I ran across this interesting piece yesterday. CBSNews.com has decided to disable the reader comments section for all of its stories about Barack Obama. The reason? Too many racist postings. The site is not diabling comments for stories about any of the other presidential candidates, only those about Obama. “We have our rules of engagement,” says CBSNew.com director of operations Mike Sims. “They prohibit personal attacks, especially racist attacks. Stories about Obama have been problematic, and we won’t tolerate it.”
On the one hand, this is an admirable position—taking a zero-tolerance stance against hateful attacks. However, I wonder if this is the best course of action for CBS to take. Most people know that the comments section is a public forum, an opportunity for everyday folks to express their views. I’m not waving the unlimited “free speech” card here by any means. (I sometimes think online forums and talk radio are among the worst things about our society today.) But I think it’s helpful for us to hear where people are really coming from, what’s in their hearts.
When it comes to confronting racism these days, our cultural institutions (perhaps driven by guilt) tend to quash the offenders without exploring the roots of their ignorance or hatred. Could CBSNews.com provide a greater service by allowing readers to share their unabashed opinions?
I’ve seen lots of racist comments from the public on various websites, and they do tick me off initially. But usually another reader comes along to offer a passionate rebuke or rebuttal. For me, it’s just fascinating to observe how people think.
What about you? Do you think CBSNews.com is making the right move? If the site is not able to effectively police the racist trash talk against Obama, is it best to pull the plug on reader feedback? Why or why not? I’d love to get your comments. And I promise not to block them.