Fair Comment

30 03 2010

Category: Media

This blog does not have a comment section. Have you ever read the comments people leave on websites? That’s why.

The Press Complaints Commission has, for the first time, censured a blogger; Rod Liddle. Liddle writes for a magazine, and the blog was hosted by the magazine which is why the PCC got involved.

He put up a nasty post which was factually inaccurate. Liddle has bought into the idea of the web as a place you can say what you like and his posts are suitably rude and bilious.

The net is an immature medium, hopefully the viciousness that permeates its discourse is something it will grow out of. Some of the posts from this blog are cross-posted by other sites which have comments enabled; they quickly descend into exchanges of abuse and threat…

One cross-post was about someone who was prosecuted for disorder (or abusive or threatening words or behaviour) in public. The irony of people making comments about the case which were in themselves grossly abusive and threatening was entirely lost on the people commenting.

The internet is a public place. Someone screaming, shouting, frothing, swearing and threatening in public would be considered to be behaving in an unacceptable way. The internet ought to be no different.

It’s up to website administrators to start making it clear that abusive and threatening language is unacceptable. The web risks becoming a space permeated by a culture of aggression and intolerance, where the raging bullies hold sway and intimidate the rest. And as the margins between the online world and the real world thin and fade there is a danger the culture of the net will start to infect the offline world.

As a starting point website administrators should remove any comments which are abusive or threatening. Those commenting are guests in their space; they wouldn’t find such language and behaviour acceptable in their home or office. It’s just as unacceptable in their online space.

Where to draw the line between the merely threatening and abusive, and free speech? Maybe it’s time for a web code of conduct; sites could choose to sign up, so that those who use the site would understand the limits. When people go to sites that don’t sign up to the code of conduct they’d know what might be waiting for them on the other side of the electronic portal.

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