Archive for Sunday, September 26, 2010

Racist comments online pose quandary for websites

September 26, 2010


Eric Deggans, St. Petersburg Times media critic pictured Thursday, maintains a blog entitled “The Feed” on the newspaper’s website. Whenever he blogs about race, “about 20 percent of the comments will be straight-up racist,” Deggans said. “Another 20 percent are questionable.”

Eric Deggans, St. Petersburg Times media critic pictured Thursday, maintains a blog entitled “The Feed” on the newspaper’s website. Whenever he blogs about race, “about 20 percent of the comments will be straight-up racist,” Deggans said. “Another 20 percent are questionable.”

Although you rarely hear racial insults on Main Street these days, there’s a place where unashamed bigotry is all too easy to find: tossed off in the comments sections of some of the Internet’s most popular websites, today’s virtual Main Street.

Internet anonymity has removed one of the strongest barriers to the type of language that can ruin reputations and end careers. Racist messages are a small percentage of the wild and woolly web, but they stick out since they are rare in person — and they raise a host of questions.

Do these comments reflect a reversal of racial progress? Is that progress an illusion while racism thrives underground? What kind of harm are these statements doing? Could there be any value in such venting? And what, if anything, should a free society do about it?

“We’ve seen comments that people would not make in the public square or any type of civic discussion, maybe even within their own families,” said Dennis Ryerson, editor of The Indianapolis Star. “There is no question in my mind that the process, because it’s largely anonymous, enables people who would never speak up on Main Street to communicate their thoughts.”

At the newspaper’s website, moderators delete individual racist comments that are brought to their attention, and will take down a whole thread if such comments persist. On some stories that are expected to provoke racism, the entire comments section is disabled beforehand, a practice shared by a growing number of newspapers.

Cause for alarm

On a single day recently, racially offensive online remarks were not hard to find:

In a comment on a Yahoo News story about a black civil rights era photographer revealed to be an FBI informant, someone called blacks farm animals who “were not and are not wanted in this society.”

Another commenter wrote, “We all know who MADE America what it is today, and we also know which group is receiving hefty tax dollar pay outs... so until the tables turn the only thing you should be saying is ‘thank you’ to all the hard working (whites) who gave you the life you now take for granted.”

Black racism was evident, too. One person on the site wondered if the FBI beat information out of the photographer: “You know how white people do.” On a story about two black sisters jailed 20 years for an $11 robbery, someone used several crude epithets to suggest that the judge was a white racist.

Some believe such comments indicate that racism has not declined as much as people may think. Joe Feagin, a sociologist at Texas A&M; University, said a study he conducted of 626 white college students at 28 institutions revealed thousands of examples of racism in “backstage,” all-white settings.

Are these comments cause for alarm?

“Like the loudest ambulance siren you’ve ever heard,” Feagin replied. “All this stuff was already there. It’s just the Internet has opened a window into it that we normally would not have had.”

‘Straight-up racist’

Racist comments may scare average people away from productive conversations about race — conversations that are moving rapidly into the digital domain from print publications, town halls, street corners and shopping malls.

“When there are forums about race, people flock there to do battle,” said Eric Deggans, a reporter and blogger for the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times. Whenever he blogs about race, “about 20 percent of the comments will be straight-up racist. Another 20 percent are questionable.”

The racial comments and other personal attacks have made Deggans, who is black, feel more defensive, as if he’s always under attack: “It wears you down after a while.”

“I have to constantly coach myself to dial down the hurt and the anger, because you get three comments that are really hurtful and prejudiced, but the fourth is someone who wants to have a genuine conversation,” he said.

Some journalism observers believe real names should be required to post comments, some of which would never be chosen for publication in the traditional “letters to the editor” section.

“It astonishes me that they allow such blatant expressions,” said Robert Steele, a journalism scholar at DePauw University and The Poynter Institute.

Breeding hatred?

The comments sections of media websites are meant to foster community discussion and keep people engaged with the site, which in turn generates revenue for an industry still struggling to make money online.

“Even if it’s legitimate to try and draw viewers to sites, is it legitimate to allow individuals who are swinging a sharp ax, and often doing so with a hood over their heads in anonymous fashion, to have this forum that can not only create harm but breed hatred?” Steele asked.

As champions of free speech and enemies of censorship, journalists take care to tailor any proposed limits.

“For me, all the problems of online anonymity and comments outweigh any imagined benefits,” said Herb Strentz, a retired journalism professor and dean at Drake University in Des Moines. “If people want to contribute thoughtful things, they should be willing to stand up for them and be quoted.”


Tom Shewmon 7 years, 7 months ago

Just as big of a problem is left tossing out the word "racist" to anyone who disagrees with The Anointed One's policies. The left was giddy in part over the idea of a black president for this very notion---- he's going to be more "criticism proof". Turns out notsamuch.

Maddy Griffin 7 years, 7 months ago

It doesn't matter what mask you wear Tom. We've all seen what's behind it.

ivalueamerica 7 years, 7 months ago

that is not quite true.

The word racist is often directed at you not because you disagree with most living beings all across the spectrum but because you keep making broad and damning comments about people based simply on their skin color.

Amy Heeter 7 years, 7 months ago

Now I am sure this will get twisted,tied and carried out in a Heafy bag, but I think people are too touchy. If someone is going to accuse, examine and cross examine anoother person it might be time for them to re-examine themselves.

begin60 7 years, 6 months ago

What about the southern-justice ethics of those who purposefully make false allegations of racism to retaliate against innocent whistle-blowers--such are the healthy and supportive workplace dynamics of KS. The HR people who are most supposed to be in charge of protecting civil rights seem to be the ones who most seriously violate them. It's always so important to place blame, especially when you're the one at fault.

It's telling that bigotry itself is the true forbidden topic in northeast KS. Try writing "bigot" on the KU free-for-all free speech forum. In my experience you'll be accused of having a foul mouth and kicked off. Meanwhile kinky sex discussions are going on a mile a minute. Such are the politically and spiritually aware "generous" people you Lawrencians live among. Spare me!

webmocker 7 years, 7 months ago

jstthefacts (anonymous) says…

"As usual, Tom is blinded by the right"

Revved up like a deuce?

whats_going_on 7 years, 7 months ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

Boosh 7 years, 7 months ago

Online gaming is full of little and not so little kids spouting anything and everything. Parents should jump on their kids xbox, ps3 or pc and join a few rounds of whatever their kids are playing, you will get an ear and/or face full of nasty diatribe.

rbwaa 7 years, 7 months ago

most of them are being trashed because of their ideas not because of their gender...

rbwaa 7 years, 7 months ago

just because you are an egalitarian doesn't mean you know what you are talking about...

rbwaa 7 years, 7 months ago

oh, and i forgot to ask - when you trash pelosi is it because she is female or because of her ideas?

Kathy Theis-Getto 7 years, 7 months ago

Isn't is a shame that we live in an intellectually lazy country where in everyday, simple interactions we are reduced to a mere melanin-producing cell or body part........ like that is the only story there is to tell?

Mike Ford 7 years, 7 months ago

white guilt should exist. Having grown up in central, southwest, and northwest LA between 1975 and 1981 and read Baptized in Blood about how southerners use religion to sanctify themselves and absolve themselves by becoming super christians and blaming their victims it should exist. these people get forgiveness while others gave free labor, had their lands taken, and continue to be the backbone of this countries labor even as the lazy call them names and want them to leave and the tealicans make up stories about desert beheadings. We get the waas from the uneducated like I'll probably get from notajayhawk who came from genocidal Connecticut... ask him about the Pequots.... hear the name calling and the denials... me I work full time I have done so for over a decade so don't throw the welfare stereotype handout stuff as people have done before. I've seen people make peace face to face but doing so requires acknowledgement of wrongdoing on one side as my father saw with German people apologizing for the Haulocaust at a Dietrich Bonhoeffer meeting in Berlin in 2000. This country at times is too dumb to accomplish such things...oh well...

begin60 7 years, 6 months ago

Well-said, and we can pretty much include the average Kansan among white southerners with a huge need to santify themselves by becoming super-Christians--often becoming extremely hypocritical in their manner of making a huge,false drama out of their skin-deep commitment to treating others like human beings. Such aggressive presumptuousness and cruelty to strangers! Spare me the effort of meeting and greeting these self-flattering pieces of work, please.

Paul R Getto 7 years, 7 months ago

There is only one race, the human race. We third chimps make much ado about nothing. There are cultural differences, to be sure, but racism is similar to religion, an invention used to beat the "other" about the head and shoulders for no apparent reason. It does, however, make good politics and must be useful in fund raising appeals. We will mature someday, as a country and perhaps as a species. The real question: will we be granted enough time to accomplish this?

yourworstnightmare 7 years, 7 months ago

It is evident who among the posters are racists. Not hard to detect, although some of them think they are "getting away with it" by couching their racism in veiled or obtuse statements. These are the racists who lack the courage of their convictions. They are also the first to condemn any usage of the word "racist" and the loudest to protest that they are being maligned when called out.

"The lady doth protest too much methinks". We know who you are.

RoeDapple 7 years, 7 months ago

I seldom comment on articles about racism as it always seems to involve the same old tired arguments by the same posters. I will only say, racism is the fodder of cowards. Afraid of difference in skin color, in culture, in perceived values. It boils down to the childish PeeWee Herman argument of "I know you are but what am I?" We all have prejudices of one kind or another, allowing them to the forefront reduces us to the same level as those we challenge (or are challenged by)

beatrice 7 years, 7 months ago

There is no such thing as "reverse discrimination" or "reverse racism." There is only discrimination and racism, and it doesn't matter what race the responsible party is.

Once again, another case of whining about being the victim. Poor, white, male, conservative Americans: The troubles they have seen.

beatrice 7 years, 7 months ago

No, it doesn't. The second paragraph notes how ridiculous those who believe in something like "reverse racism" really are.

beatrice 7 years, 7 months ago

Okay, I'll answer the question. It clearly isn't receiving greater media coverage because people just aren't that interested. That is the simple truth.

Do you honestly believe any news channel would run from a story that had legs and could draw viewers? I am sure the folks at FoxNews are all over this story, because it is just the type of story that their viewers want. Not so much with other stations.

The story you mentiion certainly doesn't "deserve" greater coverage. It is worthy of coverage, but not greater coverage. It has been reported, and people have moved on. Not every fanatic, fringe group with a few extremist members "deserve" their full 15 minutes of fame for acting like idiots. Take, for instance, the preacher in Arizona who prays for the death of President Obama. He didn't get anywhere near the coverage of the Quran burning preacher. So did one "deserve" the extra attentiion and the other one didn't? One is as stupid as the other, but only one gets the attention. People don't have the stamina to want to follow every fanatical group to the nth degree. That is just the way it is.

beatrice 7 years, 7 months ago

You asked why it wasn't on more news channels, and I answered. I am neither minimizing the situation or sweeping it under the rug. Problem is, you just don't like the answer because it is accurate of the situation. It would be on more news channels at a higher pitch if people actually cared to hear about it. New channels only care about bringing in viewers, and that is all.

Ask me what I think about these idiots trying to intimidate people, and I will tell you.

Further, only time I "scream" racism is when people make blatantly racist comments.

Now, I have a question for you, what is the difference between racism and reverse racism?

beatrice 7 years, 7 months ago

I guess every time the previous administration did something that was questionable and involved other white people, were they doing it to be racist? If so, then you are correct about this administration. If not, then you need to look at each thing on a case by case basis. I'm not in the Justice Department, and have no idea why they dropped charges against those who intimidated voters at one polling place. I don't know why they have done this, and I am pretty sure you don't actually know either. To jump to the conclusion that they are racist, however, is a massive leap on your part.

Kathy Theis-Getto 7 years, 7 months ago

Be nice to whites, they need you to rediscover their humanity. ~Desmond Tutu

Mike Ford 7 years, 7 months ago

tinky winky exactly the reaction I expect from you... sing like a dummy when' confronted with intelligence....nice....

Amy Heeter 7 years, 7 months ago

I just returned from the Festival of Cultures at South Park. So many people were there. I met a couple from Poland, The Haskell Native Dancers were there, Peru, the Irish, even the NAACP ..... I did not hear a single outburst of any racist form there. I did leave early though so I guess someone may bust loose before the end. The food was excellent, the dancers were entertaining and overall the crowd was quite friendly. I think racism only exists in the little minds of those who aren't quite sure where they themselves stand.

Kathy Theis-Getto 7 years, 7 months ago

Do we have a reincarnated Holocaust denier in our midst, telling us racism is just a pigment of our imagination? I wonder.

standuporget 7 years, 7 months ago

anything is possible, I just don't like some things you say

booyalab 7 years, 7 months ago

"Do these comments reflect a reversal of racial progress?"

Depends, is the goal of that progress in exterminating every unsavory opinion on the planet? If it is...then I guess it looks like we let some slip through the cracks. Whoops.

"Is that progress an illusion while racism thrives underground?"

Wait, you secretly answered the first question without telling me? That's not very nice. I'm not even going to answer this one, see how you like it.

" What kind of harm are these statements doing?"

Well, let me provide some anecdotal evidence. Once I was trolling on my favorite forum, and I got caught in the middle of a flame war. It was totally the admins fault and he was like getting all butthurt and called me a chris chan, which completely offends me as a caucasian American. So I was all whatevz, ur face is chris chan! Then I hacked into the site and it was down for like 5 whole minutes! Yes!

"Could there be any value in such venting?"

I think so, because trolling is a good way to have fun and show everyone how intellectually superior you are. Plus you get to sit down the whole time.

"And what, if anything, should a free society do about it?"

I guess if you want to stop the trolls, then get more moderators for your board. Preferably ones with no lives so they can be moderating constantly

Mike Ford 7 years, 7 months ago

hey tellytubby, in as much denial as mr. falwell, I think so.... I've been profiled by Doniphan County, KS cops coming off of the Iowa reservation near White Cloud, KS, being pulled over three times in an hour without getting a ticket and having my car scratched by a cop dog even as no contraband was ever found. I had a former co-worker drop the "At least I'm not Indian slur" on me once and another co-worker had the "N" word said in front of them at a person that wasn't even African-American by a caucasian person who was fired for using that slur. Nice to know you live in denial....

Flap Doodle 7 years, 7 months ago

tuschy, you poor, poor thing. However do you get through the day?

Mike Ford 7 years, 6 months ago

tellytubby?......nice try penders....thought you went away....same baiting darwin bless you all cadence gave you away....nice....

phoggyjay 7 years, 6 months ago

Not to mention the plethora of homophobic comments that are constantly posted.

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