Back in the days of newspapers, you had to write and mail a letter to the editor to comment on a news story. It took some effort, deterring unorganized nut buckets and clueless shut-ins. An editor read them all and passed on unintelligible rants, words like “ass turd monkey fucker” and “cunt,” as well as ugly terms about Latinos, African-Americans and gay people. If the letters editor wanted to use it, he or she had to call, make sure you were real. And, you had to sign your name. No anonymous letters.
Editing, not censorship.
Now, all you have to do is hit a comment button and type away. OMG. Have you read them? If the story is about anything that attracts a fringe following, you get mostly offensive diatribes that a small group of people post anonymously.
No editor to vet your 9/11 conspiracy theory, Holocaust denials, and charges your neighbor, mayor or wife is having an affair with your cousin.
Doug Baily makes a good case against them in Wednesday’s Globe op-ed page.
My problems with these forums can be boiled down to three peeves: The level of commentary demeans and devalues the very product newspapers should be promoting; sniping, misinformation, and insensitivity that would not be tolerated in the newspaper that hosts the forums are regularly posted, seemingly encouraged, and even granted an aura of legitimacy from the association with the host’s brand; they create a self-perpetuating cycle in which anonymous, unverified information creeps into legitimate news coverage in ways that haven’t been fully vetted.