Newspapers: Stop Hiding Behind The First Amendment
Newspapers: Stop Hiding Behind The First Amendment
by
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...
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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.

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About the Author

Jason Falls
Jason Falls is the founder of Social Media Explorer and one of the most notable and outspoken voices in the social media marketing industry. He is a noted marketing keynote speaker, author of two books and unapologetic bourbon aficionado. He can also be found at JasonFalls.com.
  • 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

  • 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?

  • Rockstarbabu

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  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Ed

    “Anonymous” “free speech” is for cowards.

  • Ed

    “Anonymous” “free speech” is for cowards.

  • 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
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  • manishfusion

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  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

    • 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.

  • Thanks RV. Appreciate the input and the visit!

  • 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.

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

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

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

  • 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.

  • 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.

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

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

  • Agreed. Appreciate you chiming in.

  • Agreed. Appreciate you chiming in.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

    • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

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

  • Jason, I definitely agree that there shouldn't be anonymous commenters on newspapers. It's unbelievable how much garbage ends up on newspaper article comment areas.

    Miguel Guhlin
    http://mguhlin.org

  • Jason, I definitely agree that there shouldn't be anonymous commenters on newspapers. It's unbelievable how much garbage ends up on newspaper article comment areas.

    Miguel Guhlin
    http://mguhlin.org

  • Jason, I definitely agree that there shouldn't be anonymous commenters on newspapers. It's unbelievable how much garbage ends up on newspaper article comment areas.

    Miguel Guhlin
    http://mguhlin.org

  • Jason, I definitely agree that there shouldn't be anonymous commenters on newspapers. It's unbelievable how much garbage ends up on newspaper article comment areas.

    Miguel Guhlin
    http://mguhlin.org

  • chrispian

    It's probably me. Re-reading it it's perfectly clear, lol. Just one of those days. Interesting idea of not allowing anonymous commenters. I like the idea. When you say anonymous, do you mean like they don't know who they are, or simply requiring a name/email address? Because if you want the newspapers to verify the commenters then would you be willing to do the same? Requiring some ID or something? I know I'd be less likely to comment just because of the hassle factor alone, lol. On the other hand, as a web publisher, I love the idea of having a user accountable for their actions. They'll behave better and the sheer process of making an account would deter all but the most serious of trolls.

    If it comes to the issue of litigation tho, I think the newspapers have a strong case. I can't recall any cases where someone successfully sued a web site that allows *anyone* to post. Most of those were based on the precendant set for not holding ISPs accountable. Blogs and Newspapers seem the most likely to be vulnerable (legally) vs say, a forum or myspace type place. And when I say vulnerable, I mean like could lose the case. In this country, they'll try to sue you because you used a font they didn't like, yet you let them pick the font!

    I need to think about it more, but I think my gut instinct would be that this couldn't work, if we are talking about really knowing who a commenter is. If we are talking about just asking for name/email, then just pretend I didn't type anything here today and carry on.

  • chrispian

    It's probably me. Re-reading it it's perfectly clear, lol. Just one of those days. Interesting idea of not allowing anonymous commenters. I like the idea. When you say anonymous, do you mean like they don't know who they are, or simply requiring a name/email address? Because if you want the newspapers to verify the commenters then would you be willing to do the same? Requiring some ID or something? I know I'd be less likely to comment just because of the hassle factor alone, lol. On the other hand, as a web publisher, I love the idea of having a user accountable for their actions. They'll behave better and the sheer process of making an account would deter all but the most serious of trolls.

    If it comes to the issue of litigation tho, I think the newspapers have a strong case. I can't recall any cases where someone successfully sued a web site that allows *anyone* to post. Most of those were based on the precendant set for not holding ISPs accountable. Blogs and Newspapers seem the most likely to be vulnerable (legally) vs say, a forum or myspace type place. And when I say vulnerable, I mean like could lose the case. In this country, they'll try to sue you because you used a font they didn't like, yet you let them pick the font!

    I need to think about it more, but I think my gut instinct would be that this couldn't work, if we are talking about really knowing who a commenter is. If we are talking about just asking for name/email, then just pretend I didn't type anything here today and carry on.

  • chrispian

    It's probably me. Re-reading it it's perfectly clear, lol. Just one of those days. Interesting idea of not allowing anonymous commenters. I like the idea. When you say anonymous, do you mean like they don't know who they are, or simply requiring a name/email address? Because if you want the newspapers to verify the commenters then would you be willing to do the same? Requiring some ID or something? I know I'd be less likely to comment just because of the hassle factor alone, lol. On the other hand, as a web publisher, I love the idea of having a user accountable for their actions. They'll behave better and the sheer process of making an account would deter all but the most serious of trolls.

    If it comes to the issue of litigation tho, I think the newspapers have a strong case. I can't recall any cases where someone successfully sued a web site that allows *anyone* to post. Most of those were based on the precendant set for not holding ISPs accountable. Blogs and Newspapers seem the most likely to be vulnerable (legally) vs say, a forum or myspace type place. And when I say vulnerable, I mean like could lose the case. In this country, they'll try to sue you because you used a font they didn't like, yet you let them pick the font!

    I need to think about it more, but I think my gut instinct would be that this couldn't work, if we are talking about really knowing who a commenter is. If we are talking about just asking for name/email, then just pretend I didn't type anything here today and carry on.

  • chrispian

    It's probably me. Re-reading it it's perfectly clear, lol. Just one of those days. Interesting idea of not allowing anonymous commenters. I like the idea. When you say anonymous, do you mean like they don't know who they are, or simply requiring a name/email address? Because if you want the newspapers to verify the commenters then would you be willing to do the same? Requiring some ID or something? I know I'd be less likely to comment just because of the hassle factor alone, lol. On the other hand, as a web publisher, I love the idea of having a user accountable for their actions. They'll behave better and the sheer process of making an account would deter all but the most serious of trolls.

    If it comes to the issue of litigation tho, I think the newspapers have a strong case. I can't recall any cases where someone successfully sued a web site that allows *anyone* to post. Most of those were based on the precendant set for not holding ISPs accountable. Blogs and Newspapers seem the most likely to be vulnerable (legally) vs say, a forum or myspace type place. And when I say vulnerable, I mean like could lose the case. In this country, they'll try to sue you because you used a font they didn't like, yet you let them pick the font!

    I need to think about it more, but I think my gut instinct would be that this couldn't work, if we are talking about really knowing who a commenter is. If we are talking about just asking for name/email, then just pretend I didn't type anything here today and carry on.

  • Oh, no. I think you totally misread my point. I don't want newspapers to be held accountable for what anonymous commentors say, I want them to not allow anonymous commentors.

    Thought that was clear. Sorry if it wasn't.

  • Oh, no. I think you totally misread my point. I don't want newspapers to be held accountable for what anonymous commentors say, I want them to not allow anonymous commentors.

    Thought that was clear. Sorry if it wasn't.

  • Oh, no. I think you totally misread my point. I don't want newspapers to be held accountable for what anonymous commentors say, I want them to not allow anonymous commentors.

    Thought that was clear. Sorry if it wasn't.

  • Oh, no. I think you totally misread my point. I don't want newspapers to be held accountable for what anonymous commentors say, I want them to not allow anonymous commentors.

    Thought that was clear. Sorry if it wasn't.

  • Oh, dear Lord. Thanks for sharing. If you see her in person, smack her for me.

  • Oh, dear Lord. Thanks for sharing. If you see her in person, smack her for me.

  • Oh, dear Lord. Thanks for sharing. If you see her in person, smack her for me.

  • Oh, dear Lord. Thanks for sharing. If you see her in person, smack her for me.

  • Not specifically, but I'll certainly re-read this in preparation. Heh.

  • Not specifically, but I'll certainly re-read this in preparation. Heh.

  • Not specifically, but I'll certainly re-read this in preparation. Heh.

  • Not specifically, but I'll certainly re-read this in preparation. Heh.

  • Thank you for coming by again!

  • Thank you for coming by again!

  • Thank you for coming by again!

  • Thank you for coming by again!

  • chrispian

    Jason, so if I understand correctly, you think the papers (and thus, every site online) should be held accountable for what anonymous commenters say?

    How would you go about proving who said what? How would you even know this is me? I could come back in an hour, find this post and sue you for it (assuming I said something to get you/me into trouble). So now, as a web site owner, I have to worry about anonymous comments. Even when someone is logged in, they might as well be anonymous. I can go right now and sign up for a fake email, gravatar, disqus, twitter account and suddenly be a “real” person.

    There is case president on protecting blogs, forums, web sites, service providers, etc. in cases like this. How could you be liable for what another person says in essentially a public place. I may be mis-understanding you on this subject. I'd love to talk more about it. This is an interesting subject!

  • chrispian

    Jason, so if I understand correctly, you think the papers (and thus, every site online) should be held accountable for what anonymous commenters say?

    How would you go about proving who said what? How would you even know this is me? I could come back in an hour, find this post and sue you for it (assuming I said something to get you/me into trouble). So now, as a web site owner, I have to worry about anonymous comments. Even when someone is logged in, they might as well be anonymous. I can go right now and sign up for a fake email, gravatar, disqus, twitter account and suddenly be a “real” person.

    There is case president on protecting blogs, forums, web sites, service providers, etc. in cases like this. How could you be liable for what another person says in essentially a public place. I may be mis-understanding you on this subject. I'd love to talk more about it. This is an interesting subject!

  • chrispian

    Jason, so if I understand correctly, you think the papers (and thus, every site online) should be held accountable for what anonymous commenters say?

    How would you go about proving who said what? How would you even know this is me? I could come back in an hour, find this post and sue you for it (assuming I said something to get you/me into trouble). So now, as a web site owner, I have to worry about anonymous comments. Even when someone is logged in, they might as well be anonymous. I can go right now and sign up for a fake email, gravatar, disqus, twitter account and suddenly be a “real” person.

    There is case president on protecting blogs, forums, web sites, service providers, etc. in cases like this. How could you be liable for what another person says in essentially a public place. I may be mis-understanding you on this subject. I'd love to talk more about it. This is an interesting subject!

  • chrispian

    Jason, so if I understand correctly, you think the papers (and thus, every site online) should be held accountable for what anonymous commenters say?

    How would you go about proving who said what? How would you even know this is me? I could come back in an hour, find this post and sue you for it (assuming I said something to get you/me into trouble). So now, as a web site owner, I have to worry about anonymous comments. Even when someone is logged in, they might as well be anonymous. I can go right now and sign up for a fake email, gravatar, disqus, twitter account and suddenly be a “real” person.

    There is case president on protecting blogs, forums, web sites, service providers, etc. in cases like this. How could you be liable for what another person says in essentially a public place. I may be mis-understanding you on this subject. I'd love to talk more about it. This is an interesting subject!

  • chrispian

    Jason, so if I understand correctly, you think the papers (and thus, every site online) should be held accountable for what anonymous commenters say?

    How would you go about proving who said what? How would you even know this is me? I could come back in an hour, find this post and sue you for it (assuming I said something to get you/me into trouble). So now, as a web site owner, I have to worry about anonymous comments. Even when someone is logged in, they might as well be anonymous. I can go right now and sign up for a fake email, gravatar, disqus, twitter account and suddenly be a “real” person.

    There is case president on protecting blogs, forums, web sites, service providers, etc. in cases like this. How could you be liable for what another person says in essentially a public place. I may be mis-understanding you on this subject. I'd love to talk more about it. This is an interesting subject!

  • chrispian

    Jason, so if I understand correctly, you think the papers (and thus, every site online) should be held accountable for what anonymous commenters say?

    How would you go about proving who said what? How would you even know this is me? I could come back in an hour, find this post and sue you for it (assuming I said something to get you/me into trouble). So now, as a web site owner, I have to worry about anonymous comments. Even when someone is logged in, they might as well be anonymous. I can go right now and sign up for a fake email, gravatar, disqus, twitter account and suddenly be a “real” person.

    There is case president on protecting blogs, forums, web sites, service providers, etc. in cases like this. How could you be liable for what another person says in essentially a public place. I may be mis-understanding you on this subject. I'd love to talk more about it. This is an interesting subject!

    • Oh, no. I think you totally misread my point. I don't want newspapers to be held accountable for what anonymous commentors say, I want them to not allow anonymous commentors.

      Thought that was clear. Sorry if it wasn't.

      • chrispian

        It's probably me. Re-reading it it's perfectly clear, lol. Just one of those days. Interesting idea of not allowing anonymous commenters. I like the idea. When you say anonymous, do you mean like they don't know who they are, or simply requiring a name/email address? Because if you want the newspapers to verify the commenters then would you be willing to do the same? Requiring some ID or something? I know I'd be less likely to comment just because of the hassle factor alone, lol. On the other hand, as a web publisher, I love the idea of having a user accountable for their actions. They'll behave better and the sheer process of making an account would deter all but the most serious of trolls.

        If it comes to the issue of litigation tho, I think the newspapers have a strong case. I can't recall any cases where someone successfully sued a web site that allows *anyone* to post. Most of those were based on the precendant set for not holding ISPs accountable. Blogs and Newspapers seem the most likely to be vulnerable (legally) vs say, a forum or myspace type place. And when I say vulnerable, I mean like could lose the case. In this country, they'll try to sue you because you used a font they didn't like, yet you let them pick the font!

        I need to think about it more, but I think my gut instinct would be that this couldn't work, if we are talking about really knowing who a commenter is. If we are talking about just asking for name/email, then just pretend I didn't type anything here today and carry on.

        • 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.

      • 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.

        • Thanks RV. Appreciate the input and the visit!

  • …And on the other end of the Battlefield:

    According to BuzzMachine, The Cleveland Plain Dealer's Connie Schultz (wife of US Senator Sherrod Brown) is calling on newspapers to ask Congress for a change in copyright law.

    The thrust of the argument is that bloggers who link to news articles (not outright thiefs mind you, but considerate linkers) are breaking the papers copyright to their content.

    Nevermind the fact that linking to these stories drives impressions, which result in incremental revenue for the very papers shunning the providers.

    “Let them eat cake” is what it sounds like Connie is saying.

    Joe Mescher
    http://www.SocialMediaCommando.com

  • …And on the other end of the Battlefield:

    According to BuzzMachine, The Cleveland Plain Dealer's Connie Schultz (wife of US Senator Sherrod Brown) is calling on newspapers to ask Congress for a change in copyright law.

    The thrust of the argument is that bloggers who link to news articles (not outright thiefs mind you, but considerate linkers) are breaking the papers copyright to their content.

    Nevermind the fact that linking to these stories drives impressions, which result in incremental revenue for the very papers shunning the providers.

    “Let them eat cake” is what it sounds like Connie is saying.

    Joe Mescher
    http://www.SocialMediaCommando.com

  • JoeMescher

    …And on the other end of the Battlefield:

    According to BuzzMachine, The Cleveland Plain Dealer's Connie Schultz (wife of US Senator Sherrod Brown) is calling on newspapers to ask Congress for a change in copyright law.

    The thrust of the argument is that bloggers who link to news articles (not outright thiefs mind you, but considerate linkers) are breaking the papers copyright to their content.

    Nevermind the fact that linking to these stories drives impressions, which result in incremental revenue for the very papers shunning the providers.

    “Let them eat cake” is what it sounds like Connie is saying.

    Joe Mescher
    http://www.SocialMediaCommando.com

  • JoeMescher

    …And on the other end of the Battlefield:

    According to BuzzMachine, The Cleveland Plain Dealer's Connie Schultz (wife of US Senator Sherrod Brown) is calling on newspapers to ask Congress for a change in copyright law.

    The thrust of the argument is that bloggers who link to news articles (not outright thiefs mind you, but considerate linkers) are breaking the papers copyright to their content.

    Nevermind the fact that linking to these stories drives impressions, which result in incremental revenue for the very papers shunning the providers.

    “Let them eat cake” is what it sounds like Connie is saying.

    Joe Mescher
    http://www.SocialMediaCommando.com

  • JoeMescher

    …And on the other end of the Battlefield:

    According to BuzzMachine, The Cleveland Plain Dealer's Connie Schultz (wife of US Senator Sherrod Brown) is calling on newspapers to ask Congress for a change in copyright law.

    The thrust of the argument is that bloggers who link to news articles (not outright thiefs mind you, but considerate linkers) are breaking the papers copyright to their content.

    Nevermind the fact that linking to these stories drives impressions, which result in incremental revenue for the very papers shunning the providers.

    “Let them eat cake” is what it sounds like Connie is saying.

    Joe Mescher
    http://www.SocialMediaCommando.com

  • JoeMescher

    …And on the other end of the Battlefield:

    According to BuzzMachine, The Cleveland Plain Dealer's Connie Schultz (wife of US Senator Sherrod Brown) is calling on newspapers to ask Congress for a change in copyright law.

    The thrust of the argument is that bloggers who link to news articles (not outright thiefs mind you, but considerate linkers) are breaking the papers copyright to their content.

    Nevermind the fact that linking to these stories drives impressions, which result in incremental revenue for the very papers shunning the providers.

    “Let them eat cake” is what it sounds like Connie is saying.

    Joe Mescher
    http://www.SocialMediaCommando.com

    • Oh, dear Lord. Thanks for sharing. If you see her in person, smack her for me.

  • Great post, Jason. :) Agreed.

    When you were writing this, were you thinking at all about the Blog World Expo panel proposal that we're on with Nathan Wright and Julia Thompson that will (partly) discuss this very subject? Hope it's accepted, it'll be fun!

    Patrick

  • Great post, Jason. :) Agreed.

    When you were writing this, were you thinking at all about the Blog World Expo panel proposal that we're on with Nathan Wright and Julia Thompson that will (partly) discuss this very subject? Hope it's accepted, it'll be fun!

    Patrick

  • Great post, Jason. :) Agreed.

    When you were writing this, were you thinking at all about the Blog World Expo panel proposal that we're on with Nathan Wright and Julia Thompson that will (partly) discuss this very subject? Hope it's accepted, it'll be fun!

    Patrick

  • Great post, Jason. :) Agreed.

    When you were writing this, were you thinking at all about the Blog World Expo panel proposal that we're on with Nathan Wright and Julia Thompson that will (partly) discuss this very subject? Hope it's accepted, it'll be fun!

    Patrick

  • Great post, Jason. :) Agreed.

    When you were writing this, were you thinking at all about the Blog World Expo panel proposal that we're on with Nathan Wright and Julia Thompson that will (partly) discuss this very subject? Hope it's accepted, it'll be fun!

    Patrick

  • Great post, Jason. :) Agreed.

    When you were writing this, were you thinking at all about the Blog World Expo panel proposal that we're on with Nathan Wright and Julia Thompson that will (partly) discuss this very subject? Hope it's accepted, it'll be fun!

    Patrick

    • Not specifically, but I'll certainly re-read this in preparation. Heh.

  • Perfect Post again. Thank you Jason.

  • Perfect Post again. Thank you Jason.

  • Perfect Post again. Thank you Jason.

  • Perfect Post again. Thank you Jason.

  • Perfect Post again. Thank you Jason.

  • Perfect Post again. Thank you Jason.