Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Comment War

Madison Stricklin

The first half of the first amendment of the United States Constitution states that no law shall be passed that prohibits the free exercise of religion, speech and press. However, the more recent generations of people believe that the first amendment allows people to say what they please, whenever they please. If a person feels this right is being infringed upon, they have a tendency to cry out.

An example of this is when USA Today decided they would limit the comments that could be written by making readers go through the third party social website Facebook. The reason for this, writes Tim Ebner of American Journalism Review, that stories had “attracted large amounts of offensive reaction, some of it obscene, racist and sexist.” The reactions to this announcement were rather negative.

A large issue with commenting online tends to be the anonymity of it. There are many websites that allow a person to take on an alias – or multiple, depending on the person – or to choose to be anonymous when they comment. Anonymity can come in handy in some cases, specifically if a news source needs to keep their identity hidden as a safety precaution. However, it equally has its negative aspects.

 “There is plenty of debate over the issue, as newsrooms struggle with moderation, the value of anonymity among commenters, and, in some cases, the legal issues that arise from what’s said in the comments.” Justin Ellis writes this in his article “What happened after 7 news sites got rid of reader comments” on The legal issue that is highlighted in the article? being subpoenaed over comments from users claiming they would murder a federal judge via wood chipper.

News sources are not the only ones to attempt to moderate their comment sections. In 2014, Swedish YouTube star Felix Kjellberg – known under the alias PewDiePie – noticed that the comment section of his videos were becoming less about the content and more about spamming the comments with self-advertising and ridiculously negative comments between fans and viewers.

Felix discussing disabling the comments.

Similar to the reactions of the news sites attempting different techniques to moderate their comment sections, Kjellberg received many negative reactions from other YouTube stars and fans via social media. There were many that claimed it was denying people their first amendment rights.  Despite claiming that he would disable the comment section of his video forever, the YouTuber did eventually re-open the comment section. However, some sources state the Kjellberg’s viewership dropped after he initiated the decision of disabling comments.

At the current moment in time, it seems that there is no correct answer on how to properly moderate comments on pieces of media. Simply allowing viewers to do as they please has various consequences, the example of the subpoenaed website being a prime example of such, and therefore should probably not be the answer the problem. Disabling commenting altogether also has consequences, including the loss of subscribers and readers. Perhaps the best route to take is that which USA Today decided to take: limiting comments to users of a third party social media site that puts a name to a face online, rather than having the aliases and anonymity that seems to be the base of the issue.

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