Thursday, September 09, 2010

Own Your Words

I'm fixing to write a "shame on you" letter to a few organizations.  Before I write this letter, I'm going to use you all as guinea pigs, to organize some thoughts on this "shame on you" matter.  Any feedback (for or against) is appreciated.


One of my favorite lines or phrases from any movie is one from the movie Robots.  That phrase is, "See a need, fill a need."  To me that phrase, in it's eloquent simplicity, embodies the true spirit of capitalism.

Let's illustrate that See a need, fill a need scenario, shall we?  I have a problem, a problem that that needs fixin'.  You see a solution to that problem and invest your time and/or money inventing a solution.  I buy the solution from you at a fair price, one I feel correlates directly to my particular problem.  I receive a solution.  You receive compensation.  Both of us win.

Problem is, the ethics of this See a Need, Fill a Need scenario have gone awry.  This model of See a Need, Fill a Need is no longer the model for exchanging goods and services.  Somehow, See a Need, Fill a Need has been bastardized into more like,  "See a need, fill a need while exploiting the hell out of any and all."

In this new "and improved" exploitation model of See a Need, Fill a Need, there are a few winners, but lots of losers.  Friends and allies of the exploiter win.  Everyone else loses, while the winners make good 'n sure that events are manipulated so as to make it look like everybody won.  Both the person providing the service and the consumer have opportunity to exploit.  Both parties want more than their fair share.  Nowadays, fair is only fair if you somehow cheated the other party out of something.

As usual, you're prolly wondering what the heck I'm getting at.  You're prolly deep in furrowed brow and forehead scratching. Which is okay, 'cause, like, I'm used to that reaction.

A certain business practice has made me green with disgust on several occasions.  Most of the time, I see this particular business practice in action, then verbalize my disgust to whoever is closest.  This time, however, the business practice in question has hit a little too close to home.  Like four houses away, too close.

I am talking about internet media, and the business practice of allowing comments on articles.

Let me explain how it works.  Something tragic happens and the website for the newspaper/television/radio publishes an article on-line.  Part of publishing that article on-line involves the ability for random people to post an anonymous comment.

A few weeks ago, a cyclist was hit and killed by a car in Salt Lake City.  (This is not someone I know, or the close-to-home situation.) If you are to visit the on-line article meant to inform of this tragic event, you'll see 339 comments.  What's the need in having 339 comments on something so tragically final?  Are the comments from loved ones, who yearn this cyclist's passing?  Absolutely not.  The loved ones are sending warm words through cards, flowers and phone calls.  Loved ones are not leaving anonymous comments on an internet article.  It goes without saying -- but I'm gonna say it anyway -- that the majority of these comments are not nice.  Most of these comments are down-right evil in their self-righteous, superior, told-you-so dialect.

Let's perform the See a Need, Fill a Need test on that one.  What, pray tell, is the NEED for that?

The only NEED I see, is for the newspaper/television/radio joints to up the hitage on their web site.  More hits means more advertising cash.  Newspaper/television/radio publishes an article.  Many leave attacking comments to the deceased, others agree, and others retaliate.  Back and forth, back and forth.  Productive, yes?  Why, yes!  It's productive.  If you're looking for increased internet traffic.

See a need?  Yes.  Many people have lost a loved one.  Fill a need?  Sure!  By allowing complete strangers to attack the living with hurtful commentary.

We are all smart people.  We know that only halfwit-dingbats leave comments on those kinds of articles.  We know that.  But the real halfwit-dingbats are those who enable the comments.  The real halfwit-dingbats are the newspapers/television/radio web sites.  They exploit death and extreme tragedy in an effort to make money.

Notice that I didn't provide you with a link.  I refuse to add traffic to their operation.  Most of you know what I'm talking about and have seen it with your own eyes.  And all of you know, that should some unforeseen tragedy occur to a loved one, while they're out doing something more adventurous than riding in a car, you know better than to look at an on-line article.  All because of the comments.

KSL, a Salt Lake based radio and television station, is first on my list.  And being the ethical company that it is, has published some guidelines and rules for posting comments.  You can see the complete list here.  Rule number five deems a comment inappropriate if it "violates a third party's right to privacy."  I had a good laugh at that one.  Because in most cases, the article itself violates a third party's right to privacy.  The authors generally sleuth their way into solving the riddle and publishing the cause before the facts are made public.  In my opinion, making an alleged assumption, regarding an accident or crime or any other event, violates a third party's right to privacy.

There is, however, that whole free speech thing.  I'm an advocate of free speech.  I believe we all have a right to an opinion.  I believe that we should be able to voice that opinion, either vocally or in print.  So this is where the whole comment thing gets tricky.  I'm contradicting myself.  I believe we should be able to voice our opinions, but not as a comment on a newspaper article.

To me, Freedom of Speech involves ownership.  Freedom of Speech means that when you voice your words, you get to own those words.  Freedom of Speech also means that you are free to experience the consequences of whatever speech you freely spoke. Any words expressed are yours to own.  Attacking someone, as an anonymous coward, doesn't count as owning your words.

Yet again, I'm contradicting myself, because I run this here blog mostly anonymous.  Most of you don't know my real name.  You don't know the names of my Spouse and Yahoos.  I have chosen to do this for safety reasons.  Even though my real name is not public, my words and identity are.  I'm ownin' it.  All of it.

If people wish to express an opinion about cyclists being killed by cars, there are several places they can go to express their opinion.  Put it on a blog, print pamphlets, rent a billboard, submit an editorial, tweet it, or post in on facebook. I don't even have a problem with these opinions being expressed right-directly to the face of those being affected by the current tragedy.  Just march up to the door of this cyclist's widow and say, "we need to add to list of roads where cyclists simply are not allowed. Surely there was an alternate, safer route available for the cyclist. What a shame he did not elect to use it rather than riding on such a busy road."

Yo, commentator!  Would you say that to the widow?  Then why the hell did you type it?  And Newspaper/television/radio people, would you say that?  To the widow?  Then why did you allow it to be published?

Own your words folks.  Own your words.


Okay, so, now I gotta figure out how to turn all that into a letter.


radracer said...

Oh the bravado that anonymity fosters. Reminds one of the Wizard of Oz and the little man behind the curtain. Fortunately in this example, the little guy turned out to be nice.

I've seen just the thing you're writing about, and the lack of consideration and compassion just makes me cringe. Have some tact, people. And grow a spine while you're at it and quit hiding behind 'anonymous'.

tom lindsey said...

I think we can all agree that widows should not click on comment links.

Ski Bike Junkie said...

"We are all smart people." Really? I hadn't noticed.

Come winter time, the comments about avalanches are equally appalling. I happen to know next of kin of the last two people killed on bicycles in the Salt Lake Valley. I also read many of the comments posted to articles about both tragedies. I would love to put my arm around the commenters and walk them over to meet my friends who are grieving the loss of a loved one and see just how certain they are of their words in that situation.

Vera said...

You hit the nail on the head! The only people who should be able to comment are the &*(heads who have the balls to print their home address and correct email...the people who would say it right to the living persons' face.

Vera said...

Oh,and tell Tom that "WE" can not all agree that the "widow" should never read the comments! "WE" should agree that comments that are hateful and don't have any value other than to hurt the living are acceptable to print!

rabidrunner said...

The "we" in "we are all smart people" is referring to my readers. My readers are smart people--the analytics even say so.

So the problem with these articles and the comments, is that the comments come up with the article. You don't gave to click on the comments button to see them. You go to the article, you get the comments.

Its not just a problem with "accidents," it's a problem with reports on crime. That criminal has a family too, in loads of grief and horror. The whole process serves no purpose and should be removed.

tom lindsey said...

Need the nonsense of others nourish our negative emotions?

Lars said...

Have you seen Greenberg? The character in the film writes a plethora of letters of this sort. Amusing. Not the topic but the letter writing.

I volunteered for a relay running race a few weeks ago. the Spokane to Sandpoint (about 200 miles and goes through the night). A drunk driver crossed the two lane highway and onto the path that is designated for walkers, runners, cyclists, et cetera and struck a teenage runner and the support volunteer. ICU for the runner and the volunteer died. The comments from the community were along the lines of, "They shouldn't have been out running." Blah blah blah...How about people shouldn't drink and drive. A stereotype here, but I think couch potatoes that have no clue what to do with their feet are the only ones that leave d-bag comments. Or comments at all.

rookie cookie said...

You make excellent points. Anonymous comments whatever, I see the problem with KSL providing a venue for this type of harrASSment. How difficult would it be to turn off comments? Wait- pretty difficult when you are making money on ads.

Do write them a letter or e-mail. Explain to them that they are money-making bastards without a soul.

Jessica said...

How to turn this into a letter?

Select all of the text. Hit "Command" and "C" at the same time. Open a word document. Hit "Command" and "V" at the same time. At the top add some type of salutation, such as "big friggin' idiot" or the like. At the bottom put your name and sign in your all caps signature. Then snail mail it to the idiots.

I'm loving this "own your words" business. Could you create some sort of PSA on KSL about it?

tom lindsey said...

Lars has provided a perfect example: the position of the sun relative to earth literally turns Jekyll into Hyde? It is simply not rational to hold these illiterate ramblings in sufficient regard as to be offended by them.

I say if comments attract dollars and those dollars can be spent on quality journalism with out ethical compromise then carry on. The financial crisis faced by newspapers is very real, locally the Deseret News laid off 43% of its staff and seriously hampered its ability to function. Incidentally, the Deseret News is the only local news outlet that does not hide comments behind a link or allow public comments to be hidden.

Returning to the reason I returned-- I failed to take notice of the tag on your post and thought a second attempt at an alliteration was in order; this time slogans instead of a weak rhetorical question.

News Nonsense Need Not Knot Knickers which of course lead to Naughty Knickers Not Knotty Knickers


ps. This undie uproar of yours has inspired me to have a new RoadID made. On the back it will read:

Family and Friends,
When reading about my tragic accident, no matter how tempted you may be, do not click on the comments. Also, there is a spot of pink yogurt on the ceiling in the kitchen. Someone should clean that up.

Lars said...

Tom you are brilliant. Absolutely. Brilliant.

tom lindsey said...

Success !!