Tuesday, September 3, 2013

More on Huffington Post Crackdown on Toxic Discourse, and More on Challenge for Administrators of Catholic Blogs

As I reported several days ago, Huffington Post is implementing a new plan to require anyone leaving comments at the HuffPo site to register in a way that makes the identify of all commenters visible to the moderators of the HuffPo commenting threads. The new policy will not require commenters to post under their own names in discussion threads. But it will require them to disclose their identity to HuffPo itself as they apply for commenting privileges.

Over the past eight years the HuffPost community has grown into an energetic public conversation to discuss the news of the day as well our interests, passions and obsessions. And from the beginning we devoted a lot of attention and resources to keeping this conversation civil by investing in the most advanced pre-moderation technology as well 40 comment moderators to supplement it. But it has become clear recently that this has not been enough to deal with ever more aggressive trolls -- jokers, spammers, demagogues, salesmen, bullies and cowards. The very tools that level the playing field and enable open and free conversation have become the tools of the trade for the vicious. 
We agree that anonymity is important to democratic discourse. Both the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Supreme Court agree on this point. Anonymity allows the writer to freely express ideas that might endanger his or her life or livelihood if they were linked to their true name. Anonymity preserves both privacy and personal security. In those cases Huffington Post will not be revealing true names to the general public. We're talking about keeping pseudonyms (user names) and requiring that community members real identity be known only to the Huffington Post.

All things considered, I think this is a judicious policy. It balances the need of many commenters at blog sites to employ usernames in order to engage in free speech without threats with the need of moderators of blogs to have control over those who mount vicious attacks on others, engage in trolling behavior, or post spam. As I said in my previous post about the new policy at Huffington Post, I remain intently concerned about the level of discourse at many Catholic blog sites as LGBTI issues and people are discussed. 

The "sodomite" tag continues to be slung around at various Catholic blog sites with relative abandon--see, e.g., the discussion thread following Joseph Bottum's recent essay about Catholics and gay marriage at Commonweal here, here, here, and here. This tag is used by Catholic bloggers in such discussion threads at Catholic blog sites for one reason and one reason alone: to tag their fellow human beings who are gay in hostile and denigrating ways as aberrant. 

Such hostile and denigrating tags whose sole purpose is to elicit prejudice have no place in the discourse of Catholic communities. They need to be retired. And moderators of Catholic blogs need to exercise due diligence about blocking this kind of discourse from Catholic blog conversations.

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