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Do You Want Accountability Or Activity?

Posted by on Feb 11, 2011

You know, there are times when you know you’re right and you just want to be proven right, and when it’s eventually proven that you’re right you’re not really sure what to do with it. Well, I had that happen this week, and what I decided to do was write about it here.


by Michael Tracey

On my newest blog, I wrote a post titled I Hate Syracuse.com. Basically it was a minor rant against news sites that allow comments without attribution, which pretty much means people don’t have to stay on topic or add to the conversation, but can be downright piggish and mean. I hate that and I decided to write about it on that blog because this was my local newspaper and online site, although I did mention other news sites in the article as well.

This past Monday I had an opportunity to talk with a representative of the site about the comments section. He wasn’t necessarily happy that I’d written what I did and thought it was unfair. Time after time I said I hated the comments and why didn’t they just require people to use their real name. In my opinion, if people weren’t hiding behind fake names they’d behave better.

I knew all the time what the reason was, and after nearly 30 minutes he finally stated it; because they worried that not as many people would leave comments and the site would look empty. It was almost too easy, yet, as I said, I knew that was the real answer, and the reason why all the other news sites do it.

I was kind but insistent. I said that we run our blogs with the intention of making sure that discourse stayed civil, and that at a moment’s notice we would eliminate any response that didn’t fit our sense of decorum. I’ve always said that I don’t mind if people don’t agree with me, but if there’s bad language or threatening language that comment is gone, and fast. After all, I pay for this space, so in essence it’s my online home, and no one messes up my home. He didn’t quite see it the same way, although he did say that they did work hard to keep things at a reasonable level.

Whether that’s what I see or not isn’t necessarily the point. The point is that we all get to choose whether we’re going to hold ourselves and those we interact with in our space accountable for their actions or not. Many folks who write about how to drive comments on blogs say to write about a controversial subject. While that might work, often you might find yourself suddenly dealing with someone who not only disagrees with you, but goes overboard and forces you to decide whether to go with the flow and be happy for the activity or censor in some fashion because you want to keep the discussion going in a different manner.

With censorship you risk people deciding that maybe your blog or space isn’t as open as they’d like and they could possibly leave and never come back. That’s kind of possible, but I say “so what”. If you’re going to change your ethics because you’re worried about reactions, then are your ethics really worth having? Or are they ethics at all?

And really, is it censorship if you ask people to behave, and if they don’t you kill their message? I tend to think not. After all, for all the people who use a lot of bad language, I’ve found that when put into certain situations they all know how not to say certain stuff. I have friends who will curse up a storm, yet they know they can’t use that same language at work, so I ask them not to use it in front of me. If you can actually control a behavior here and there then you’ve shown you know better.

You know my point of view; how do you see this particular subject? Would you be happy with 200 comments a day if most of them were hateful or would you rather have fewer comments but know that your family could read them without worry, if they ever read your blog?

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20 Comments »

It is amazing to me that Syracuse.com and other newspaper websites allow such junk. You know very well they would NEVER print the stuff in their issues. They want hits so they can show advertisers how many impressions they will get for the money they are asking.

That is too bad because they could be the pulse of the area instead of the shame those comments usually turn into. Honest, lively discussions would enhance the site. There’s no reason for taking shots at people or going off topic to get a personal rant in. If a person wants to rant, he could start his own blog.

You say this is your “home”. For corporate websites like Syracuse.com it is no one’s “home”. Though I find it interesting someone did care enough to contact you. Now, will they write about it and open the topic for discussion on their website? I doubt it.

February 11th, 2011 | 10:08 AM
Mitch Mitchell:

Scott, I actually reached out to him because I was surprised that none of the normal Syracuse community had commented on the post, yet lots of people read it. I’m not mentioning names because that’s not needed, but like you I knew the “why”; I just don’t like that answer much. I wish I could remember which site it is, but last night I did find a news site that decided people had to sign in using their AOL account so they had a record of who everyone was and that they were also moderating every single comment. Maybe it’ll start a trend.

February 11th, 2011 | 11:13 AM

I remember late last year a politician tried to introduce a law which stated exactly what you’ve said in this post Mitch. His reasoning though was because his party was getting so much negative publicity via the comments on these sites. he figured if people were forced to leave their real names they wouldn’t post such things, especially if they would be liable for it. There was such a public outcry that he did a back-flip within days.

In regards to these news sites, I don’t mind the fact that you don’t have to leave a real name, but you’d think the least they could do was delete the crap. I don’t see the sense in allowing rubbish comments online when all they do is bring the whole article down.

February 11th, 2011 | 6:08 PM
Mitch Mitchell:

Sire, introducing a law to force something like that is moronic; having a news site decide to do it in its best interest is responsible. There’s a difference between freedom of speech and accountability. People have the right to say whatever they want to say in the U.S.; they just don’t always have the right to say it any and everywhere, though they think they do. But if some places want to allow garbage in, then they can be accused of letting garbage out as well, and when advertisers start pulling away because they don’t want to be associated with it, let’s see if they still keep those “principles” of allow people to say whatever they want to say; it’s all about money in the end.

February 11th, 2011 | 8:09 PM

Tell me about it, why do you think there was such an outcry?

Still, to have that guy admit the paper would rather have a lot of crap instead of a few good comments is unbelievable.

February 11th, 2011 | 9:54 PM
Mitch Mitchell:

Sire, I kind of worked him into it. But he’s a good guy, and part of me thinks it’s more company policy than his.

February 11th, 2011 | 10:12 PM

Most of my customers ask me to lock comments on their blogs. I think this is wrong and kill the interaction with readers, I guess they are afraid for their search engine rankings, which is again wrong, user generated content saving a lot of money on content writing.

February 11th, 2011 | 9:14 PM
Mitch Mitchell:

I’ve seen that on some of the blog links you’ve posted, and as you know I’ve asked you about that as well. I’d never have clients who had me do that because I know that would kill the SEO I’d be trying to help them with.

February 11th, 2011 | 10:06 PM

Sometimes its a question of survival and I even have customers that refuse to have proper 301 redirection. Also there is some parts of the blogs which is for link wheel purpose, but on own private network.

February 13th, 2011 | 1:46 AM
Mitch Mitchell:

Okay Carl, I have to admit I don’t understand anything you said here except for the 301 redirect. lol

February 13th, 2011 | 11:56 AM

I agree with you. My blog is my online home, and no one gets snarky in my home! If people can’t keep it civil, then I really don’t want their comment. If it means I only have 2 or 3 comments on my blog (so far, but it’s still new) then at least I know those are quality, constructive comments.

Delena

February 11th, 2011 | 9:17 PM
Mitch Mitchell:

Great stuff, Delena. Sometimes I think having people dishonor your blog is just like allowing obvious spam to take over one’s comment area.

February 11th, 2011 | 10:07 PM

I’ve noticed quite a few newspaper websites are pretty nasty places. Discussion of any current event or issue inevitably degrades into a vicious series of personal attacks. I think you have every right to create and maintain any atmosphere you want for your blog or other online site. Allowing one or two people to disrupt that environment is going to cost you a lot more visitors in the long run. I agree with your approach, Mitch.

February 11th, 2011 | 9:33 PM
Mitch Mitchell:

Thanks Charles. I wish these newspapers saw it the same way. Some have decided to go the paid route, but still allow comments as such, figuring people are paying for it. I think it shows just how strange the world has become when trolls just have to take over everything and be nasty just because they can be.

February 11th, 2011 | 10:10 PM

Accountability should trump activity any day, shouldn’t it, Mitch? Sadly this is not the case. News sites that tolerate rude and mean comments do so because of perhaps the same context as bad publicity is better than no publicity at all. I can’t tolerate things like this myself and generally shy away from sites that do. It’s a great thing you are doing, Mitch, speaking up. Hope this will be the start of changes in the right direction for the future.

– Wes –

February 14th, 2011 | 2:11 AM
Mitch Mitchell:

Thanks Wes. I just feel like accountability has gone by the wayside and controversy is the way many are going just to make a buck. I don’t like it one bit.

February 14th, 2011 | 2:19 AM

@Mitch – I couldn’t agree with you more.. it’s quite pathetic actually. Not sure I would ever sacrifice the quality and integrity of my site just so it shows “237 comments” below the post title.

Sure – It’s great for indexing, but at what cost?

P.S. Minor rants are some of my favorite. There should be a school where people can learn to rant… it’s very therapeutic.

February 21st, 2011 | 1:44 AM
Mitch Mitchell:

Thanks Elijah; now that would be one interesting school! lol Obviously I agree with you, all those comments that really “aren’t” would be more distracting than anything else.

February 21st, 2011 | 9:37 AM
Jovie Onyema:

things like that happen when website owners are desperate for clicks. i’d actually prefer civil visitors even if i just have a few visits daily…
Jovie Onyema recently posted…Your Secret Desire For FailureMy Profile

December 17th, 2011 | 3:31 AM

I’m with you Jovie; disagree with me but be civil about it.

December 17th, 2011 | 2:01 PM