Even Sybil would be confused

One of the popular movies back in 1976 was “Sybil” which imdb.com says was about “A young woman whose childhood was so harrowing to her that she developed at least 13 different personalities.”

Sounds exciting, doesn’t it.   I have never seen the movie, but I can’t help but wonder if they had made the movie today if the plot would be changed so Sybil would have an outlet for each of her personalities.

Comment sections on media websites.

The exchange between people is, to put it mildly, interesting.  If your favorite team loses, half want the coach or manager fired and the other half are from an arch rival laughing at the team.

If it’s a political topic, the barbs fly like flies around a trash can.

The challenge faced by many, if not most, media outlets, is they let anyone sign in and post what they want.  It is an issue that continues to be discussed in newsrooms.  Some, as I have previously noted, are beginning to call and verify each post, much in the same way they do letters to the editors for their print publications.

But with more and more non-print venues, it’s post early and often just to vent.

AOL’s Patch does not verify each post, but users are connected to an email so theoretically if AOL wanted to patch things up, they could trace those folks who anonymously post.

Some people are obsessed with wondering who is whom, possibly because they do not like what has been posted and they want to retaliate.  Nah, that would never happen.  Right.

The reality is that once a fire is ignited, every drop of gas just fuels it.

Some people are convinced that I am among the legions or anonymous posters.

Quite honestly, their allegations do not make any sense because, my views, like them or not, run under my name via my blogs.  Period.  There’s no alter ego lurking around the labyrinth of online comments.

While I personally prefer people standing behind their viewpoints, the unfortunate reality is there are some, well more than some, who probably prefer anonymity because of the potential for acrid and unfounded responses by folks who just see things one way – their way.  Not that something like that would ever happen in Buffalo Grove.

So what’s the answer?  Some folks run around wailing about their First Amendment rights and how they can say what they want. Close, but no cigar.  Freedom of speech does not mean freedom to incite or defame.

In its recent newsletter, the Illinois Press Association reports that two police officers sued a newspaper “alleging that the website had improperly allowed third parties to anonymously post defamatory statements about the officers...”

According to the IPA report, the paper claimed protection under the federal Communications Decency Act.  Both the trial and appellate courts agreed.

An attorney cited in the IPA report noted that “no provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”  In other words, you don’t like it, don’t blame us.

There is one catch here – if the provider or operator of the site edits the content, it runs the risk of changing the intention of the poster, which would be problematic to say the least.

So what’s a media outlet to do?

One of three things.  The first is to require approval of a post before it is visible to the public.  I am not sure who approves what but at least there is an effort to verify who is posting, just like it is done in most print publications.

The other two options are simple.  Take it or leave it.

If media outlets “leave it” they let posts run as is.  If they “take it” – then it’s gone.  It never sees the light of day or anyone’s eyes.

What?  Not fair? Before you run and wave the First Amendment around, read the fine print – the terms of service.  Print publications call them editorial guidelines.  Quite simply, if what you want to submit or print is libelous, we’ll pull it.  Period.  If what you want to post is defamation, we’ll pull it.

It seems as though the Daily Herald is getting more aggressive with filtering online reader comments.  Other outlets, like Patch, let things fly.

What more media outlets need to do is post or provide a link to the federal Communications Decency Act so posters have some guidelines.

If media outlets decide to post the CDA, there’s one word that should be in bold – maybe even capitalized too.



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