Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Taking the First Amendment too far?

After reading the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's article about the recent recall elections in Wisconsin, I scrolled down to the comments.  What I saw was extremely disappointing.  Both sides of the issue posted comments and most of these comments were slanderous, rude, and garbage.  They did not have facts to back their claims and they were not even polite.  There are about 350 of these comments.  Let's read a couple:
The rottenness that is the demorat party can no longer be denied, you have to be morally bankrupt to vote for this party of marxists. Lies and deception are there only outputs, why even have a debate with such rottenness. Its nice that the urinal/sentanal can join in the rottenness.
This one is obviously from a conservative who insults the newspaper for reporting the news.  Here's one from the other side:
MEpublicanism is a social disease sure to ruin America. Death to the tea party!
I would wager that the amount of comments added to this article would be much less if used real names for commenting, like the Facebook comment system.

After seeing an "infographic" on and having a discussion about it in one of my college communications classes , the battle between online anonymity and transparency rages inside of me.  In this case anonymity is provoking behavior from "adults" reading and reacting to the news that many would expect from troubled children.  I would argue that if those commenting were accountable for their actions--at least by putting their names on their expression--JSOnline and other websites may get a decent dialogue going in the comments.  Sure you would still have a couple nut-jobs who don't care what others think, but it sure wouldn't be the majority like it is now.

There are many good comments on many JSOnline articles, but whenever a political article is written, this happens.  This one time is not an isolated occurrence.  I'm all for the First Amendment right of free speech, but I don't think our founding fathers had this in mind.  I think transparency is the obvious answer to this problem.

What do you think about this issue?


  1. Jimmy, I've often found the same thing reading the comments on the website for our local paper, the Northwest Herald ( Most of the comments are vitriolic, personal, senseless, and, most of the time, rife with grammatical errors. Where is the intelligent dialogue? Perhaps, the "comments section" is not the platform for such discourse.

    I, however, don't see the problem lying with transparency. I think it is a degradation of manners and intelligence in our society. This problem, I feel, is not new. Many people just tend to be rotten and stupid...period. I think this kind of talk is surfacing more with the medium of user-generated content.

    Perhaps the moderators at the hosting website could establish "civility" policies for commenting. In any case, I think the government should stay out of it.

    Just my two cents,

  2. I got this response from Dr. M (in case she wants to remain anonymous): "I concur with both your and Jon's comments. Anonymity does breed incivility, but the world is also becoming unapologetic about going against the niceties that used to be maintained in everyday life. I suspect that throughout history there have been cycles of civility and incivility. Likely societal collapse or dramatic overthrow eventually followed the incivility. Perhaps the media as a whole are, if not entirely the culprit, the amplifier of the incivility that we see now. Never has there been such a public forum for encouraging and displaying incivility."