Sunday, October 16, 2011

Don't believe everything you read on the Internet

I was speaking to a local political candidate a couple of days ago.
He wanted to point out that a commenter on our website said something that isn’t true.
He was nice about it, but it was clear he wanted me to pull down the comment he felt was inaccurate.
But I unhappily refused.
The truth is many of the comments about him, about his opponent and about many other things are untrue; for better or worse, that’s the nature of the Internet
But I told him I should point out to readers that you shouldn’t believe everything you read on any website… even ours.
Comments by anonymous posters simply aren’t subjected to the factual scrutiny imposed on news stories and letters to the editor.
The theory is when someone makes a wild claim, others in the online community will question or refute it. It’s sometimes messy, and by its nature a free-for-all, but allows people to put forth their ideas and comment on their community with a minimum of censorship or butting in by your truly.
When it is working well, true statements will be accepted by consensus and the group will reject falsehoods.
But some comments simply can’t be posted.
On any given day I may be accused of being a Nazi censor when comments aren’t posted or and unfeeling jerk when they are.
(For the record, the two most common reasons comments aren’t posted is name-calling or in the case of people charged with crimes but haven’t been to trial, comments about their guilt or innocence, other crimes they may have committed or what torture would be appropriate for them. Also, be aware that although the comments are anonymous, I can see the commenters’ IP numbers. If you file 15 comments under different screen names I can tell. When this happens (and it does), I’ll let through one or none).
News organizations across America are struggling to foster the vibrancy and spirited free-for-all that online commenting can bring without turning into a vicious snake pit of wild accusations and hate.
Online anonymous commenting is far more popular than letters to the editor were,  even in newspapers’ heyday.
We’re far from perfect, but I think we’re doing a better job the message boards at Syracuse.com or topix.com.
Accusations of favoritism go along with an editor’s job; always have, always will. People want to believe you have a hidden agenda and want to see this person or that person elected because of politics, friendship or even bribery.
Well I, for one, do have an agenda, but it’s not hidden. I want interesting local elections with lots of give-and-take from all sides and I want it to take place on the pages of our website and newspaper.

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