Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Collective punishment doesn't work in school, nor later in life

CBS News has decided temporarily to suspend all reader comments on articles about candidate Barack Obama, because of the volume and intensity of the racist and other personal attacks. I've got two thoughts on this. First, while the cure for hate speech is not silence, the cure also is not allowing unfettered attacks by a vocal few who swamp any reasoned debate. Fortunately, technology provides an answer. Moderating the comments before posting, as they do for the blogs at the NYTimes, is one answer, but requires a comparatively major investment of human resources. Automatic filters instead may play a useful role.

Fark.com has comments pages that are moderated only after the fact, i.e. if a mod sees something objectionable, they can delete it (and take other actions if necessary.) But there are automatic filters in place as well that convert your text to something unobjectionable. The most famous examples are: (1) if you type "first post" in a thread (no, I don't know why people do this), it automatically converts your text to "boobies" and time-delays your post by an hour; and (2) if you type the word "nigger" in a thread, the text is automatically converted to "attractive and successful African-American." There are many others, which sometimes lead to amusing results. The gist of the strategy is a neat bit of technological jiu jitsu, using someone's own hate speech to frustrate their aims.

6 Comments:

Anonymous Denver Guy said...

Rotten Tomatoes has a filter that just x's out offensive language. But it seems anyone can get around it by slightly misspelling the offensive word, or mixing capitals with lower case letters.

By the way, why the word verification requirement on postings here? Does it prevent hacking somehow?

3:25 PM, May 08, 2007  
Blogger LAGuy said...

A while ago we started getting spammed a lot. For every real comment, there'd be ten with a link to a commercial site. We had to set up word verification for basic protection.

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