Commenting on stories: a right or a privilege? Update 2

In an editorial today, the RG says it is a privilege not a right to be able to comment on stories on their website.

This is a really interesting conundrum and one I faced for years and years – monitoring and taking off comments that I thought were trolling, offensive, defamatory or simply stupid – but allowing as many as I could.

press-royalgazette

It got to the point where I was being personally demonized because I would say something like ‘this comment has been removed because ….’ and leave my name and position at the paper, sometimes even my email address. One person left this charming comment: Jeremy Deacon rapes babies. (I left it to show the type of idiots we had to deal with)

There is an issue for newspapers in that they could face libel proceedings due to a comment.

In my time at the RG  I cannot remember that happening – I may be wrong. We did have two cases where someone (including a judge)  was defamed by a comment but neither the police nor the defamed person/s prosecuted us, they prosecuted the person who posted the comment.

The RG was given a great deal of protection in the two cases because its editorial staff responded immediately to take the offending comments off and ban the person who posted it as soon as it became aware of them.

In the UK the law of defamation has been amended to reflect the fact that if media outlets remove offending comments contemporaneously and take other appropriate action (ie banning the person) as soon as the issue is drawn to its attention, their exposure to be being sued is vastly reduced. If it prevaricates, that is another matter and they will feel the force of the law.

When I was the Acting Editor of the RG I raised this with the then AG Marc Pettingill. I was not able to follow it up, but perhaps this is an issue for the Media Council to raise?

I am not being critical, I think that this is an important area to debate.

So, is commenting on stories in the daily a privilege or a right? Is it a necessity in a small community? Does it encourage the hard-nosed political bloggers to put up misinformation? Does it aid or negate debate? Does anonymity give idiots people a voice? Should anonymous comments be banned? Should they comment through FB or Twitter? Why does Bernews news allow comments? Is there a solution?

 I really want to start a debate on this, so I would love to hear some feedback.

Jeremy Deacon

Director Deep Blue Communications

jdeacon@northrock.bm

UPDATE

Catch a Fire has also posted this: http://jonnystar.wordpress.com/2014/08/30/the-media-online-comments/

And BeachLime has posted this: http://beachlimegibbo.blogspot.co.uk/2014/08/bermuda-online-commentating-still.html

UPDATE 2

I remembered that I wrote an editorial on this when I was acting Editor at the RG. The comments on this are very interesting.

7 thoughts on “Commenting on stories: a right or a privilege? Update 2

Add yours

  1. I’m for freedom of speech and expression – and there are many ways to have go about using those rights.

    Any company who owns the website, can allow comments or not – In my opinion, that’s not restricting the rights of their readers/viewers.
    If a company does restrict comments or blocks certain users, you’ll see users explore other ways of sharing their comments – like on facebook or twitter for example. This obviously takes the pressure of legal action off the website owner and back onto the rightful place of the person who comments – in most cases I imagine it would be internet trolls.

    So I agree that commenting on a website is a privilege because the website belongs to the company. I also think that if someone were to get blocked, or doesn’t want to support that particular website, they should simply use other platforms to share their opinions instead of making alternate identities to continue their trolling and complain about how trolls get blocked!

    And in cases of anonymous comments…well, that just encourages trolls to come out from under the bridge they live under and just have a field day. So I’m also in favour of comments that identify who it’s from – either if it’s revealed in public in the comment itself, of if the owner of the site has the identification of each member (should they choose to comment anonymously if it’s a sensitive subject), which would help monitor comments easier.

    Thoughts?

    1. Ok good comments. But …. and I am playing devil’s advocate here – commenting on Twitter/FB etc has far less impact, penetration, effect than commenting on a news website ….?

  2. Jeremy Deacon this is perhaps one of your pieces that should prick your inner soul
    As part of the Editorial staff of the RG you helped to oversee the birth and incubation of some of the most vile anti Bermudian anti union anti PLP bloggers in this island.
    Now years later you are really asking if these racist should be allowed to continue to hide behind false names?

    Seriously?

    As acting editor you vetted these persons real identities before allowing them to post under a cyber cloak . Therefore the RG knows who each and everyone of these persons are.

    You now accuse the PLP of causing Xenophobia when it is the RG who has allowed this anti Bermudian sentiment to become the national disgrace that it is

    Unmask all of them and let us see who the racist really are

  3. This is about responsibilities and consequences. It’s a myth that freedom of speech is either a “right” or a “privilege”; it’s a consequence of, and responsibility for the democratic freedom that we demand, in return for which we agree to behave responsibly (the social contract).

    The RG is responsible for the content of its newspaper, by good management, oversight and editorial control. If it decides to create an extension to the newspaper in the form of a blog site, it has responsibility for the consequences of doing so: responsibility to manage content according to guidelines (and common English law), by proper enforcement, as it does for the newspaper itself.

    The fact that the blog site is open-access – free to all – doesn’t mean it’s a free-for-all where anyone can say anything. Rigorous and continuous enforcement of the site’s content, by a paid RG employee or freelancer, to sweep it regularly of unacceptable contributions, is a consequence of the RG’s decision to create it. If it cannot enforce the stated terms and conditions of the site’s use, it should not have created it in the first place.

    The RG requires the identity of all contributors, including the anonymous ones (I assume….if it doesn’t, it should). Bar access to irresponsible users (those that contravene its conditions of use), not on a three-strikes-and-you’re-out basis but zero tolerance – one strike and you’re out. Identify in print the (real) names of abusers. If a third party complains of a libellous contribution, give the identity of the contributor to the complainant (having barred them already).

    There was a time when the RG thought the content of the site would be effectively self-managed by contributors. This is like the police asking the public to manage petty criminality that they, the police, don’t prioritise (a phenomenon emerging in some police constituencies in the UK now).

    Certainly it isn’t easy to police blog sites, but it’s a consequential responsibility of the site’s creators/owners to do so – or else discontinue it.

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