reputation is at stake.

    But, before I begin, junior’s reply is the kind of thing that will get you banned from school districts and libraries! – That was a joke!

    First, DKM fan is NOT Sean Mill. While I have met him previously I doesn’t know him. I do however respect Seans committment to his communinity. Like him or not he works for what he thinks is right.

    Second, before the 2010 Winter Classic NHL game, I had never heard of them. As described elsewhere, they are too loud and I am too old for that kind of thing. My handle is a reference that anyone who knows me and my professional life would understand and laugh at. But, that doesn’t matter anymore than if I was Ralphmalph (hint).

    I don’t love the packers, I hate the Steelers and I referenced an antedote about a certain drunk driver in Fullerton, but, to be clear, I don’t bleed Green, besides too cold up there!

    Next, and I take this seriously, because it reaches to the spirit of my personality. I DON’T HATE MATT “JUBAL” CUNNINGHAM. I don’t respect him, nor do I care for his politics, I think he is dishonest and I think he is little more than a small time political hack. Some of what he has done is reprehensible, others tasteless, but certainly nearly everything he does is self serving. He certainly is hypocritical. That’s It. Blameworthy in my book.

    I don’t care for the LOC’s sophmoric approach to things. I wish you would take a more academic, mature approach. Maybe it would improve your readership and broaden your appeal.


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