Free Speech, Censorship?

NEVER READ THE COMMENTSThis blog is about the uselessness of the comments sections of many business websites. Yes, I’ve been around long enough to know to never read the comments.

News websites, especially local ones, have jumped into the Internet as a way to make money, save their business or just as a low overhead way to extend their reach. Comment sections help create a local online community.

When a business has bad behavior in their store, their office, their bar, bad by their definition, they typically take action.Why don’t businesses do the same online?

Picture the scene, it’s the reception hall/entrance of a local TV station, a reporter has just read out a news report, a young woman, cycling to raise money for a cancer charity was struck and killed by a truck. Within seconds, someone shouts out:

You moronic cyclists deserve what you get.

To which, someone else shouts back:

I hope you, your wife, your parents, and your children die of horrible pancreatic cancer. Seriously, please die horribly. Not quickly.

security would be called, the protagonists would be ejected from the building, if it the argument carried on outside, the Police would be called, arrests would likely to made. By doing this, was the business censoring free speech?

Absolutely not, they were passing judgement, on acceptable behavior on their private property. They were, if they had any sense, protecting their business image in the local community, their brand image in the broader sense as well. While there are some businesses that would tolerate this behavior, most would not. Similar issues came up recently following the entirely legal behavior of “open carry” advocates here in Texas, a number of business now publicly ban open carry, even though it is legal and, like free speech, an amendment right.

And so it was I went to read to day the news of a cyclist who had been killed. The article itself while deep on details about the cyclist, had no details of the accident itself, the cause, driver etc. So I read down into the comments.

As a result, I’ve written this email tonight, and would encourage others to do the same. I attempted to find more direct email addresses, but this one should get answered, it is included on the Investor relations page.

PLEASE PASS THIS COMPLAINT ONTO KURT WOLFF, Editorial Leadership and Content Strategy, at CBS LOCAL, or to another appropriate senior executive for review, and cc: this email address, thank you.

Sir, I live and work in Austin Texas. I was drawn to the CBS Local Baltimore website as the result of a google query while research recent cycling deaths. Irrespective of what I think about drivers and cyclists, the comments on this page are disgusting, offensive and bring shame to the CBS Local brand and the Baltimore affiliate.

This not is about free speech, it’s about the shameful lack of moderation, oversight and appropriate behavior on CBS property. I would strongly encourage you to review the web page specifically and remove comments, or to shut down and block comments completely on a subset of your pages. Is this really consistent with what your brand stands for?

Despite being an industry/Internet veteran, I was so appalled I stayed up late tonight to write this blog entry and complaint.

++Mark.
http://about.me/markcathcart

Author: Mark Cathcart

Formerly an Executive Director of Systems Engineering and a Senior Distinguished Engineer at Dell. Prior to that, an IBM Distinguished Engineer working for the Systems Group in NY and Austin. I’m currently “retired until further notice”.

Leave a Reply