Saturday, January 6, 2007

Taking Action Against Abuse of the News Journal's "Comments" Web Section

Like many Delaware bloggers, I have by turns been horrified by, and fumed about, some of the comments that are posted in response to stories on the News Journal web site. I've just sent an e-mail to the supposed monitors of the site, calling their attention to one problem. We'll see if they fix it.

The News Journal, like many newspapers, has added commenting to its on-line offerings so that readers can react to, and interact about, news stories. Theoretically, this might increase knowledge and foster constructive discussions. In reality, that's only sometimes the case.

Regular commenters on the News Journal site have proven to include some vicious and hate-filled individuals. Stories about fatal shootings of persons who were engaged in criminal activity, or were suspected of being criminals, routinely generate responses such as "It's a shame he didn't kill the other two as well. Would've been 3 less pieces of scum the taxpayers have to support instead of just one!!"

Many of the comments reveal a deep and nasty strain of racism in Delaware society. And the venom directed at those commenters who might suggest compassion, mercy, or restraint is disheartening.

The News Journal does have a link to "report abuse" on its forum pages, though not on the News Story pages, where comments are tacked on at the end. I have sent a few of these reports in the past, but I don't know if action has been taken on any of them. I have seen occasional markers that indicate a post has been removed by a moderator, but the volume of anger has not abated.

This morning, I spotted a comment that looked fishy to me, rather than hate-filled. In response to a story on a potential new subdivision, a user calling him- or herself "Rix" posted the URL of what purports to be Delaware "Business Rating" web site. The comment was worded in such a way as to slightly relate to the news story, but I was suspicious and so I clicked on the "profile" button to see what else this Rix has posted.

The profile pages include a link to "Find all posts by [user]." Rix has posted eight comments on the News Journal site in the last two months, all of which suggest visiting this same web site. It looks like Rix has added his comment-ad to any story that has anything to do with consumer complaints.

This is a form of comment spam. It's not as evil as the automated and often nonsensical comment spamming that hit blogs a few years back. And it must be said that the site that Rix links to may in fact be a legitimate and useful site. But spam is spam and the best that can be said of these comments is that they are noise.

So I have sent an Abuse Report to the News Journal. And I have specifically, though politely, asked that I be notified when an action is taken.

I will be curious to see what happens.


Jason Scott said...

I can't stomach that part of the site at all. I tried to join in a while ago befor I knew what was going on.

Luckily, I was not able to log in for some reason (Mac?). Otherwise I'm sure I would have gotten myself into a bunch of online pising matches.

Nancy Willing said...

I reufse to comment there (I do not even bother to write letters anymore though I should)

I have complained myself about abuse and I have seen comments removed but the offensives are numerous and the WNJ has no one watching the site to moniter on their own as we do on our own blogs.

It is a true horror to see what is linked to the stories in the body of the webnews site... these comments aren't even off on a remote area, they are front and center and then if there are more than a dozen coments, no matter how egregious, the story gets FEATURED for weeks on end....

Some anony on DE Watch has said that Gannett's going to make some changes because of it....we'll see.

DE Way was on the listing today for DE political blogs in the article in the life section about Matthews!! I can not believe they did not include Tommywonk, a far superior pol blog.

Mike Mahaffie said...

This morning (Sunday) is the first time I've been back online since posting this. I have had no response to my request for notification of any action. I checked the link to Rix's posts, though, and found only one, from yesterday at about 9:23, almost an hour after I sent my complaint. Same form of spam, I'm afraid.

I have tried to avoid the comments section, but sometimes it;s like passing a car wreck. You feel drawn to look... Also, since I work for a state agency that is often in the news, I feel like it is my duty to have a look at the comments on stories about my agency and about the issues my section deals with (land-use, growth, demographics) to get a sense of what the people are thinking.

I have generally not commented, though, I am registered.

Post a Comment