News, notes, and observations from the James River Valley in northern South Dakota with special attention to reviewing the performance of the media--old and new. E-Mail to

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

One less pulpit for bullies

Blogs, like mayflies, are ephemeral.  They swarm into existence for a brief time and then die, leaving little behind but an unpleasant stench.  The blogosphere in South Dakota illustrates what seems to be a life history of blogs.   Many of what once were prominent blogs have passed away.  Now the Keloland issues blogs follow the pattern.  They will succumb on Wednesday.

This is not a surprise.  What is surprising is that the demise of the KELO issues blogs has been such a long time coming.  When ostensible news organizations  host blogs,  they face consequences that individual bloggers and those who comment on blogs do not. There is the matter of legal issues when bloggers or commenters venture into libel.  Newspapers and radio and television stations can be held liable for libel if they demonstrate attempts at editing content.  However, other providers of access to the Internet are immune, under the Communcations Decency Act of 1996, if they are serving as distributors, not as publishers of comments in response to blogs.  Anyone who makes a defamatory statement may be sued, but one is hard pressed to find a lawyer who would recommend suing for damages.  Most people who comment on blogs do not have the financial resources to make such a suit probable.  The cost of a suit is generally more than the damages that could be recovered.  So, many defamers are not challenged because it would be too expensive.

But the publishers and access providers have  other issues to consider, such as the reputation of the media they sponsor.  Many colleges and universities do not allow students to cite materials from Internet sources unless the students provide evaluative analysis that the sources are reputable and reliable purveyors of information.  When a news organization such as KELO allows blogs and comments that are considered of questionable merit and display a mean disrespect and disregard for other people, the organization pays a heavy price in loss of credibility.

While the interactive aspect of Internet media is highly touted, and may seem to attract readership, the actual content and value of what is exchanged in comment sections does not contribute much to the information and exchange of valid perspectives.  In fact, most of the comments following news stories and opinion pieces are mean,often scurrilous, and unabashedly stupid.  They tend to drive away the intelligent readers who are looking for information and well-constructed viewpoints.  Much of the media has either dropped the comment sections or instituted formats that do not give comments prominent display.

The Keloland issues blogs attracted a cohort of commentators who seemed to sit at their computers waiting for a reason to burst forth with scurrility.  Their comments invariably had the same characteristics:

  • They never addressed the main point of a blog.
  • They nearly always fixed on a word or a phrase and made that the focus of verbal temper tantrums.  In terms of reading comprehension, sentences with subordinating clauses and qualifying modifiers was beyond their ken; whole paragraphs seemed insurmountable; and therefore entire blog pieces were not even a possible consideration.
  • Their comments always turned to personal attacks with insult and abuse. 
The country has been much upset by bullying in our schools, and the use of Internet media, social networks, and telephone texting have become the media of bullying.  While educators and concerned officials mull over the problem of bullying among students, they do not examine the context in which the bullying occurs.  They do not consider that bullying is a tradition throughout the new media, and little that provokes actual thought  or elevates discussion takes place.  The Internet, talk radio, and cable news is devoted largely to propagating and reacting to the human mentality at its meanest.  

The  Internet is too valuable an asset to be allowed to be so undermined by verbal vandals.  What valuable discourse occurred on the Keloland issues blogs became compromised by the perverse.  People of good intent and constructive purpose simply found what passed for discussion to be something they avoided, and over time the readership declined.  I had many people tell me that they stopped reading the Keloland blogs because of the level of comment.  

When some personnel changes were made a Keloland, the blogs became an afterthought, and access to them was made more complicated.  Now they will be gone.  And for the sake of language and constructive communication, it is probably a good thing. Perhaps the Internet can be rescued from juvenile bullying and ad hominem exchanges.  

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States