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The News Media

What civility looks like



Photo: Ariana Cubillos/Associated Press


Last week, The New York Times published a piece discussing the results of a study measuring “the nasty effect” of uncivil conversation online. Apparently, audiences that are exposed to readers’ comments that use cuss words and derogatory language change their perception on the issue at hand.

There is little that websites can do about the use of uncivil language. For one, in many cases, the sheer amount of comments posted make it materially impossible to be evaluated by a central moderator. On the other hand, it is in the very spirit of Internet to foster participation. Although some sites use a sort of crowd-sourced moderation system, where readers “grade” other people’s comments, its use would probably depend on having a highly Internet-savvy audience. 

A more traditional mechanism has been to close to discussion particular posts that may be deemed sensible by the editor. However, The New York Times proposes an interesting way to weed trash talk and highlight the comments that make up a productive conversation. 

As expected, today’s coverage of the death of Venezuela’s President resulted in intense reactions from the paper’s readers. A few hours after the piece was posted, the Times published a post categorizing the readers reactions by subject, highlighting the most representative arguments according to the editor’s criteria. The exercise eliminates the noise and presents the picture of the many ways in which the public interpret the legacy of a controversial figure. Doing that the commenters are empowered and the Internet resembles the idyllic public forum where all voices can be heard that its most enthusiast participants dream about.



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