Blame anonymity, blame politicians, blame human nature. But a growing number of websites are reining in the Wild West of online commentary. Companies including Google and the Huffington Post are trying everything from deploying moderators to forcing people to use their real names in order to restore civil discourse. Some sites, such as Popular Science, are banning comments altogether.Oh here we go again with the "civil discourse." You'd think that after all this time we would have graduated from this type of condescension. But, no, the important people in the legitimate media still despise their readers. If only they understood how unimportant they really are, we wouldn't keep having these misunderstandings. But we covered this earlier today and it's a bit of a digression anyway.
The inflated egotism of professional media persons (and other pompous laypeople) does at least partially explain why people keep missing the point about the comments controversy. Despite the loud kvetching over civility, this doesn't have anything to do with whether you have to worry your pretty little heads about someone hurting your feelings in a comment thread. Media companies don't care about that. If "civil discourse" was what mattered imagine just how different the great mass of content produced for you by professional media might look.
What this is about is moving independent voices off of the big internet media platforms. The big dogs are here now. They're glad you're watching. They would still like to sell you to their advertisers. In fact, they'd like to sell more of you than they've ever had access to before.
Online privacy will be a thing of the past. (If you thought it already was, believe me, things could get worse.) The ISPs will try to read all of your content so they can sell you to advertisers. New “troll tolls” will force content creators and others to pay discriminatory fees just to reach people online — and will require the rest of us to pony up for “premium” content."Your content" in the emerging environment is mostly about the things you "like" on Facebook, the products you purchase on Amazon, the movies you watch on Netflix, the websites you visit, even the content of your private email correspondence. What it doesn't mean anymore is your participation in the larger public dialogue. What was once considered a leveling public square is fast becoming a pay-for-play model where your "reach" is directly related to the depth of your purse.
And this is why we're moving away from online comment forums on major media platforms. After a decade of relative democratization, the "new media" is finally taking on the familiar top-down model of old media institutions who are figuring out how to get things arranged to their liking. I don't doubt that the new discourse will be celebrated for being more "civil." But I can guarantee that it will be far less public.