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Cleaning Up Comment is Free
Katharine Viner is slated to take over The Guardian's Comment is Free section. CiF Watch is disturbed for a number of reasons, including the fact that Viner co-wrote the controversial paean, "My Name is Rachel Corrie."
Shortly before I took off for Passover, Haaretz interviewed Matt Seaton, the editor of The Guardian's Comment is Free section. It was a disappointing puff piece that didn't touch on the cess-pool of anti-Semitism and Israel-bashing freely posted at CiF.
Newspapers have to take responsibility for incitement and hatred posted on their web sites. Balancing free speech with responsibility with what's practical for moderating thousands of comments is no mean feat.
Don't overlook this, but better newspapers are mulling how to rake out the muck from reader comments.
Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn made some buzz in recent days by proposing what he calls "pseudonymity" (a consistent screen name linked to a profile including limited background info).
And Washington Post ombudsman Andrew Alexander raises a tiered system that would group comments posted by trusted readers separately from off-topic, anonymous or invective comments. Both suggestions have their appeal.
Strictly speaking, comment isn't really free. Every day, I invest varying degrees of time moderating comments on Backspin. This means screening out comment spam, trolls, inappropriate language, anything that, if posted, could lead to legal trouble. On occasion, I also get messages clearly not intended for publication.
Bottom line: Web technology means talk is cheap. As Zorn and Alexander point out, comments don't have to be a free-for-all. Will Viner clean up CiF, or make it even more polarizing? Stay tuned . . .
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