Jeff Ackerman: Self-expression of all kinds on Web
Most Nevada County students and teachers are off this week. Don’t ask me why. I’m just the chauffeur and my instructions were clear: “You don’t have to drive your daughter to the high school this week.”
As a result, we’re heading to San Francisco today and then on to Monterey for a couple of days to see the new Great White Shark and eat popcorn shrimp at Bubba Gump.
It couldn’t come at a better time. As some of you may know from the signs, commercials, the recorded political phone calls at dinner and … yes … The Union’s opinion pages, it’s election season. That generally means trouble in a community where everyone is right 99.9 percent of the time.
If you really want to get a sense of that, simply check out the comments posted to stories and opinions on our Web site (www.theunion.com). It’s a great tool, really. It allows online readers to weigh in almost instantly, which is probably why the tone can be rather nasty. It also allows folks to comment anonymously, which is also why the tone is probably nastier than it would be if they had to identify themselves. You can tell when someone is shouting because they generally use all bold uppercase (“HOW CAN YOU BE SO STUPID!”). The ones who actually try to make a point tend to use a mix of italics for emphasis. Many of the ones who use italics actually identify themselves at the bottom of their posting.
The reason we have a time lapse for posting online comments is because we need to make sure posters aren’t dropping “F-Bombs” on one another. Someone at The Union actually reads each posting and must manually release the comment to the Web. It also protects innocent people from personal attacks, such as, “My neighbor is Jeff Ackerman and I know for a fact that he shaves his head and cuts his nose hair on his front porch …”
That’s true, of course, but I’d like to be the one to share that bit of news, not have it come from some anonymous neighbor who is just mad because I happen to have a better barbecue grill than he does.
It’s not a fun job, wading through the 150 or so online comments posted each day. Imagine yourself walking into a room where 150 people are yelling at each other at the top of their lungs. And before breakfast, even.
It does offer a peek at the dark side of our community. We have a LOT of people who spend WAY too much time at their computers. I’d guess some of them are anti-social and have found a way to gain credibility without having to actually go outside and meet anyone face to face. And the best part is that they don’t even have to shower or brush their teeth. How cool is that?
What I like about the Internet is that it does allow readers – even the nasty ones – to interact and has made the world a much smaller place. I was traveling through Vietnam with a bunch of veterans in 1999 when this young man walked up to me in a small fishing village wanting to sell me a “GOOD MORNING VIETNAM” T-shirt. I told him I didn’t want a T-shirt, but if he knew where I could find a high-speed Internet connection, I’d make it worth his while. Ten minutes later I was typing away in a hut full of powerful desktops while chickens pecked away at my toes. Imagine the world of information that is now available to a society that had been spoon-fed government propaganda for a lifetime. Not that we are immune to government propaganda, mind you.
I do find it interesting that bloggers (a person who spends 11 hours a day posting what are called “Web logs”) can’t seem to wait for newspapers to die so they can take over the information business. The problem is, without newspapers they wouldn’t have much to blog about, since most of the blogging is about something they read in the newspaper.
Eventually I’d like to see the online postings go up immediately and unedited. I really don’t want to read the postings before they are posted. I’m sure there is software that would filter out the “F-Bombs” and see no reason why we shouldn’t allow for an online “free-for-all” when it comes to debating the issues of the day. It’s no different than a coffee shop, really. If I pull up a chair at a coffee shop, I’ll expose myself to all kinds of conversation around me. If I’m offended by it, I can always pick up my cup of coffee and take it outside. If someone at the next table drops the F-Bomb, I can ask him to shut up or pour my coffee onto his lap, which is actually a GREAT way to liven up a weekend.
I suspect the online audience will police itself anyway. I’m already seeing where posters are calling out other posters who refuse to identify themselves. Perhaps they agree that you should not be afraid to stand behind your opinion, especially if you are right 99.9 percent of the time.
Enjoy the week. If I can find a computer, I’ll send a blog or two from the Great White Shark tank.
Jeff Ackerman is the publisher of The Union. His column appears on Tuesdays. Contact him at 477-4299, email@example.com, or 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley 95945.
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