Newspaper comment forums: Public or private?

People have made death threats against me on the DDN site. They removed the comment after I flagged it (actually, they closed comments altogether if I remember correctly).

Although there has been community support for better moderation- including a facebook group and a discussion on Dayton Most Metro- nothing has happened. And although I allow a lot of you to post under the cover of a screen name, I only allow one- and try to keep it honest. I also prohibit nasty name calling- unless it’s at me (at least here- I can respond- on other site, I may or may not be able to).

The Dayton Daily News has been asked to put in some kind of community moderation tools- but has ignored all input from the community.

There is a mess up in Cleveland- with the Cleveland Plain Dealer and its Cleveland.com site at the center. Apparently when you make comments about the mental competence of a Plain Dealer employee- that reveal private information about the mental health of an employee’s relative – you’re fair game for being exposed investigated and then exposed-  but, not if you libel public officials incessantly.

This may end up in the courts- and rise as high as the Supreme Court. It will take years to get something definitive on the books, but when it happens it will have far reaching implication for the Web 2.0 world.

I highly recommend reading the whole story- but here’s the brief cut:

By unmasking an anonymous poster at its companion Web site, The Plain Dealer finds itself in an ethical quandary, stirring a debate that balances the public’s need to know against the privacy concerns of online participants….

Until this week, “lawmiss” was known only as one of thousands who, often known only by nicknames, share views on news blogs and stories reported at cleveland.com.

But after investigating a comment directed at the relative of a Plain Dealer reporter, editors learned that lawmiss had the same e-mail address as Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Shirley Strickland Saffold. A closer look revealed that the user had offered opinions on three of Saffold’s cases, including the capital murder trial of accused serial killer Anthony Sowell.

via Plain Dealer sparks ethical debate by unmasking anonymous Cleveland.com poster | cleveland.com.

It’s my position that we’d be better off if people signed their names- or at least used a verified account and were held responsible for what trash they post. I don’t put near as much stock in comments that are unsigned. If you have something to say- especially if it’s calling someone or some organization out- I believe a spine is prerequisite.

Could the DDN do a lot better with its comments. Absolutely. Could it actually increase traffic to its site by doing it correctly- absolutely. It’s actually in its best interest. However, it seems to like maintaining a grocery store checkout gossip rag online instead of a newspaper.

Keep your eyes on this Cleveland.com story- it’s only bound to get better.

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