Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Indelicate Thrill

In the TLS of 20 July 2012, back-page columnist J.C. wondered about the odd & new-made social norms that do or do not govern Online Commenting. This was not a subject I had seen addressed in print before with any specificity, but it did not seem completely novel either. The ethics and motives of "commenting" might be said to furnish our most recent collective variation on the ancient complexities & frustrations of social intercourse itself. Here is the TLS quote:

Many magazine and newspaper articles make a simultaneous appearance in print and online. What distinguishes the latter form is not only its intangibility but the subsequent publication of anonymous "comments" appended to the article like a piece of dirt attached to a shoe. Unlike shoe-dirt, the comments are there for evermore. A large number of online articles, including the literary sort, are subject to the equivalent of village-hall heckling, the difference being that hecklers are obliged to show their faces, whereas most commentators go under pseudonyms.

Recently, some newspapers have allowed letter-writers in sections of the printed paper to appear under their online names. Editors permit correspondents to shelter behind "Name and address supplied" when it is felt that identification would place them in a delicate situation (a police officer, let's say, writing about events in his local station). But people writing impolite comments online are rarely in delicate situations; they are merely thrilling to their own indelicacy. The issue will be addressed at greater length in our forthcoming guide to journalistic ethics, Man Bites Dog. Can anyone provide a justification of what seems a regressive practice?

Illustrated above, a scene from The Beggar's Opera painted in 1729 by William Hogarth.