Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Commentocracy of Hate

"Okay, tell me something I don't know..."

This was my basic sense, while first reading through the Politico's feature article, "The Commentocracy Rises Online."

Except the article DID tell me something new.

The piece starts with the story of Erick Erickson of
Redstate, who had his all of his personal contact information, including his work phone number, posted at Daily Kos in the comments thread:
Site moderators removed his information, but not before Erickson received a number of ominous phone calls and e-mail messages, including one from a writer who threatened to “rape my wife and unborn child.” He placed a call to the FBI in response, and nothing came of the threats.

“That was first time anything like that happened to me,” he says, “and I was really taken aback, but now it’s almost run of the mill.”

Behold the Commentocracy, where big ideas and rough remarks sit shoulder to shoulder, altogether transforming the nature of the Web and of journalism.
Okay, the "commentocracy." I'm hip ... the blogosphere's a rough place.

So rough, in fact,
according to the Politico, that some top bloggers and mainstream news sites simply do without commenting - why waste the time and energy moderating a bunch of uncultured yahoos?

Not Daily Kos, though. Commenters there are essentially team members, community participants adding "content" to the blog:

Kos Editor Susan Gardner recalls her own hesitancy in posting comments when she started out as a reader on the site back in 2003. At the time, she says, there were only 8,000 users who had registered to comment, compared with more than 170,000 today.

Active commenters, though, remain a relatively small and self-selected group. “For every 10 who read,” Gardner continues, “one will sign up as a reader. And of every 10, only one will comment, and of every 10 who do, one will become a diarist.”

A ratings system allows readers to recommend their favorite missives, thus fashioning a commenting meritocracy, or at least hierarchy. “For the most part, what you do see is people are rising purely on merit or at least on popularity,” she said. “They’re giving community what the community wants, which is different than the outside world.“

Mindful that in the past, certain incendiary or inappropriate comments have been used, most famously by Bill O’Reilly, as though they represented the views of Daily Kos and all its readers, the community has vigilantly taken up the cause of self-policing against online dejecta, be it bigotry, impertinence or spam.

Frequent open threads on the front page offer commenters a high-profile outlet for whatever’s on their minds.

“Commenters aren’t just commenters on our site, like they are on Politico,” says Gardner. "They are creators of content.”
This is both revealing and highly significant.

As noted in "
Progressivism Goes Mainstream?", Markos Moulitsas considers his blogging community as the mainstream of the Democratic Party, and the Kos kids certainly throw their weight around, for example, in pressuring the Austin-American Statesman to renounce its ironic front-page story covering last week's Netroots Nation convention.

The significance, though, is in what the Kos commentocracy signifies. While newspapers like the New York Times debate eliminating comment boards, the hate-filled threads at Daily Kos are considered legitimate intellectual content. The notion that Kos' comments are moderated is laughable. Sure, maybe some posts are taken down, but one can read entire threads, with hundreds and hundreds of comments, to find ready and vile examples of demonism.

Check out these examples from the Kos diary, "
Lieberman Goes The Full Zell."

From "
Dallas Doc":

Joe Lieberman has consistently advocated that Democrats respond to the lies, the manipulations, the tactical and strategic disasters of the Bush presidency by going along with everything the Boy King wanted. Not to do so, in Joe's mind, would cause vengeance to rain down on Democrats from the mighty Republicans. Is this not a doctrine of appeasement in its purest form?

Joe, of course, is consistent only in being a warmonger. He is a tool of right-wing Israeli politics, and a creature of defense industry contractors (big in CT). If our politics has descended to "Strong = eager to kill" then God help us all. He won't do much for Lieberkrieg.
And this one, from "Red State Progressive":

If Hell exists...

There is a special place for Joe Lieberman.
Also included are photoshopped graphic images, with one picturing Senator Lieberman as a "giant douche" bag, which is captioned, "No offense to douches intended..."

So, with Daily Kos we see the commentocracy as essentially the Wild West of
secular demonology.

Where at others left-wing outfits, like the Huffington Post, the problem of hatred is recognized and remedied (Huffington Post frequently closes its entries to comments, for example, for its report on the Times Square bombing in March and after publishing its obituary for Jesse Helms more recently), at Kos the commentocracy of hate is celebrated as "creative."

Perhaps it might be the case that Daily Kos, and other "progressive" blogs will see their influence fade upon the accession of Barack Obama to power in January, should the Illinois Senator prevail in November.

It's wishful thinking to bank on such an outcome, but perhaps with a Democratic victory the demonology of progressive blogging will become little seen and not heard among the more civilized practitioners of online communications.