Washington Post to Moderate Online Comments: Similar Action Needed by SEA News Destinations Reply


For average folks who agree to be featured in The Post, brutal online comments can be unexpected and devastatingsays Andrew Alexander of The Washington Post. I could not help but think about a recent Yahoo SEA discussion about Ris Low, Singapore infamous “boomz” girl, and her brief video discussion of an April Fool’s Day joke gone wrong.  The comments were precisely what Andrew Alexander describes–“vicious anonymous attacks.”  You see the same tenor of discussion when you zip through Singapore’s discussion boards and popular user sites such as STOMP. 

I only skim these sites maybe once a week, even though my latest research suggests that more than 40% of Singapore’s netizens regularly read the forums.  Speaking only for myself, I do not want to waste my time on such negative nonsense.

I commend the Washington Post for taking steps which, in Alexander’s article, appear to be aimed at giving people an opportunity to build credibility.  Commenters can earn their way to higher (read: more credible) tiers and become “trusted commenters” based on past behaviors and other (so far) unnamed factors.

I commend the Washington Post for its efforts and I will be curious to see how this system works in practice.  But the idea that we should not immediately give equal status to everyone–thereby opening the door for such nasty and unconstructive online behaviors–seems initially to be a reasonable way of balancing open forums with a minimal amount of quality control and civility.  The approach seems especially reasonable since The Washington Post, according to this article, is already deleting the worst offenders.

Thinking back to the Yahoo SEA discussion forum for Ris Low, some of these comments are definitely two thumbs down, and I would love to see a similar approach adopted here in Singapore.  A clear policy with clear implications is only fair, and better than just quietly deleting what we think are the worst comments as time happens to be available.

Here is an excerpt from Andrew Alexander’s article.  Do you think such a system could work in Singapore?

Anonymous online commenting has always been rowdy and raucous, especially when public figures are the targets.

“Excellent!” exulted a Post commenter when conservative columnist Robert Novak died in August. “Hope he suffered.”

When Sen. Edward M. Kennedy died a week later, a commenter wrote: “They are going to have to bury him in a secret location to stop people from defecating on his grave.”

And after The Post reported last month that the wife and daughter of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had been badly injured when their car was hit by a tractor-trailer, a commenter applauded: “I would dearly LOVE to shake the hand of the driver of the other vehicle.”

Those in public life come to expect despicable and hurtful comments. Most have developed thick hides.

But for average folks who are out of the public eye and agree to be featured in The Post, brutal online comments can be unexpected and devastating. Post reporters say increasing numbers are expressing regret they cooperated for stories that resulted in vicious anonymous attacks.

“I think it’s a major issue at The Post,” said reporter Ian Shapira. “We just totally throw them to the wolves” if comments aren’t moderated.

Style section reporter Ellen McCarthy, who writes the Sunday “On Love” feature on couples who wed, said she spends an “inordinate amount of my time on weekends” monitoring comments. Many are so cruel they get deleted. For example, one implored a bride to take out a life insurance policy on her new husband, suggesting his obesity would soon kill him.

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