Message Boards

Just the other day, we explained, for the umpteenth time, that “message boards” are a mere sop to “interactivity,” and “whatever discussion takes place on the ‘boards’ is completely ignored by the publication, except of course if you swear or utter a remark that offends the sensibilities.”

A few sweeps of the hour hand later, mighty Sports HBO CNN AOL Fortune did its own squelching of free speech. found itself the unwitting forum for hate speech this week when some readers of a story about Edwin Black’s new book, IBM and the Holocaust, posted racist and anti-Semitic messages on an attached “scribble board” [which] was taken down Wednesday morning after other visitors and executives from Random House Inc.... complained.

[A functionary] adds: “We don’t even stamp your hand to get in. I like them. In an idea-perfect world, I would have a scribble board on every story. I want our users to feel they can interact with other users, the writer and the material.”

Just where do the writers come in? As with any “message board,” journalists tell us what to think, and we mutter amongst ourselves in response. Keep the hordes outside the gates, unlocked with a retina scan and a quick verification of your lunch expenses in the Meatpacking District.

If you write something online, you have to defend it online – whether in private E-mail or in whatever “message board” a vendor sold you for a hundred grand.

[...]“I’m reluctant to jettison it, so we’ve got to come up with a better policy to let people know it’s not censored,” [the functionary] adds. Some of the changes... he’s considering include being more selective when choosing which stories will be open for discussion, requiring participants to register before posting comments and creating an acceptable-use policy. A spokesman for AOL Time Warner says the public bulletin boards and chat rooms on the online service are monitored, and if a posting is found to violate the service’s terms of service by containing racist or hate speech, it is removed.

How can you “let people know it’s not censored” when, by the recent action, the “scribble boards” are proven to be heavily censored, and official CNN Time AOL New Line policy requires “monitoring” for “racist or hate speech”?

Which is more important, stopping people from saying certain things or coming up with an entirely new approach that involves readers, journos, and editors in a discussion that puts them all on the same level?

It seems easier for media juggernauts to spend the same kind of money and make the same kind of mistakes as their competitors rather than doing something different. Not even new, necessarily. Just different.

Posted on 2001-02-21