This morning I woke up feeling like the mood in this shot of Ulorin Vex from her portfolio. I had yet another conversation with a respected news site editor about the awful comments SF Gate lets people leave on my column every week. I am depressed, tired and angry that SF Gate continues to allow commenters to put vile things on my column every week. No other major publication allows its writers to be treated like this. None. There is a lot of value in this edition of Randy Cohen’s The Ethicist (ethicist.blogs.nytimes.com) about major news outlets and their comment policies, and the direct impact on their writers. I am a pro-anonymous commenting, but here Cohen is right — and the Gate should listen, and listen hard:
Has anonymous posting, though generally protected by law, become so toxic that it should be discouraged?
It has. To promote the social good of lively conversation and the exchange of ideas, transparency should be the default mode. And that goes both for lofty political discourse and casual comments on Amazon. “Says who?” is not a trivial question. It deepens the reader’s understanding to know who is speaking, from what perspective, with what (nutty?) history, and with what personal stake in the matter. It encourages civility and integrity in the writer to stand behind her words. There are times when anonymous posting is necessary, when disclosure is apt to bring harsh retribution — I’ll come to that — but more often, anonymous posting sustains a culture, or at least a hideous subculture, of calumny and malice so caustic as to inhibit the very discourse the Web can so admirably enable. Writers should not do it, and Web site hosts should not allow it.
As the writer Katha Pollitt (who is also my ex-wife) puts it: “I get a ton of hostile, misogynous, idiotic comments from anonymous trolls when I blog at The Nation. Sometimes I feel like I am dancing on the table for an audience of drunks. Not only is it dispiriting — and let’s not forget that women writers on the Internet receive vastly more hateful comments than male writers — it has nothing to do with the brisk and vigorous exchange of ideas often said to be the reason for anonymity. Because there are no ideas and no exchange.”
My own experience has been marked by greater cordiality, but then again, I have a virtual bodyguard. The Times employs moderated comments, declining, according to its policy, to post those that include “personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence and SHOUTING.” But the very necessity of filtering such vitriol points up the consequences of anonymous posting. (more)
Every time I have a conversation with anyone about my column, from fans to industry power players, someone states one way or another just how reprehensible the Gate is to let this continue. It’s now making them look worse than the haters are trying to make me look. And it’s turning into people now talking to me about wanting to do presentations, papers and studies on hatred toward women being allowed to blossom and cultivate unfettered — based purely on the comments allowed to hang off my writing. It’s as if I make a modest piece of art (as a writer), and then the most pathologically hateful people available are given a red carpet to smear shit on it, and laugh. Thanks, SF Gate. Thanks for making a playful, innocent weekly column about sex into a pack-mentality, banality-of-evil behavioral experiment centered on hating one girl. Every week it’s a glimpse into the darkness of human nature, with a single female target. I can’t help but wonder if SF Gate just wants to see how far it goes until someone really gets hurt. That would be me.
Anyway, Ulorin Vex is hot. If you’re not familiar with her, you should be. She’s yummy.