Is the Mormon Media Empire Curtailing Freedom of Speech?
For those of you who have never ventured into the comments, it’s kind of like venturing into a storm drain or sewer. You never know what you’re going to find.
The typical partisanship was divided over homosexuals, President Obama, illegal immigration and BYU football. Anyone who has ever ventured in there will attest to this statement.
While profanity was censored, ill will, bigotry and hatred wasn’t. KSL.com message boards were the Mormon version of 4chan. The new Mormon media empire is trying to put a stop to it. The harsh reality is they can’t.
I’m not sure which “side” the new policy was supposed to thwart. Common news stories would go off topic really quickly into racism and xenophobia. Forget about a topic that included guns or BYU football.
The value to wading into the cesspool would be comments by those close to the story who could add further insight. This is especially true when early reports on a story provided few details.
Later today, it was revealed that while the Deseret News wasn’t ending comments, they were certainly changing the policy to make it more difficult to comment anonymously.
In my opinion, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Anonymous Internet writing creates a sense of freedom that doesn’t exist in reality if anyone could ever trace back what you wrote to a real human. As a result, some people act sub-human. While private businesses have every right to control their own property, what the new empire fails to realize is technology is their biggest enemy, not opinionated individuals.
Today, I received an opportunity to interview one of the Google engineers behind Google Instant. One of the questions I thought about was failed ventures like Orkut and Sidewiki. In reflection, Sidewiki offered so much promise, but seems to be a nothingburger today. Under online censorship, Sidewiki is an expression tool nobody, but Google, can control.
Here is the lesson whether you’re KSL, the DesNews, a business or anyone else online…the conversation is going to happen. It may happen on your site. It may happen elsewhere. Or it may happen on your site without your knowledge. Under which circumstance do you think will be best for your organization? It is foolishness, no matter your original intent, to think you can stop it.
Besides Sidewiki overlaying the original site, critics will naturally go to other sites to express their opinion. The story on the Salt Lake Tribune has generated hundreds of comments and tens of thousands of third-party sites like mine will also express an opinion.
The conversation can’t be stifled. It can be redirected, it can be overwritten, but it can’t be suppressed. The Internet, and I include all forms of social media within this categorization, allows absolute freedom of speech. If the Mullahs in Iran can’t succeed with censorship, neither can the Apostles in Utah.
So what’s the answer? KSL claims they can’t cost effectively monitor their boards. That’s probably true. Personally, I love the Facebook authorized commenting. Then when you say something offensive at least all your friends and family will know.
It’s a double-edged sword. The more difficult it is to share is the less likely people are willing to. Add a complicated registration process and a hard to read CAPTCHA and you’ll get few comments and look irrelevant. Ease it up and you have chaos. Facebook isn’t a perfect answer because it’s easy to create fake accounts.
What really needs to take place is a paradigm shift. If it’s online, we can’t control it. We can, however, take part in the discussion. That’s the point. Until Sidewiki, there was a chance we could move discussions we didn’t like. We can’t anymore.
The lesson to KSL.com and anyone else that attempts this policy, isn’t censorship, it’s discussion. I found myself looking at comments and soon deciding I didn’t want to be there. Don’t censor or delete, add to the discussion. Thoughtful members of your audience will automatically self-filter.
Leave it in the hands of the audience and don’t try to remove the discussion. It will happen no matter how hard you try to stop it.
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