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Archive for Monday, October 1, 2007

Online message boards bring out the worst

October 1, 2007

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Some of you guys are jerks.

No, I'm not talking about you, dear reader, whose erudition and class I've always admired. And you smell good, too.

But some of you other guys are some seriously pre-literate knuckle draggers. Exhibit A would be the relatively new message boards on the Web site of that great metropolitan newspaper, The Miami Herald. Or at least it would have been, before management stepped in a few weeks back, began policing the boards more closely and put up a notice asking people to keep their comments on-point.

Before that, the message boards, theoretically a place where readers engage in robust debate on articles and commentaries in the paper, were a sewer of sexist, racist, pornographic crudity. For instance, a story on Shaquille O'Neal's divorce engendered an exchange on the basketball star's probable penis size. A story on Cubans brought the "I Hate Hispanics" crowd out in force. A story about the search for a black suspected cop-killer begat a call for lynching. Which, in turn, inspired someone to respond, "Bleep the police and all of you white racist folk." Yadda yadda yadda.

Frankly, the only robust debate was the internal one among reporters and editors appalled at what one called "vandalism." I even received e-mails from readers asking me to ask my bosses to clean up our message boards because they were stinking up the whole Internet.

Not that Mother Herald's experience is unique. Other papers that provide online message boards - the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal, for example - have reported the same problems. There's something depressing about watching how this ideal, so noble in the abstract, unfolds in reality. You start out hoping to provide a forum wherein citizens can engage in discussion - frank, spirited, even rude, mind you - of the day's news. You end up policing a debate over Shaq O'Neal's jockstrap.

Is this what we have an Internet for? Does this latest and greatest medium of mass communication really exist only so that some of us can vent our ids?

Yes, I know. I protest too much.

This is nothing new. These same issues surfaced 200-odd years ago, when print was the latest and greatest (and for that matter, the first and only) medium of mass communication. In "Infamous Scribblers," his book about journalism in the colonial era, Eric Burns takes us to a time when it was common for writers, using pseudonyms, to engage in vicious, ad hominem attacks against political opponents.

Facts were often optional. They loved to wallow in the gutter. And anonymity made people brave.

Sound familiar?

For a devotee of the First Amendment, it's a sobering history lesson. We tend to think of free speech in lofty terms, to regard it as a means of liberating the human intellect, spirit and body. And why shouldn't we? We are the nation of Thomas Paine and John Steinbeck, of Betty Friedan and Cesar Chavez, of Bob Dylan and Stevie Wonder. What further proof do you need that when people are allowed to say whatever they want, sometimes they will say great things?

Problem is, we are also the nation of Larry Flynt and Don Imus, of Charles Coughlin and David Duke, of 50 Cent and Luther Campbell. What further proof do you need that when people are allowed to say whatever they want, sometimes they will just tell fart jokes?

To put it another way: not everyone has something to say. This will not stop them from saying it. For some people, freedom and anonymity are always an invitation to sink like an anchor to the lowest common denominator. Which is distressing until you consider the alternative.

After all, they don't have this problem in Cuba.

- Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald.

Comments

black_butterfly 7 years, 2 months ago

"To put it another way: not everyone has something to say. This will not stop them from saying it. For some people, freedom and anonymity are always an invitation to sink like an anchor to the lowest common denominator. Which is distressing until you consider the alternative."

That may be true, but this is also true. Usually when someone wins awards for their writing they then think that they can "write no wrong". Should others not be allowed to voice their opinion just because they have not won any awards and are not getting paid for it?

Blogging is fun and it gives us a chance to have a voice and an opinion. I can think of a lot worse things that we could be doing to in our spare time. Besides it promotes reading and writing. How can that be a bad thing?

Calliope877 7 years, 2 months ago

I agree wholeheartedly with this article. If anyone has drawn the conclusion that only stupid people are breeding on, not just a national, but on an international level as well, check out the "Your Views" forum on Al-Jazeera at http://english.aljazeera.net/NR/exeres/B84B85E3-7E69-4D79-8121-746EBEA7B304.htm to confirm this conclusion. They may not have this problem in Cuba, but it's not a phenomena isolated to the U.S. alone -- not that this provides any comfort.

SettingTheRecordStraight 7 years, 2 months ago

The headline should have read, "2004 Pulitzer Prize Brings Out Worst in Leonard Pitts' Commentaries."

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 2 months ago

" Should others not be allowed to voice their opinion just because they have not won any awards and are not getting paid for it?"

That wasn't Pitts's point-- he very clearly said that even if you don't have anything worthwhile to say, it's still better if you have the right to say it than to be deprived of that right. His Pulitzer Prize has absolutely nothing to do with it.

tangential_reasoners_anonymous 7 years, 2 months ago

Now that the drive-ins have all vanished, these reader forums are the next best thing. I pull in, see what's showing up above on the "big screen," and then I wander over to the playground with all the other kids. Sure, some of them are rude and unruly, shoving the other kids about, but, if the playground is big enough, one can always find a way to entertain oneself-even when the feature is a bore.

jonas 7 years, 2 months ago

Must've struck a soft spot with Mr. Ramirez.

It's okay, Ramirez, he wasn't targeting you personally. I know the descriptions are eerily similar, but it's not a personal attack.

Baille 7 years, 2 months ago

He wrote well. What a silly question.

More specifically, it seemed the juries and Board appreciated his f"resh, vibrant columns that spoke, with both passion and compassion, to ordinary people on often divisive issues."

Here are the columns they singled out for distinction:

June 6, 2003: No cause justifies planting of bombs
January 10, 2003: Open casket opened eyes
January 17, 2003: Logic tells us: No death penalty
June 27, 2003: Affirmative action needs a deadline
July 18, 2003: High court needs supreme guidance
August 4, 2003: Gays may be hope for marriage
September 29, 2003: Faithful often give religion a bad name
October 20, 2003: To irate readers: Race has always benefited whites
October 27, 2003: 'Hard-core rap' is cashing in on stereotypes
December 8, 2003: Cincinnati case not a tough call: Man killed self

Baille 7 years, 2 months ago

"fresh & vibrant columns?? ok buddy."

You have no clue where that came from do you?

And it is odd how none of the articles you mention actually exist. Playing fast and loose with the truth, buddy?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 2 months ago

Boy, Mr_Ramirez, you certainly have been busy stuffing those strawmen this morning.

Mackadoo 7 years, 2 months ago

How appropriate for Mr. Ramirez to show his true colors on a board about online anonymity bringing out the worst in people, just days after he sent me two flamingly profane private messages via the ljworld.

camper 7 years, 2 months ago

I like this board because you get many points and counterpoints. It is good debate. I respect the opinions posted on here....even though I disagree with some. This wide array of opinion is good, because it helps the truth come out. The debate of public opinion. Sounds like a good thing to me.

Confrontation 7 years, 2 months ago

"Problem is, we are also the nation of Larry Flynt and Don Imus, of Charles Coughlin and David Duke, of 50 Cent and Luther Campbell."

Why didn't he add his own name? I'm sure it'd fit right in there.

Baille 7 years, 2 months ago

You must have missed the time I beat the stuffing out of Marion for daring to offer a contrary opinion on political decisions made 6000 miles away. It was something, Sweetness. The stench of righteous indignation was eclipsed only by the overpowering musk of leaking testosterone and the metallic taste of middle-aged blood.

Then the canny SOB unleashed his wolfdog on me and all was lost. I limp to this day.

black_butterfly 7 years, 2 months ago

Bozo on the bus.............no I did not miss his point. What I wrote was not only in response to what he wrote, but also to the title of the article. The title states that message boards bring out the worst.............

For those calling PItts a racist: I have seen many articles where he bashes black people just as badly as he does others, so maybe he is not a racist, but just an arrogant individual. That Dayum Pulitzer!

Tom Miller 7 years, 2 months ago

tangential_reasoners_anonymous (Anonymous) says:

"Now that the drive-ins have all vanished, these reader forums are the next best thing. I pull in, see what's showing up above on the "big screen," and then I wander over to the playground with all the other kids. Sure, some of them are rude and unruly, shoving the other kids about, but, if the playground is big enough, one can always find a way to entertain oneself-even when the feature is a bore."

thank you...you perfectly described MY attitude and approach to these "forums"...'cept for the rare times I encounter a certain level of totally self-absorbed profound ignorance of the subject at hand, at which time(s) I might fire off a line or two, but most generally I'm content to just sorta "check in" on the state of affairs in the "outside" world. Thanks for stating what I consider to be a rather healthy view of these "things".

bearded_gnome 7 years, 2 months ago

so, some of Pitts' concerns about the message board content just seems to be the gritty content it devolves into when left to simmer on its own?

seems his b beef is rather with the human mind/human condition than with the medium of comment boards!

never seem to find Pitts very engaging, and the big award was right for steinbeck, not for pitts...not in the same breath, not in the same sentence, not in the same league.


anonymity does allow those of us who oppose the ruling liberal elite of lawrence to speak freely without retribution. it allows some who otherwise cannot participate at all, to participate in our local politic.

agree with the above that it is often also quite amusing, tune in and read the latest lunatic conspiracy theory like the rusian death plot for senator Johnson (boozo on the wrong bus) or a multi-century multi-continent world-ruling conspiracy (MKH). rather amusing to have it confirmed that such are still walking around and still feeding themselves.

camper 7 years, 2 months ago

bearded_gnome. I agree with you too. Posting a critique in public forum should be anonymous if one wishes. It is just like voting. Why do they provide curtains? Public opinion is a good thing and it should not be curtailed. There are a lot of places in the world that might be doing better if the public were allowed to voice there opinion. Even if they are weak and meek. I can also think of a lot of cases where retribution was not just.

camper 7 years, 2 months ago

My allstar vote went anonymous. I think. Geez I am meek.

bearded_gnome 7 years, 2 months ago

lawrence does have a very vocal liberal elite ruling things, that's quite obvious. conspiracy is a different bird...or, am I trying to explain zen to a bug? logie has never demonstrated much wisdom...and certainly speaks for the liberal elite, so i guess I must've stung him/her a bit...guess the shoe fit.

ralphralph 7 years, 2 months ago

<<<< anonymity does allow those of us who oppose the ruling liberal elite of lawrence to speak freely without retribution. it allows some who otherwise cannot participate at all, to participate in our local politic. >>>>>>

Anonymity also tempts us to be less civil than we should, because we no there will be no consequences. We need to remind ourselves to keep it within reason. Perhaps they could program-in a function that would randomly and occasionally reveal your identity to everyone on here. After seeing a few people react like Walter Cunningham's dad when Scout recognized him in the lynch mob, we might veer toward a more amicable discourse.

camper 7 years, 2 months ago

I'd be afraid to contradict someone like, say, Donald Trump. Compared to him, I am pretty meek.

Tychoman 7 years, 2 months ago

Criticizing every stereotype equally does not make someone a racist.

Pitts deserved his Pulitzer. And judging by the content of the boards here in recent weeks, you could insert "Lawrence Journal-World" for "Miami Herald" in that article and it would be completely true.

kugrad 7 years, 2 months ago

Summers_Eve (Anonymous) says:

"There is no denying Pitts is one of about a dozen black, high-profile, race-mongering racist."

  Name the other 11 please, and Jessie Jackson and Al Sharpton don't count.

Noah Benham 7 years, 2 months ago

I completely agree. You can go to just about any online forum and find some kind of trash, hate talk, or obscenity. Cleanup the internet. And at least the LJ World has "suggest removal" links on its article comments.

Noah Benham 7 years, 2 months ago

Also, what cracks me up is that some of you are doing exactly what he said not to. Talk about ironic. Did any of you actually read the article before looking at who wrote it and criticizing him? And I'm 13. I'm probably one of the people that should posting that kind of stuff. I'm not. So all of you should be ashamed of yourselves.

Jeteras 7 years, 2 months ago

I will never post a comment on an online newspaper forum. Why would you waste time doing that

daddax98 7 years, 2 months ago

and besides Jessie and AL could you provide examples of how these others "inspire their race to mediocrity" I really can't wait to see what you have to say about Oprah and Bonds

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