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May 05, 2007

Hate speech compels Obama comment embargo

The CBS website will no longer allow comments on stories about Barack Obama because the site gets deluged with hate speech whenever the Democratic candidate's name comes up:

Today CBSNews.com informed its staff via email that they should no longer enable comments on stories about presidential candidate Barack Obama. The reason for the new policy, according to the email, is that stories about Obama have been attracting too many racist comments.

“It’s very simple,” Mike Sims, director of News and Operations for CBSNews.com, told me. “We have our Rules of Engagement. They prohibit personal attacks, especially racist attacks. Stories about Obama have been problematic, and we won’t tolerate it.”

…”If you’re an African American and you read about someone being called a porch monkey, that overrides any positive thing that you would read in the comments,” he said.

As Pam Spaulding observes, CBS hasn't had to turn off comments about any other candidate.  I wonder what they'll do if Obama wins the nomination. Will they shut down comments all together?

CBS execs are crazy if they think they can control the Obama trolls by closing comments on Obama stories. If they've already got a massive hate speech problem before the primary, and the network needs reassess its entire comment moderation strategy now. The trolls will just infiltrate and derail every other thread.

Unfortunately, as Pam Spaulding notes, CBS has only shut down comments on Obama stories.

This piecemeal solution is unacceptable. Just banning comments on Obama posts hurts the candidate and gives his online assailants a victory. The race zombies are probably gloating that hate speech forced CBS to close the threads.

Of course, racist threats aren't confined to CBS threads. Due to the sheer volume of abuse, Obama is now under the protection of the Secret Service, which has never been asked to step in on behalf of a challenger so early in the race.

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» CBS surrenders to racist commenters from Making Light
Via Orcinus and Majikthise, word comes that CBS has disabled comments on stories they publish about Barack Obama: CBSNews.com does... [Read More]

» Almost like there was an organized group of racists in thiscountry from cannablog
From the CBS PublicEye (via Pam Spaulding, hat-tip Lindsay Beyerstein): Today CBSNews.com informed its staff via email that they should no longer enable comments on stories about presidential candidate Barack Obama. The reason for the new policy, accor... [Read More]

Comments

This piecemeal solution is unacceptable.

It's the best available solution, so people--particularly those who support Obama--should accept it.

Just banning comments on Obama posts hurts the candidate and gives his detractors a victory.

Not as much as would CBS devoting significantly greater resources to weeding out the vile for Obama than for any other candidate--it would open the way for charges that Obama was receiving special treatment because he's black (and the implicit charge that he expected the special treatment) and that CBS was promoting Obama out of white liberal guilt.

Obama's running a serious campaign for President. He has resources. If this bothers him, he's in a position to exert influence to change the policy. Frankly, I'd be surprised if CBS hadn't made attempts to aprise his campaign of the planned solution prior to its implementation.

I can so see liberals killing Obama's campaign softly, with their nostalgic song.

SomeCallMeTim -

"I can so see liberals killing Obama's campaign softly, with their nostalgic song."

What does that mean?

It means

(a) there are certain sorts of problems the Obama campaign is just going to have to deal with because Obama's black;
(b) the more important or prominent Obama's race is to the wider voting community, the worse it will be for his campaign; specifically, the more it appears that there is one set of rules for responding to the black candidate and another for everyone else, the worse it will be for Obama's campaign;
(c) therefore, minimal solutions are the best ones for Obama's campaign; I suspect Obama's campaign feels the same way;
(d) it's imaginable that some subset of liberals will not feel the same way and loudly say so; and
(e) I wrote "softly killing," which I believed to be descriptively accurate, and then thought, "Why not?"

CBS needs to rethink its entire approach to comments on its website. I'm not accusing the network of malice, just shortsightedness.

Either CBS needs to invest resources in moderating comments on their presidential election coverage, or they need to shut down the comments.

I don't understand your point about the perception of special treatment. If CBS just hired more comment moderators, or invested in some better screening software, the public would have no way of knowing whether Obama-threads needed more moderation than threads about other candidates.

As a practical matter, shutting down the Obama threads won't end the anti-Obama slurs and threats. Those trolls will just continue spewing hate in CBS's other threads. They'll keep on dragging Obama slurs into every other discussion.

Besides which, the anti-Obama threats are the most conspicuous now, but they won't be the only troll problem CBS will encounter. This is only going to get worse as we get closer the primaries.

If CBS doesn't want to be bothered with comments, that's fine. There's no law that says that every online news source needs a commenting community. It's a lot of work to foster meaningful discussion with that big a readership. If CBS isn't up to the task, that's fine, but there's no excuse for a national network to set up a comments section that's the equivalent of a vacant lots for whatever weeds take root.

If CBS just hired more comment moderators, or invested in some better screening software, the public would have no way of knowing whether Obama-threads needed more moderation than threads about other candidates.

If that's an easy solution, I agree that they should do that. I suspect it's not quite that easy.

As a practical matter, shutting down the Obama threads won't end the anti-Obama slurs and threats. Those trolls will just continue spewing hate in CBS's other threads.

In which case, I assume they'll shut comments off entirely. And that's fine, too. But, again, I think the less they do that seems to be for the sake of Obama, the better for Obama.

SomeCallMeTim -

A more minimal response to racist comments is to delete them, not to stop everyone from commenting on articles about Obama.

I still don't understand your point.

Are you saying that Lindsay Beyerstein's article here is somehow going to hurt Obama's campaign?

A more minimal response to racist comments is to delete them, not to stop everyone from commenting on articles about Obama.

CBSNews.com does sometimes delete comments on an individual basis, but Sims said that was not sufficient in the case of Obama stories due to "the volume and the persistence" of the objectionable comments.
"

Are you saying that Lindsay Beyerstein's article here is somehow going to hurt Obama's campaign?

Love the blog, but no, it's not big enough to do so.

CBS could just require posters to register with a legitimate e-mail address. By reducing anonymity, the bile and bigotry would likely come down several notches.

I personally have little problem with bigots exposing themselves along with their intolerant views. It's good to know who these people are.

Reducing anonymity would be very helpful. Especially, if someone on the net made an actionable comment against ANY candidate, a brief visit from the Secret Service would be appropriate, and if any of these trolls appear to have links to violence-friendly organizations, they could be made into an example of the worst-case legal consequences of such threats. Happens often enough with victimless drug crimes, seems more appropriate here.

Shrimplate, not everyone is a member of an organization that provides valid email addresses. A lot of people are in positions where the only email addresses they have are on free servers like Hotmail or Yahoo.

Incidentally, Obama is also the only presidential candidate from either party to have been provided Secret Service protection. The threat to him obviously goes beyond "hate speech." It also proves that he is a serious candidate which has shaken up some people.

"Daily Kos" requires that people provide an email address and prove that they can log into that email account.

The "CBS News" website asks people for an email address, but doesn't require them to prove that they can log into that email address.

A person who wanted to make racist comments at the "CBS News" website would have slightly more of a hassle if CBS required email verification and banned racist commenters who then had to setup another email address.

If CBS just hired more comment moderators, or invested in some better screening software, the public would have no way of knowing whether Obama-threads needed more moderation than threads about other candidates.

SomeCallMeTim nails it. The less "special treatment" Obama seems to get, the better. I bet his campaign agrees 100%. Shutting off the Obama threads is the most minimal action they can take at this time. Can you imagine what would be said if they dropped comments from ALL the threads, the benign ones not recording anything wrong? Why? Oh, because that one candidate was getting catcalls on his thread, so they shut down the discussion for all. I very much doubt he wants to wear that "special" label at this time, because it's clearly not warranted. He wants to be treated like the others, for good reason. There's a good reason for shutting down his thread alone. People WOULD notice if their comments were beign selectively censored, and really, would you want to be the censor in this race sensitive time? Remember "nappy headed ho's"? If a similar, non vulgar but race-related comment were made about Sen. Obama, particularly within a comment that was on topic discussing his stance on an issue -- do you cut it or not? * Save the heavy censorship only for the clearly vile stuff?

See, that's where you run into the special treatment accusations of censoring out viewpoints. Best to eliminate the opportunity by shutting off comments on his threads only because there has proven a conflict that can't be immediately resolved.
-----------
*You say you would cut it? What about gender related slurs for Hillary? Strong enough to censor or not? Religious digs at Romney? I mean, do you censor heavy on all personal attacks even if they are laced with substantive discussion? Or edit light, thinking that racist comments are different, even those that aren't so vulgar? Bet you wouldn't want that job, and it just opens them up to more charges of playing favorites, etc.

A common sense decision by a business that probably thought through the implications of all these questions and decided this was the most minimal solution that could be offered.

So race hatred is alive and sick.

this is a greay area as far as free speech is concerned but have the people who had constructive [whether approving or not] comments for or about Obama been denied a public forum of some value? [and one that other candidates and constituents continue to enjoy] I think this sucks. And that doubtless pleases those who put up the racist comments.

Who were they?

Unless they can provide full-time editors to screen each and every comment, CBS should not be allowing comments. They don't allow just anyone to appear on their TV broadcasts, so they shouldn't allow just anyone to use their website (and therefore their logo) as a podium. It's not that difficult -- if you don't want so-and-so to spew on your TV show, you shouldn't allow him to spew on your site.

I disagree with the All or Nothing approach, otherpaul. If one threat is having trouble being maintained, you would shut them down for all?

Why do you folks think his campaign will suffer by having less discussion/criticism, particularly if threads have been proven to be useless, falling into degrading remarks. There's plenty of place for people to discuss and learn more about Obama's campaign than an infected CBS discussion thread, right?

If you shut down ALL comments, aren't you really letting the racists win? If you employ comment screeners, again I ask where do you draw the line at comments that incorporate personal characteristics? Hillary surely would qualify, and some would say Romney too. This is the best solution at the time, aimed at a particular problem. I don't think the racist commenters have "won"; clearly they have lost their open forum here.

It's a shame that this country is so predictable when it comes to its worst qualities, like its rampant racism.

The return of the yahoo zombie racists really makes me want to vote for Obama: Anything to piss of the most moronic segment of the American populace.

I bet there are a lot of voters like me. I've heard said that George Wallace did more to advance the civil rights movement outside the south than anyone trying to support the cause ever could have. Ditto for the pictures of peaceful protesters being hit with water cannons. The racists attacks on Obama could be a real plus for him, if they don't get him killed.

F*** obama and his ploy to balkanize black folks into a violent mindset. It only reinforces (or does it) the notion that black folks are more violent than other ethnic groups. The implied threat by Obama is taken as: we don't know how to solve our problems so as a group lets tell each other its okay to hurt others as a solution. Its priming the pump. Newsflash: Its not ok to stab and shoot people people because you are angry! CBS really cut "the dialog" becuase Obama is sabatoging his own vote with European Ameicans and CBS doesn't want that to happen!

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