NPR’s New Website Chaperone Efforts – Troll Chasing or Opinion Shaping?

by Mike Wendy on March 7, 2011

Ars Technica has a story today about NPR becoming more of a chaperone to its popular website due to perceived abuses these past several months by “trolls” and uncivil commenters.  According to ARS:

…[T]he organization “will more aggressively” moderate subscriber responses on the site. New registrants who wish to post comments on the radio service’s webpages will go through a vetting process, conducted by a team of community managers.

I will admit I am not a big fan of NPR.  Though research shows that they and PBS are highly trusted operations, I do not feel they give “conservative” and marketplace issues a fair airing.  Moreover, as I have commented on before, I think the marketplace provides many rich alternatives for entertainment and news, and it is about time to turn off the publicly-funded spigot from which they drink.

That said, I am torn on this particular issue.

Is their effort at “civilizing” their comments section so that “not-so-good” speech and “trolls” go away simply a branding exercise (which I think is entirely valid to do)?  Or, is it yet more of the double standard many suspect they harbor – that is, in working to excise “bad speech,” are they really just working to shape opinion (or, more nefariously, censoring speech) more to their liking?

I don’t have an answer to this.   Those that trust the organization would likely side with the former – i.e., it’s OK because it makes the site better, more useful and, of course, more “civil.  Those that don’t would likely take the opposite position – i.e., is “civility” just an excuse to leave conservative viewpoints on the cutting room floor  (not to suggest that conservatives are uncivil)?

For my own website, I pretty much let everything in.  Unlawful or hateful stuff, no.  But, for stuff I don’t agree with – I feel those comments are important to post.  They further the debate. Now, does NPR and its team of community managers do this? I hope.

Do I trust that they do it…Let me ask Juan Williams.



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