The Daily’s Show first book, “America: The Book”, had a joke where is explained that the presidential election process is so convoluted because there is no way to quickly and accurately engage the opinions of the entire nation. Then, the book provided a website link where all the readers go to vote on whether or not they agreed with that statement.
It was funny in context, really. But the idea that we’ll vote for president online is not without its own problems. The pitfalls of serious online interaction is apparent to any visitor to a website with a comments section.
There have been many attempts to make online discussion fulfill the long promised “town-hall forum of debate” of media. One method is to employ democracy at the most basic level.
CNN.com has an up-vote/down-vote system in their comments section. While fair, the conversation usually devolves into jokes and serious opinions are ignored. The comment section in this opinion article was doomed from the start since it set a comedic tone. However, a serious article about child abuse also had its comments devolve into a debate on furniture metaphors.
Websites like BuzzFeed use Facebook integration, in the hopes that malice is removed by removing some level of anonymity. BuzzFeed itself has an article about what websites have the worst comment section.
Comments aside, voting systems too are easily taken advantage of. Kim Jung-Un was voted Time Magazine’s “Reader’s Person of the Year” thanks to lax cyber security and some small-time organization.
In order to take advantage of the potential for discussion on news stories, I think the problem is the scale not the system. The solution then is hyperlocal news sites. By making information most readily available to only those with a vested interest, there is a less chance for spam or joke remarks.
One hyperlocal site that has managed to stay afloat is Patch.com. Coverage, hover, is spotty. There is no Columbia, MO Patch. The comments in the St. Charles, MO Patch are less numerous but also nicer. “Turd” is offensive enough to draw a personal reminder from an administrator.
Hyperlocal sites have a long way to go, but they do offer hope for meaningful online discussion.