"A word to the wise is infuriating" -- Dr. Hunter S. Thompson
A fascinating collection of topics about newspapers, individual rights (of expression and of fair trials), about the online world of writing and commenting and more -- all are part of a post from R. Neal at KnoxViews regarding arguments in court about Knoxville media sites and the Christian-Newsome murder trial.
First, the case has without a doubt generated an enormous amount of local and national press and plenty of very angry public outcry, whether online or off. Attorneys for the defense want the judge in the case to prohibit online comments at media web sites which report on the case, or establish stronger tracking identification for those who do leave comments.
I see little way past the notion of prior restraint of speech on this topic - banning media or any online outlet from publishing comments or even articles seems a no win to me. Likewise, for courts to dictate the standards and practices regulating individual or media websites would not be good for free speech rights in general. Truth be told, these kinds of cases regarding online comments and online writing are being brought out in courts on an almost daily basis. What one court rules today, another may overturn. And there is such an enormous range of writing on the Internet, that courts have for the most part been approaching the concepts involved in a case by case basis.
Courts have been circling around all manner of online actions for some time, whether it's file sharing or copyright issues, threats, ownership of content, and even governmental data mining.
The sheer volume of even the most random of online activities creates even larger amounts of data about usage and traits which many businesses value. Recently, Google announced they are considering keeping a record of individual activities for up to two years for users of their services. That's a vast amount of info and, as mentioned, can be incredibly valuable.
Comments which I have read at the Knoxville News Sentinel on all types of stories range from insightful to ignorant, and part of me thinks that in addition to allowing readers to flag comments as inappropriate, the newspaper could be more active in eliminating some useless or hateful comments. However, I also know that they are simply providing a space where uncensored public viewpoints can be presented and there is value in that both for the readers and for the newspaper, which need eyes on their pages to build revenues.
I chose to delete comments on my page regularly, sometimes because it is advertising spam and sometimes because it is hateful and inflammatory. Sometimes, I have removed just plain stupid comments because, well, because I can. This is my page. The role a media web site takes, however, is different.
The other issue which the KnoxViews post mentions is shameful lack of ability to correctly identify what is a "blog" and what is not. Writing comments on a "blog" or on a story on a media site is not "blogging". I offer commentary here on all manner of topics, and I comment on other pages, but the two acts are not the same.
And I am utterly in agreement that the words "blog" and "blogging" are awful. And if I had a better word for it, I would try and copyright it and market it.
I describe what I do on my page (and the paid work I have done at other sites) as Online Writing.
We live in a very rare time - people of all ages and temperaments have the ability to create, publish and distribute information and ideas via the Internet, a massive minute-by-minute rush of words and ideas which are not controlled by any save those who create it (and in some cases by the agencies, such as Blogger, which offer the platforms for such creations).
This new age is a very real challenge to all commercial and traditional publishers, a challenge to readers, a challenge to leaders in government and business, and to our society in general. The worst mistake will be to cage it all up and attempt to move backwards towards pre-Internet days.
There is also a real challenge to all of us who use the Internet - will we continue to create as we see fit or be forced to create what others demand?
The debate which has been raging for some time about online writing and blogs and anonymous comments and anonymous bloggers reminded me of something I had read a few years back regarding the prominence of anonymous and signed pamphlets which rose to prominence in the 1600s and 1700s. A book on preserving books and publications from the early 1900s by A.R. Spofford offered this view of the value of information published and distributed by individuals and not companies:
"Strike out of literature, ancient and modern, what was first published in pamphlets, and you would leave it the poorer and weaker to an incalculable degree. Pamphlets are not only vehicles of thought and opinion, and propagandists of new ideas; they are often also store-houses of facts, repositories of history, annals of biography, records of genealogy, treasuries of statistics, chronicles of invention and discovery. They sometimes throw an unexpected light upon obscure questions where all books are silent. Being published for the most part upon some subject that was interesting the public mind when written, they reflect, as in a mirror, the social, political, and religious spirit and life of the time. As much as newspapers, they illustrate the civilization (or want of it) of an epoch ..."