Hearne: Free Speech, John Law & The Anonymous ‘Comments’ Quagmire

shutterstock_118156717-500x412How many times must we re-plow the same unartful furrow before getting it right?

According to internet blogosaurs like Tony – you know, the local dude who prides himself on the (over) use of catchy terms like “awesome TKC tipsters” and “dead tree media” – there are no limits on what should be allowed in the comments sections of online blogs and news and entertainment websites. The sky’s the limit, or perhaps better said, the bottom of the barrel.

Having little apparent understanding of  journalism, legalities, let alone what passes for good taste – or even the mere recognition that any boundaries whatsoever exist – these untrained, unrestrained bloggers open their arms wide to embrace crass, depraved screeds from anonymous posters with undeclared agendas…regardless of how abhorrent.

Common sense, civility and the slightest nod to good taste are out the window in the interest of “free speech.” That said, remember free speech does not include shouting fire in crowded venues, nor does it absolve one of criminal and/or civil liability.

Louie Wright

Louie Wright

Take three or so years ago when Mr. T “accused local union boss Louie Wright of receiving kickbacks from the contributions that firefighters make to the United Way,” the Pitch reported, noting “Botello attributed the “TKC EXCLUSIVE” to his “TIPSTERS.”

Wright cried foul and took Tony to court, claiming that that and another story and video Botello had posted “exposed (him) to hatred and contempt and deprived (him) of public confidence”

Botello’s response to the Pitch:

“I am both ill-equipped and completely unprepared to face a lawsuit of any kind…This probably means the end of the blog. As for the people whom I owe money, he’s gonna have to stand in line.”

One year later, Botello was ready to grovel.

Effectively placing the blame on his awesome tipsters, “Botello apologized for the posts, issued a retraction and scrubbed them from his archive to settle the suit,” the Pitch said of an apology/retraction that hovered humbly atop Botello’s blog for 30 days and 30 nights.

Back to those awesome commenters, most of whom air their grievances, innuendo, racist, sexist and homophobic rants and miscellaneous acts of character assassination unedited and unfettered.

FreeSpeech_final_web-300x176Think free speech at its finest.

Without a doubt there are those who inhabit these shadowy comments confines who staunchly support the credo of anything goes. And why not? Freed from the disclosure of their identities they’re empowered to unleash the most vile epithets imaginable and say things that would probably astonish and shock their friends, coworkers and relatives were their names attached.

The latest: a federal judge in Kentucky ruled that an Arizona-based gossip website can be sued for defamation.

“The case centers on the Federal Communications Decency Act, passed in 1996 to help foster growth and free speech on the Internet by providing immunity from liability to websites for content posted by their users,” the Associated Press reports. “The law also was designed to encourage websites to self-police offensive material.”

Remember that last part, “self-police offensive material.”

lg.bondi-imacBy the way, that law was passed two years before the first iMac came out in August 1998 at a time few people knew anything much about getting on the internet, let alone leaving defamatory anonymous comments.

“The problem is that the technology has gotten ahead of the law,” says attorney Dwight Sutherland Jr., a KCC contributor. “It’s one thing with something like the letters to the editor section at the Star. Because that gives you time to edit and fact check the letters, but when you can just reply online instantly, how can the publisher or sponsors control that?”

Some sites chose to filter comments for specific words or phrases. Others require that comments be approved before publication.

Theresa Garza RuizNow check out the following comments that appear on a TKC item about Jackson County Legislator Theresa Garza Ruiz:

  1. “tonylito:
    when you gonna blog about Theresa Garza’s power divorce?
    Is Genaro Ruiz employable without her?


  2. Anonymous12/12/13, 9:46 PM
  3. You mean anti right to work Theresa Garza?

  4. Garza’s preggo and former whore daughter has split from the father of her child who she is not married to. STUPID FUCKING CUNT!
    TGR was a lousy mother for sure.
  5. “TGR” tried NOT to be a mother more than 5 times when she was in the Navy and kept fucking guys without birth control, which resulted in at least that many abortions. Paid for with our tax money.”

    Ruiz did not return requests for comment.

“I think somebody just absolutely must hate her,” says Westport businessman Bill Nigro, who’s suffered his share mudslinging in online comments. “But she’s a nice person – very up front- and very honest. I disagreed with her about the smoking ban, but she’s done a good job and I support her. I think there’s a lot of mean people who will just make up things – it’s happened to me – and that’s one thing I don’t like about the internet.”

Obviously KC Confidential has faced and continues to face similar problems – and yes, it is a problem.

Marti Dolinar aka smartman

Marti Dolinar aka smartman

Not long ago a comments section habitue who went by smartman trolled Kansas City’s online realms. And to his credit, unlike many (if not most) of his comments section bretheren, smartman was gifted with a keen wit that matched his appetite for extremely poor taste.

At one point in time when I was attempting to restore a semblance of civility to KCC’s comments section (which smartman all but ruled), I wrote a column announcing that I’d be policing the comments more closely and watching out (filtering) for certain four-letter words.

Not that I ruled out the use of those words – the FS and C words to name three – I just felt that the quality of KCC’s written content was being diminished by their unbridled use. That and the N word. To this day, most comments that get caught in those filters are approved without change, but it did calm things down.

Truth is, smartman was clever enough at effortlessly painting word pictures so grotesquely graphic, crude and depraved, that he didn’t need those words to offend. And to this day he holds the KCC record for (needlessly) dropping the words nigger and cunt into dozens of his comments section masterpieces. Comments that ran unedited owing either to lapses in judgment on my part, or that I failed to catch. The smartman passed away earlier this year, but his legacy lives on.

Case in point:

“Seargant Glazer’s Bleeding Hearts Club Band
C’mon Craig the HOF has fucked more NFL players than the girls at Madame Wongs.EVERY team has at least one or two guys that probably deserve to get in.At this point it doesn’t really mean anything if Otis Taylor gets in. Damn near an insult that it’s taken so long. And what an insult to have a puff cunt like Clark Hunt push him in. Fuck That!”

After I instituted the bad words filter smartman stormed off in protest and was not heard from for weeks. But let the record show that on sites such as Greg Hall‘s and Jim Fitzpatrick‘s smartman was far better behaved. He finally caved and returned to KCC, but under the temporary pseudonym of reggintnuc.

Try spelling that backwards to more fully appreciate smartman’s cutting edge wit.

These days things are far more calm in KCC’s comments section. We get fewer of them, but we also don’t suffer through as many multi-weekly mudfights between Craig Glazer, Super Dave and others, questioning each other’s manhood. At one point, I even put the word “gay” on must-be approved list to keep it out of Craig’s retorts to his critics.

Jack Harry and his “Gayhawks”  have nothing on The Glaze when it comes to homophobic put downs.

More recently Tony’s site allowed some astonishingly sick comments to be aimed at a local woman and her husband who were actually named in the comments section of an unrelated story. Ridiculously crude, not only were they allowed to stand for several days, after a complaint was lodged, Tony all but invited more defamatory comments by pimping the husband in subsequent entries.

I honestly don’t get it.

And Tony did not return an email request for comment.

What I do get is that we’re fast approaching a point where, unbridled freedom of comments section speech by “awesome,” anonymous sickos may start costing somebody. Because knowingly not taking responsibility for what you allow nameless readers to assert, is a practice unworthy of defending under the banner of free speech.

Comments section regular and occasional KCC contributor Chuck Lowe assumed that the woman and her husband’s comments section treatment on TKC was no big deal… until he heard the actual comments.

“I hadn’t thought much of it, “Lowe says, “but in this case it was personal and used everybody’s names. Tony should have just said, ‘I’m sorry. I’ll just take em down.’ The other day somebody posted Tony’s full name and address on his site and he had that down in a heartbeat. And I think (writing followup items about it) was needlessly harmful and there was no real need to escalate it.”

Harris Wilder

Harris Wilder

Local lawyer Harris Wilder says that while he’s been treated fairly in Botello’s ditties, being in his comments section “was like swimming in a cesspool.”

One possible solution:

“I think it’s fair for commenters to comment so long as it’s for attribution,” Wilder says. “That people use their real names and therefore they take responsibility for their free speech. Free speech without responsibility has costs.”

Nigro has another take:

“Tony is out there talking about making Kansas City better,” he says. “How about he starts by cleaning up his own little mess there?”

Rather than unleash this story on unnamed, comments section character assassins, I’m dedicating it to the smartman and closing it to comments…for now  Maybe it’s time we do a bit of reflecting before the knee jerking begins.

Fat chance, huh? 

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5 Responses to Hearne: Free Speech, John Law & The Anonymous ‘Comments’ Quagmire

  1. Nick says:

    A simple calculus: a site’s content and tone level set for its comments.

    If the preponderance of a blog is innuendo and unconfirmed rumors, leavened only by a misogynistic, puerile sense of “humor”, and further “adorned” with an unending stream of cheesecake pics that would shame a mature teen, the mien of the comments will certainly follow suit.

    If no actual money is derived from the site, then the question becomes quorsum? To what avail?

    Certainly there is an unhealthy dose of “Hey! Look at me! Look at me!” involved. In tkc’s case it appears bordering on the pathological; blogging is not, as it is for many of us, merely a hobby for tkc. It appears to be both an obsession and tkc’s last-ditch effort at “being somebody.”

    One supposes that the zeitgeist plays a part; how can a weak minded individual look around at the Drudge’s, Perez Hilton’s and similar ilk of the innernetz and not come to the conclusion this is acceptable behavior? Hell, it beats work, right?

    Then add in the new Tupperware, social media, which promotes personal branding the way pimps promote sex. The average IQ in this country is 100 – even the most cursory scan of tkc’s site does nothing to dissuade one.

    In short, tkc is nothing but a willing avatar of the times, writ (poorly and often illegibly) small, the mutant Willie Loman of the Kansas City innernetz; tkc sustains himself off those comments. He needs them like the rest of us need air.

    The only thing that does not pertain here is “free speech.” tkc/tkc’s mother’s address –gleaned from Case.net– was posted in the comments section of the relevant post. Twice. And both times it was censored…within seconds.

  2. Nick says:

    “…dissuade one disbelieving the stat.”

    le sigh

    • paulwilsonkc says:

      Nick, incredibly well spoken; take a bow and comment more often. You’re wasting a gift if you don’t.

  3. Stomper says:

    Well stated Nick. I’ve been a KCC commenter for less than a year but enjoy the banter, even when I don’t join in. I’ve only looked at TKC a few times and that’s only because of the references to it that HC drops on occasion. KCC seems more like a meal at J Gilberts while TKC is a McDonalds drive through. That’s just a first impression and I am not enough of a regular there to make an intelligent rating. Sorry Tony. While Nick and Hearne said it more eloquently than I will, I think commenting anonymously is much like driving on the interstate. When a person surrounds himself ( or herself) with a couple of tons of metal, plastic, and tinted glass, they act out in ways that they would never do when exposed in public. Sad but we unfortunately have a healthy supply of flawed individuals among us.

    I’m being selfish but the take-away here seems to be that I may lose one of the main reasons I come to KCC and that is Paul Wilson. I understand his perspective here. My ass kicking days are over but if I honestly felt my wife and/or kids were threatened…(I would do something about it) without hesitation. If someone wants to find you, you can be found.

    As often stated here by others, we are all hypocrites. In our own minds, we all have a concrete sense of right and wrong but no one among us always speaks or acts in total consistency with that paradigm. Obviously I am one that comments under a moniker so who am I to criticize others that comment without revealing their real names. I guess it comes down to ethics and morality. There is always someone who knows what you do, even when no one else is looking. You.

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