Tolerating Hate Speech and Misogyny on the News Websites

My friend, a beautiful, intelligent native American woman, wrote a column this weekend in the Plain Dealer explaining why she thinks the Indians’ Chief Wahoo is offensive. It was brave, and respectful and well written.

To the surprise of no one, the comments section immediately devolved into a cesspool ignorance and depravity that has come to characterize commentary on local news issues — particularly when there is a woman or minority concerned.

 

Here’s another gem:

And another:

I was all ready to report the first comment comment, but there didn’t seem to be a way to do it on the site run by the Northeast Ohio Media Group. A lot of times it seems like, if it wasn’t for this type of fifth, there would scarcely be any comments at all. This type of language — hate speech, misogyny — is not just tolerated by this company, I think, it’s part of what it trades in.

I wrote a couple columns for the Plain Dealer, this same kind, unpaid. Both times some genius replied by telling me “not to get my panties in a wad.”

The Plain Dealer has a “community rules” policy where they specifically ban hateful speech. But the company devotes zero effort to enforcing it. In fact, hateful speech is what the comments boards are known for.

They cater to bigots, at the expense of large portions of the community and at the expense of common decency.

Here’s Northeast Ohio Media Group’s bro-in-chief Brandon Blackwell responding to commenters who complained about the paper’s use of the term “hate crime,” a term commenters feel is unfair to white men.

That Blackwell even feels compelled to respond at all to commenters complaining that the paper used to term “hate crime” is telling. And Blackwell wants them to know it’s not their term and that they don’t “market” the type of idea — the widely accepted idea that certain marginalized groups could be targeted for violence and that is extra bad. That’s what the Plain Dealer is careful not to “market.”

Though both the author Mark Naymik and Brandon Blackwell commented on the article and were apparently moderating the discussion, here’s two comments they apparently left standing because they felt were a-ok, no need to respond in any way:

And another:

Scene, Cleveland’s alternative weekly, is just as guilty. Here’s a comment posted about Kelly Blazek, the owner of a local jobs board.

By the way, I complained to the publisher about that comment a month ago, and it still stands. Apparently any woman who becomes the subject of a news article, whether male readers would allow them to perform certain sex acts on them is totally fair game,

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the kind of thing anyone is welcome to publish on Scene’s website.

These publications are making a choice about whose opinion matters, who deserves to be treated with respect — the answer is bigots and bullies. When the Plain Dealer and Scene allow this type of speech to be published a widely-read platform they maintain, they tacitly condone it and profit from it. It’s a really, really bad thing for our community.

But it would be easy to fix. It would just take some minor fixes for these publications to develop a culture that promoted tolerance and welcomed all perspectives — even — gasp! — women from minority groups. The first thing these websites should do, in my opinion, is install a a “Report hate speech” button on every comment, like Facebook does, to allow readers to report this type of trash. Readers can report this stuff, an editor can spend 5% of his time reviewing flagged comments. Problem solved. Respectability restored.

What they’ve done instead, is set the lowest possible standards for their website and helped produce an ugly and embarrassing forum that hurts Northeast Ohio.

It’s way past time we demanded better from them.

–Angie Schmitt

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