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March 19, 2008

What To Do About Online Meanies?

What should be done about the state of the online commenting system, in which anonymous trolls can visit newspaper sites and say mean things about one another and even, gasp, journalists? If you ask Edward Wasserman, a professor of journalism ethics at Washington and Lee University, something should definitely be done—he's just not sure what.

His ambiguous call to arms takes place on the Miami Herald's website, where he argues that the "hands off" principle to comment boards is wrong, and that a new facet of journalism should be a "stewardship" over a community-wide conversation. I'm pretty sure that deleting curse words and racist epithets from forums in order to preserve the sensitive eyes of some imaginary reader is not at the top of the to-do list for most journalists.

In fact, I'd advocate everyone growing a slightly thicker skin and just ignoring all but the worst of the asshole commenters—it makes for less work and less sticky First Amendment issues. Then again, as if to prove Wasserman's point, one of the first comments left on his article—since moderated away—starts off, "who the hell is this big nosed Jew to dictate what the hell i can say."

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