What are our choices when we encounter mean-spirited and hate-laden comments in response to news articles online? It’s a question we’ve been debating at the water cooler here at The Working Group, and one that’s been on my mind a lot lately as I scour the web daily for news of hate crime hot spots and stories of resistance. We wanted to open up the conversation to the NIOT community. Do we urge our newspapers to adopt more stringent comment policies? Should we join the conversation or ignore it, and if we ignore it, what message are we sending?
Sadly, the examples of offensive speech and bigotry I’ve been encountering online are ample.
An article in the Modesto Bee reporting on the recent hate vandalism of Congregation Beth Shalom synagogue in Modesto prompted a few dozen comments from readers. By the time I caught wind of the story, several comments had already been marked “abusive” and the Bee had removed them. But one post spewing negative stereotypes about Jewish people with the question, “Why all the fuss?” was still in plain view. I reported the comment to the Bee as “abusive,” and two hours later, when I returned to the website, all of the comments had been removed. Before the newspaper intervened, there were one or two posts denouncing the vandals’ actions, but their voices seemed to be drowned out. I wondered where were all the other good citizens?
“It made me want to disengage.”
Anti-Immigrant Posts in San Diego
A recent San Diego Union-Tribune article, calling on residents to unite for a hate-free community, was also met with harsh rhetoric on the comments board. The civic leaders who co-authored the article warned of the rising number of hate groups in Southern California that stand ready to exploit the economic downturn and expand their following. As someone who was raised in San Diego, with nieces and nephews growing up in the area, the story hit close to home. But I was also encouraged to read about United for a Hate Free San Diego, the local coalition of faith and community leaders, and organizations that have been meeting over the last couple years in an effort to combat hate.
Then I read the angry comments, blaming immigrants for the country’s hard economic times. The post represented the nativist response to immigration that many experts attribute to the recent growth in hate activity not just in California, but nationally. It was disheartening and made me want to disengage, and I suspect that is exactly what this reader intended: to reframe the issue and control the conversation.
Readers Can Help Quell Racist Messages
Even though many newspapers have adopted policies for comments, it’s often up to the readers to monitor and police these conversations. (You can read a San Diego Union-Tribune story from 2008 about the death of an undocumented immigrant, and how readers mobilized to shut down the comments board because of hate-filled expressions.)
What creative approaches can you come up with? How can we deal with hate on blogs? Please share your strategies and ideas.