Monday, April 9, 2007

Web Uglies

There's something to be said for toning down some of the nastier web sites that, through anonymity, promote expressions of truly hideous comments. But the ugliness of contemporary discourse is hardly limited to the drive-by anonymous commenter on a hot political web site. We've got vicious people showing up on supposedly respectable TV programs all the time, allowed to spew their hatred and then move on as if nothing happened.

So why target the bloggers as long as cable and network TV organizations allow this?

Ann Coulter "My only regret with Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times Building." and many other ugly comments.

Glenn Beck of CNN Headline News, on his syndicated radio show, said of Hillary Clinton, "'s not what she says, it's how she says it," adding, "She is like the stereotypical -- excuse the expression, but this is the way to -- she's the stereotypical bitch, you know what I mean?")

Michael Savage, talking on his syndicated radio program, of Barbara Walters: "Notice what this double-talking slut just did, this mind-slut Barbara Walters. And I stick by those words. She's an empty mind-slut. She'd peddle anything for a ratings point."

Then there's Don Imus of WFAN and MSNBC who has a history of controversial and race-tinged remarks through his long career yet continues to draw presidential candidates, other politicians and,worse, in my opinion, big-name TV and print journalists who come on and laugh it up. Tim Russert's a regular; so is Evan Thomas. And plenty of others. His "nappy-headed hos" comment--and who the hell talks that way by accident?-- is just the latest in a long, long series of ugly remarks from him and his colleagues.

From today's NY Times:

Is it too late to bring civility to the Web?

The conversational free-for-all on the Internet known as the blogosphere can be a prickly and unpleasant place. Now, a few high-profile figures in high-tech are proposing a blogger code of conduct to clean up the quality of online discourse.

Last week, Tim O’Reilly, a conference promoter and book publisher who is credited with coining the term Web 2.0, began working with Jimmy Wales, creator of the communal online encyclopedia Wikipedia, to create a set of guidelines to shape online discussion and debate.

Chief among the recommendations is that bloggers consider banning anonymous comments left by visitors to their pages and be able to delete threatening or libelous comments without facing cries of censorship.

A recent outbreak of antagonism among several prominent bloggers “gives us an opportunity to change the level of expectations that people have about what’s acceptable online,” said Mr. O’Reilly, who posted the preliminary recommendations last week on his company blog ( Mr. Wales then put the proposed guidelines on his company’s site (, and is now soliciting comments in the hope of creating consensus around what constitutes civil behavior online.

Mr. O’Reilly and Mr. Wales talk about creating several sets of guidelines for conduct and seals of approval represented by logos. For example, anonymous writing might be acceptable in one set; in another, it would be discouraged. Under a third set of guidelines, bloggers would pledge to get a second source for any gossip or breaking news they write about.

Bloggers could then pick a set of principles and post the corresponding badge on their page, to indicate to readers what kind of behavior and dialogue they will engage in and tolerate. The whole system would be voluntary, relying on the community to police itself.

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