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Thursday, November 27, 2014 | Last updated: 2:25am

Online comments should be intelligent, productive



The Internet allows people who have never met to interact anonymously, and that isn’t always a good thing.

Sure, the Internet provides people with the opportunity to discuss different opinions and ideas, but it also lets people hide behind their usernames and launch malicious attacks that add nothing of value to the conversation. As users of the Internet, we are all partially responsible for the escalating problem.

The 90/9/1 principle is a general rule of thumb, cited by the National Public Radio and The Guardian, which suggests that about 90 percent of Internet users are simply consumers who never contribute their own insight, 9 percent contribute occasionally and 1 percent disproportionately both create and dominate online conversation.

NPR’s Alicia Shepard related the 1 percent of users who dominate the Internet to “the digital equivalent of the loudest drunk in the bar” because these commenters tend to be overly vulgar and uninterested in having an actual constructive debate.

Democratic society promotes and encourages civil discourse, and it would seem that the Internet is a perfect place to bring the masses together to discuss important topics. Yet in reality, the Internet tends to serve as a place where people can hide behind computer screens and attack the character of others without addressing the issue at hand.

If these meetings were face-to-face, it’s extremely unlikely that anyone would have the gall to make such unintelligent and unproductive comments.

The concern about the effects of anonymous commenting has forced major news organizations to address the problem. The New York Times uses a system in which people must register and give information about themselves before they can leave comments.

The Guardian regularly monitors and removes comments, and it will even restrict users from commenting if they have a history of writing immature and unpleasant messages.

On NPR’s site, meanwhile, all comments on news stories and blogs are moderated before being published, and comments on other stories may be removed after they are flagged.

The Huffington Post pre-moderates all comments on its blogs and post-moderates comments on its news stories.

The Arizona Daily Wildcat Standards and Practices Committee will meet soon to discuss how it wants to handle comment moderation, and while these are all steps in the right direction, the committee can’t change the situation alone.

There are too many comments to moderate them all. For example, a Los Angeles Times article published June 2011 sparked a controversy that drew more than 700 comments in just three days.

Since a handful of moderators can’t possibly screen every comment that is made, it’s up to the rest of us to make the Internet a place where civil debate is encouraged and groundless attacks are chastised.

If you’re in that 1 percent of Internet users who tend to dominate online comments or in the 9 percent who occasionally take the time to leave an opinion, show maturity and respect.

Also, hold others accountable for what they say. Many websites rely on readers to “flag” inappropriate content before it is considered for removal, so do your part and discourage immature commenters by reporting abuse.

The responsibility of making the Internet a welcoming and friendly environment is in the hands of those who use it. Do your part.

– Nathaniel Drake is a political science and communications sophomore. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu or on Twitter via @WildcatOpinions.


Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Arizona Daily Wildcat.

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