February 1, 2012
The best part of the Washington Post’s new strategy for comments is that it has decided to be more aggressive about deleting offensive remarks and banning the people who make them.
Newspaper websites have had a tough time adjusting to comments, mainly because of an ingrained culture of letting readers have the last say. We also like to give people a lot of leeway because a strong tradition of free speech.
But those ideas are based on the old way of doing things: People would have their say with a letter to the editor. They would be given their turn at the podium.
Comments aren’t like that. They more like a group discussion, with the newspaper acting as moderator. In a situation like this, you can’t let one or two people be rude or offensive on the grounds of free speech, because they ruin things for the rest of the group. People feel intimated or annoyed and wind up leaving the discussion because they can’t be heard above the loudmouths.
So, yes — ban the trolls. Curtailing their “free speech” creates freedom for the majority to speak out. With that kind of balance, we actually foster free speech.
The Washington Post has reported a surge in commenting since it switched to its new strategy, and I’m betting this is because a lot of people are feeling liberated.