Jason Falls

Jason Falls

I’m proud to say the first legal action that may (I have my fingers firmly crossed) smack newspapers right across the face for allowing their website commentors to post anonymously could stem from a case developing here in my home state of Kentucky. Kymberly Clem, a student at Eastern Kentucky University, is suing the Richmond Register and an online commentor known as 12bme for defamation.

Clem was kicked out of a mall in August of last year for allegedly wearing a dress that was too revealing. She bought it at the same mall the day before. The commenter claimed on the Register’s story of the event that she was actually kicked out for exposing herself to a woman and her children who commented on the dress.

Clem’s attorney says the person fabricated something and represented it as fact. That’s defamation.

WASHINGTON - MARCH 03:  Photographers point th...
Image by Getty Images via Daylife

Of course, the Richmond Register is hiding behind the First Amendment right of freedom of speech, saying the paper and the commenter both have the right to speak freely in a public forum. Certainly they’re just trying to avoid paying Clem a bunch of money. Surely the people who run the Richmond Register aren’t dumb enough to believe their own argument.

The short-sighted “principles” of the newspaper industry in allowing people to comment anonymously on their websites is the primary reason most people fear public discourse on websites and blogs today. Calling the people who frequent them “people” is sometimes a stretch. The spirit of the First Amendment is to ensure that people aren’t censored and should not fear retribution for honest and fair discourse. It is not meant to protect spineless dweebs who just want to spew rumors and hate and see how many curse words they can get away with before being thrown out of the room.

A newspaper website’s comments section isn’t a public forum in the spirit of the law, either. A public forum is a town hall meeting, a political rally or an venue to discuss matters of import in the interest of public good. A newspaper website’s comments section is just a place for readers to ask for clarification, chime in with their opinion or participate in conversations around the subject. They have no greater impact that the discussions themselves.

And, of course, the fact that newspapers have allowed the dredges of the web world to rum amok on their sites means these “public forums,” while read by many of the community elite, are populated mostly by a nation of turds.

My hope is that Clem wins and newspapers everywhere do what they should have done years ago: Hold the readers and commentors accountable and responsible for their words and actions. When they do, the quality of discourse on the sites will multiply by 1,000 overnight.

If we aren’t free to see the speaker, then the speech isn’t truly free.

Agree? Not? The comments are yours.

Enhanced by Zemanta
Did you enjoy this blog post? If so, then why not:Leave Comment Below | Subscribe To This Blog | Sign Up For Our Newsletter |

About Jason Falls

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for Elasticity, one of the world's most innovative digital marketing and public relations firms. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).

Other posts by

Comments & Reactions

Comments Policy

Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • http://aaronhughling.com ahughling

    Didn't like the recent article about “Free”, but really like this one. Shouldn't say stuff if you won't claim it, be transparent. Agreed! Thanks.

  • http://aaronhughling.com Aaron Hughling

    Didn't like the recent article about “Free”, but really like this one. Shouldn't say stuff if you won't claim it, be transparent. Agreed! Thanks.

  • http://twitter.com/e_edition Reporter News

    As an employee of a newspaper, I can't say any of the things I'd like to say to the trolls on our website. Like, take a grammar course, for one. I think the idea of banning anonymous comments is brilliant. Thank you for making a concise, thoughtful case for it. It might create a hassle for genuinely interested users, but in this case, a little more red tape is worth it.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Thank you for the perspective from the inside. We're certainly in agreement.

      Keep pushing for the right thing at your place and I'll keep pushing for the same elsewhere.

  • http://twitter.com/e_edition Reporter News

    As an employee of a newspaper, I can't say any of the things I'd like to say to the trolls on our website. Like, take a grammar course, for one. I think the idea of banning anonymous comments is brilliant. Thank you for making a concise, thoughtful case for it. It might create a hassle for genuinely interested users, but in this case, a little more red tape is worth it.

  • http://twitter.com/e_edition Reporter News

    As an employee of a newspaper, I can't say any of the things I'd like to say to the trolls on our website. Like, take a grammar course, for one. I think the idea of banning anonymous comments is brilliant. Thank you for making a concise, thoughtful case for it. It might create a hassle for genuinely interested users, but in this case, a little more red tape is worth it.

  • http://twitter.com/e_edition Reporter News

    As an employee of a newspaper, I can't say any of the things I'd like to say to the trolls on our website. Like, take a grammar course, for one. I think the idea of banning anonymous comments is brilliant. Thank you for making a concise, thoughtful case for it. It might create a hassle for genuinely interested users, but in this case, a little more red tape is worth it.

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/cmpalmisano Chris Palmisano

    And I quote: “populated mostly by a nation of turds.” For one, that's beyond hillarious. But two, it's accurate!

    I can not agree more. I stopped reading my hometown's online newspaper primarily for this reason. Bravo Jason.

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/cmpalmisano Chris Palmisano

    And I quote: “populated mostly by a nation of turds.” For one, that's beyond hillarious. But two, it's accurate!

    I can not agree more. I stopped reading my hometown's online newspaper primarily for this reason. Bravo Jason.

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/cmpalmisano Chris Palmisano

    And I quote: “populated mostly by a nation of turds.” For one, that's beyond hillarious. But two, it's accurate!

    I can not agree more. I stopped reading my hometown's online newspaper primarily for this reason. Bravo Jason.

  • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

    Agreed. Appreciate you chiming in.

  • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

    Agreed. Appreciate you chiming in.

  • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

    Thanks for the feedback. Would love to hear more about your input on the free article, but glad we recovered. Appreciate your thoughts.

  • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

    Thanks for the feedback. Would love to hear more about your input on the free article, but glad we recovered. Appreciate your thoughts.

  • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

    Thank you for the perspective from the inside. We're certainly in agreement.

    Keep pushing for the right thing at your place and I'll keep pushing for the same elsewhere.

  • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

    Thank you for the perspective from the inside. We're certainly in agreement.

    Keep pushing for the right thing at your place and I'll keep pushing for the same elsewhere.

  • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

    Thank you, CP. I'm glad someone liked the humor there.

  • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

    Thank you, CP. I'm glad someone liked the humor there.

  • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

    Thank you, CP. I'm glad someone liked the humor there.

  • http://nextcommunications.blogspot.com/ Vedo

    Thank you so much for sharing this post. I am in complete agreement with you.

    I particularly liked this, “The spirit of the First Amendment is to ensure that people aren’t censored and should not fear retribution for honest and fair discourse. It is not meant to protect spineless dweebs who just want to spew rumors and hate and see how many curse words they can get away with before being thrown out of the room.”

    There are already plenty of opportunities for these nimrods to spout off without having our supposedly impartial news institutions providing the forum for 'em.

  • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

    Thanks RV. Appreciate the input and the visit!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mike-Orren/1311032 Mike Orren

    As someone who runs a local news site (PegasusNews.com) that allows anonymous comments and (I think) keeps discourse pretty civil, I'd disagree that anonymous comments are the problem. The real failure on most sites is to curate comments and transparently remove unfair or potentially libelous remarks while always educating the users as to why comments are removed.

    We have gotten some of our best scoops (which we independently verified) from our comments section. Many of those would not have come to light without the ability to post anonymously.

    I agree that id verification is ideal – and we denote verified users so that they may be seen as more credible.

    I actually lament the current state of the law, which leaves us only two choices: delete or leave unaltered. Editing brings liability, so we have to entirely remove some comments with useful info because of a word or two over the line. Transparent editing and curation is a far better solution than forced, and frankly imperfect, verification schemes.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Thanks for the insight and input, Mike. I certainly would agree that the appropriate level of moderation can certainly ease the stress of troll-ish commentors. I also agree that automatic verifications and techno-hoops through which to jump aren't always going to weed out the turds. But I think the mere premise that people have to be held accountable for their words is enough to clean up a good bit of it.

      The right combination of validating email addresses and confirming the existence of the user, plus a consistent hand in moderating and culling the comments is, in my experience and opinion, the best way to keep the conversations above board and respectable.

      Congratulations to PegasusNews.com for doing it the right way and being successful with it. I wish more were following in your footsteps.

      Thanks for stopping by.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mike-Orren/1311032 Mike Orren

    As someone who runs a local news site (PegasusNews.com) that allows anonymous comments and (I think) keeps discourse pretty civil, I'd disagree that anonymous comments are the problem. The real failure on most sites is to curate comments and transparently remove unfair or potentially libelous remarks while always educating the users as to why comments are removed.

    We have gotten some of our best scoops (which we independently verified) from our comments section. Many of those would not have come to light without the ability to post anonymously.

    I agree that id verification is ideal – and we denote verified users so that they may be seen as more credible.

    I actually lament the current state of the law, which leaves us only two choices: delete or leave unaltered. Editing brings liability, so we have to entirely remove some comments with useful info because of a word or two over the line. Transparent editing and curation is a far better solution than forced, and frankly imperfect, verification schemes.

  • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

    Thanks for continuing to push the thinking here, Chrispian. I think it is worth clarifying the specifics of my point.

    I believe newspapers forcing users to either use a name and valid email address (much like you have to use here at SME) is probably enough. Yes, this is easily circumvented with fake names and email accounts set up just for that purpose. But most trolls aren't going to take the time to go through the trouble.

    Good community management, which newspapers mostly don't participate in since they have the all-or-nothing approach to commenting, weeds out those that would take the extra step. You generally know when names are fake or email addresses appear sketchy. You judge by the comments and if it's troll-ish and the name/email appears strange, you can better decide if you moderate it out, etc.

    Since these sites are respected public resources, though, I think it's perfectly acceptable to require people to register with a name, email address and other form of contact (address, phone, second email address, etc.). They could bake it into their terms of service and use the excuse they need to know how to reach community members should they want to elevate their comments or quotes to the print edition, etc.

    The premise I advocate is simply establishing a layer of validation to ensure that commentors are held accountable. The hands-off approach most newspapers have now certainly doesn't and can lead to situations like the one with the defamation case.

    Thanks again for the discourse.

  • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

    Thanks for the insight and input, Mike. I certainly would agree that the appropriate level of moderation can certainly ease the stress of troll-ish commentors. I also agree that automatic verifications and techno-hoops through which to jump aren't always going to weed out the turds. But I think the mere premise that people have to be held accountable for their words is enough to clean up a good bit of it.

    The right combination of validating email addresses and confirming the existence of the user, plus a consistent hand in moderating and culling the comments is, in my experience and opinion, the best way to keep the conversations above board and respectable.

    Congratulations to PegasusNews.com for doing it the right way and being successful with it. I wish more were following in your footsteps.

    Thanks for stopping by.

  • Dana

    hi, I live in Lansing MI and I would like to figure out a way to stop posts from people for our local newspaper. I have written and talked to someone at the Lansing State Journal to no avail but I won't give up. I find people's comments to regularly be embarassing, offensive, ignorant and reek of bigotry. I totally agree. There are other avenues besides the newspaper which we are supposed to be able to turn to for unbiased information. I end up more pissed at these cowards then informed about what is going on.

  • Dana

    hi, I live in Lansing MI and I would like to figure out a way to stop posts from people for our local newspaper. I have written and talked to someone at the Lansing State Journal to no avail but I won't give up. I find people's comments to regularly be embarassing, offensive, ignorant and reek of bigotry. I totally agree. There are other avenues besides the newspaper which we are supposed to be able to turn to for unbiased information. I end up more pissed at these cowards then informed about what is going on.

  • huangqin
  • Pingback: Follow Friday, Blogger Style

  • rockymeet

    Hello everyone i am completely new to this site.
    Interested in learning many new things. Hope we all will share our
    knowledge and talk about different concepts in this site.
    —————
    realestate

  • rockymeet

    Hello everyone i am completely new to this site.
    Interested in learning many new things. Hope we all will share our
    knowledge and talk about different concepts in this site.
    —————
    realestate

  • manishfusion

    hey i am so glad to find a post on newspapers like “Newspapers: Stop Hiding Behind The First Amendment” i totally agree with you that you have mentioned there about Kentucky. you have done a great work thanks for share this post
    keep in touch
    manishfusion
    ————
    faxless cash advance

  • http://www.dealshunt.com/ hot deals

    hey i am so glad to find a post on newspapers like “Newspapers: Stop Hiding Behind The First Amendment” i totally agree with you that you have mentioned there about Kentucky. you have done a great work thanks for share this post
    keep in touch
    manishfusion
    ————
    faxless cash advance

  • http://Twitter.com/Ed Ed

    “Anonymous” “free speech” is for cowards.

  • http://Twitter.com/Ed Ed

    “Anonymous” “free speech” is for cowards.

  • rxfrchng

    True story: a fellow that I work with does body recovery dives for local law enforcement from time to time. He performed a recovery dive a few years ago and found the body. Foul play was suspected. When the story broke on the local newspaper's website, anonymous commenters fingered my co-worker, the recovery diver. His only connection to the missing person, whose body he recovered was that the local law enforcement hired him to do the dive. Needless to say, he was extremely upset by the allegations posted by anonymous users.

    I completely agree that posters need to be held accountable. The garbage posts on our local newspaper's website make me weep for the future. I've seen some pretty nasty comment threads on Facebook, so even when communication is not completely anonymous, people will still act like idiots.

  • rxfrchng

    True story: a fellow that I work with does body recovery dives for local law enforcement from time to time. He performed a recovery dive a few years ago and found the body. Foul play was suspected. When the story broke on the local newspaper's website, anonymous commenters fingered my co-worker, the recovery diver. His only connection to the missing person, whose body he recovered was that the local law enforcement hired him to do the dive. Needless to say, he was extremely upset by the allegations posted by anonymous users.

    I completely agree that posters need to be held accountable. The garbage posts on our local newspaper's website make me weep for the future. I've seen some pretty nasty comment threads on Facebook, so even when communication is not completely anonymous, people will still act like idiots.

  • greggorman

    I *absolutely* agree. Our local paper, the Louisville Courier-Journal, not only allowed anonymous comments, but by default, showed comments at the bottom of each article. Now they allow users to report posts, and make them require a click to see the comments. An improvement, only so much that I *never* read the comments, as they are useless and 90+% “turds”.

    A MUCH MUCH better way for newspapers to create a two-way converstaion was discussed on Saturday's “This Week In Google”, of all places. It began with a big discussion about the Rochester newspaper, and a program being put together by the Rochester Institute of Technology, combining gaming and exploring the local sights in Rochester. It sounds like a fantastic program. Here's the link to RIT: http://igm.rit.edu/node/392 The program (and website) is called Picture The Impossible.

    I heard about it on This Week In Google; http://twit.tv/twig.

    I'd love to see online newspapers go to something like this, and eliminate their user comments or, as Jason suggests, make the users accountable.

  • greggorman

    I *absolutely* agree. Our local paper, the Louisville Courier-Journal, not only allowed anonymous comments, but by default, showed comments at the bottom of each article. Now they allow users to report posts, and make them require a click to see the comments. An improvement, only so much that I *never* read the comments, as they are useless and 90+% “turds”.

    A MUCH MUCH better way for newspapers to create a two-way conversation was discussed on Saturday's “This Week In Google”, of all places. It began with a big discussion about the Rochester newspaper, and a program being put together by the Rochester Institute of Technology, combining gaming and exploring the local sights in Rochester. It sounds like a fantastic program. Here's the link to RIT: http://igm.rit.edu/node/392 The program (and website) is called Picture The Impossible.

    I heard about it on This Week In Google; http://twit.tv/twig.

    I'd love to see online newspapers go to something like this, and eliminate their user comments or, as Jason suggests, make the users accountable.

  • barbara70976

    Well… I visit your website first time and found this site very useful and interesting! Well… you guys doing nice work and I just want to say that keep rocking and keep it up!!!!
    Elenora
    buy forclosed homes

  • Rockstarbabu

    hello sir i read your post and i appreciate your feelings that you are apologize for any rude comment for this site.and sir every person has their own feelings so why are you irritate from those people you just think about Christ and serve him.antikeylogger!anti keylogger

  • Watson

    Our rights to live free and happiness and to enjoy life free without someone taking away our rights as human being was suppose to be our constitutional right . To be defamed not knowing the truth is injustice to anyone . They say only the truth is protected by our law on being defamed, is this law the truth or a lie we will see by Clems case. These newspaper sights violate everyone's rights also by interfering with your right to pursue happiness without being condemned by people who have no right to even judge someone else by their own standards.They let readers do their dirty work for them while they sit back and sell their papers based on someones mental and emotional expense who knows when you maybe the next victim?

  • Marygoldwinbis

    Calling the people who frequent them “people” is sometimes a stretch.
    The spirit of the First Amendment is to ensure that people aren’t
    censored and should not fear retribution for honest and fair discourse.
    __________
    Mary

  • Marygoldwinbis

    Calling the people who frequent them “people” is sometimes a stretch.
    The spirit of the First Amendment is to ensure that people aren’t
    censored and should not fear retribution for honest and fair discourse.
    __________
    Mary