Over Moderation of the Internet: Is Journalism leading to a State of Oligarchy?

You read news, you feel for it, you grumble to yourself and keep the newspaper aside. This whole scenario seems to belong to the dark ages now. Journalism is no longer a one way process. If you have the news, we have our comments. The “blogging revolution” as they call it, along with the loosened identity limitations has enabled the people to have a more free flowing discussion. The option of anonymity makes them say a little more that what they would ordinarily have said. 

But does this two-way process really facilitate a free flow of conversation? Well, a basic glance at your facebook and twitter wall will prove that not all thoughts documented by these online platforms are worth it. Many sensitive issues witness disrespectful and abusive comments which put the utility of such a system to waste. Pouring oneself out cannot always have an intelligent edge to it. 

This extra freedom of expressing yourselves sometimes crosses the boundaries of civility and respect. That is what makes moderation necessary. However, using moderation to mould the conversation rather than just cleaning it up is what does not seem to be a fair deal. 

In the current developing phase of online journalism, there have been a lot of instances where the journalists, bound by protocols and ethics really cannot bring out the prima facie story, and all we get at the end is the over cleaned up version. Meanwhile, the anonymous commenting serves as a tool for the readers and sometimes brings out the real X factor behind a news piece. However, the over-extension of the “safe play” by the moderators, ends up giving us only what they want us to know and not what really is the true story. Of course moderating has its own significance in preventing the discussion from turning into a chaos of personal attacks. What plays an important role here is the editor’s prudence in deciding what can lead to a productive discussion while what can be the source of chaos. 

However, this prudence can sometimes get affected and sometimes over stimulated by some undesirable factors. Many instances of such kind have been occurring in the field of legal journalism too. The political influences play a game of bureaucracy and affect the working ambit of journalism and the field which is supposed to be free and unbiased unwittingly ends up being a forced instrument of the whims of certain high end people. 

The instances are many, be it banning of cartoons to “protect” the already dark face of politics or the moderation on comments on the relatively smaller forums like the online portals. 

While on the face of it, it may not seem that big a deal. However, this really is affecting the process of formation of public opinion at large. Today when you read a news piece online, often the comments prove as informative if not more as the news itself. Let me give an example here. I recently read a news piece on the candidacy of Narendra Modi as the PrimeMinister. On the two-page post, there were around 400 comments posted by the readers. I must say, the post would have been incapable of creating the impact it did if it weren't for some of the well written comments. There were comments against the political leaders, political parties and even against the portal itself. However, barring a few unnecessary ramblings, the whole discussion was made comprehensive by the reactions of the readers. The informal way, the straight forward approach were a few other things which made the comments an effective and useful extension to the main story.

Rick Conrad, web editor for the Halifax’s Chronicle Herald aptly illustrates the importance of hearing out the other side. According to him, “We’re kind of isolated in here sometimes in how we approach stories and it’s really interesting to see what real people think, because for all intents and purposes, journalists aren't real people in a way.” Although he stresses on moderating “reactionary” content, however, giving the two way traffic an unnecessary u-turn can eventually jeopardize the very objective of the exercise.

As such, while readers should understand their responsibility of realizing the best potential of such online portals to raise the pressing issues and bring forward alternative dimensions of the, it is also for the editors to understand their part. Journalism is all about bringing out information and making the masses aware. The journalists should understand its democratic essence and should protect it from being impaired on the whims and fancies certain oligarchs. It is understandable that standing against the high end power houses is not an easy task. But that is where the online instruments come handy. As such, what is needed is to use the modern tools to beat the political limitations and enable the readers to realize their power, rather than playing dummies as the hands of the pseudo white collared in their desperate attempts to hide the dirt.

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