Oregonlive.com is the website that publishes articles from The Oregonian, our state's largest paper, online. People that visit the site are allowed to post anonymous comments related to stories and editorials. A large number of the comments left are hateful - even bigoted and racist.
The recent planned bombing of Pioneer Courthouse Square has brought out the worst in some people. Today The Oregonian posted this comment to one of their stories on the event:
To our readers:
Our editors have removed many comments from earlier posts concerning the plot to bomb Pioneer Courthouse Square because they violated our online user agreement. That agreement http://www.oregonlive.com/useragreement/ reminds users not to use any obscene, indecent, or offensive language and to refrain from ethnic slurs, religious intolerance and personal attacks.
That's an appropriate step for the paper to take but take a look through story after story and you'll still see these kinds of comments on Oregonlive.com. The site is a wasteland of hate speech.
One reason might be that Oregonlive.com allows people to post anonymous comments. As a writer for The New York Times notes in an op-ed today, allowing anonymous comments is problematic:
Psychological research has proven again and again that anonymity increases unethical behavior. Road rage bubbles up in the relative anonymity of one’s car. And in the online world, which can offer total anonymity, the effect is even more pronounced. People — even ordinary, good people — often change their behavior in radical ways. There’s even a term for it: the online disinhibition effect.
On my blog, I changed the comment policy to force people to use existing Facebook accounts, etc. before leaving a comment. This doesn't take care of the problem entirely but 99% of the racist and otherwise bigoted people that have "trolled" this site have disappeared. Forcing people to use their real names and take responsibility for their words is like taking the hood off a member of the Klan.
Hate thrives in darkness and anonymity. Force people out into the light where they can be held accountable for what the say and do and then the community has an opportunity for true dialog.
The Oregonian should take strong corrective action to stop their website from becoming a center for hate speech in Oregon. Deleting a few comments here and there simply isn't enough.