Daily Kos Publisher Takes Us To Task On Palin CoverageDaily Kos Publisher Takes Us To Task On Palin Coverage
The publisher of the political blog <i>Daily Kos</i> took us to task last week for our coverage of the controversy over Sarah Palin's teenage daughter's pregnancy. His letter raises a different issue: To what extent, if any, does the publisher of a site bear responsibility for the comments posted by a member of the site? Are the owners of Web communities obliged to control content posted by their members?
September 8, 2008
The publisher of the political blog Daily Kos took us to task last week for our coverage of the controversy over Sarah Palin's teenage daughter's pregnancy. His letter raises a different issue: To what extent, if any, does the publisher of a site bear responsibility for the comments posted by a member of the site? Are the owners of Web communities obliged to control content posted by their members?Last week, I wrote a blog describing how the Daily Kos ignited the Palin baby controversy by publishing a report that Sarah Palin lied about having a baby. Markos Moulitsas, publisher of the Daily Kos, called me out in e-mail for getting my facts wrong:
For someone who writes for InformationWeek, I'd think you'd be a little more knowledgeable about how the blogosphere works. The blog didn't run that report. A diarist on the site, one of 188,000 at last count, wrote a diary on the topic. It never received affirmation of any sort from the site's editorial team. It's an open community. But you, trying to equate the diaries to the site's main editorial voice would be like blaming you for the racist rantings of a random commenter to one of your blog posts, or taking a letter to the editor at a newspaper and attributing it to the newspaper itself. It's a good point. I was wrong, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to correct the error. However, Moulitsas raises a difficult issue, one that the publisher of every Internet community must contend with: To what extent are community publishers responsible for the comments and content published on their community? Unmoderated Internet communities are toxic environments, filled with bad language and personal attacks. Should a publisher moderate all comments, to make sure only worthwhile comments get published? We're struggling with this issue at InformationWeek. Some of us say that the spirit of the Internet requires us to allow people to say anything they want, and let the readers decide what's worthwhile. These people say restricting free speech is a fundamental violation of the spirit of blogging and Internet forums. Others of us here at InformationWeek say that community publishers have an obligation to set the tone on what's permitted on their site; if people want to post childish rants and crazy tirades, let them do it on their own site. It's easy to set up a blog nowadays. We welcome disagreement on InformationWeek, and fierce discussion. But many of the people who comment on Internet forums go too far, into rudeness, personal attacks, bigotry, and semiliterate rants. We delete the worst of the comments and spam when we come across them. For example, in my earlier blog, I noted that the GOP is now claiming that family matters should be hands-off, but these are the same people who bullied Chelsea Clinton about her appearance. Chelsea was, alas, awkward as an adolescent. One person signing himself "mmouse" wrote: "no, you will never hear anyone reporting that chelsea clinton was involved in a sex scandal. she is far too UGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLY for anyone to touch with a 50-foot pole." Should we delete that comment? It's rude, nasty, and serves no purpose. And besides, it's demonstrably untrue; the awkward teenage Chelsea Clinton of the early '90s is now a young woman; she grew up real good. Not too long ago, I thought that the publishers of Internet communities had an obligation to control what was said on those communities. And yet my initial enthusiasm for moderating comments dimmed when I realized what a big job it is. I tried it here at InformationWeek for a couple of weeks; it required hours every day to read over every comment, delete the nastiest, and respond to other posts with suggestions to tone the language down when they seemed to be nearing the edge of propriety. It was soul-killing work -- and during that time I wasn't doing a lot of things that were more productive and served our readers better. InformationWeek is no different from other online communities, we all have to struggle with nasty little yappy dogs who infest legitimate discussion. In the end, with "mmouse's" comment, I made the decision based on productivity; it'd only take a few seconds to delete that comment, but I'd rather spend the time doing something more productive -- like writing this blog post. What do you think? Did Daily Kos behave responsibly about Sarah Palin's daughter's pregnancy? And should publishers of Web communities moderate content on their sites? Let us know.
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