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Local newspaper websites needs a down vote button

Sometime I like to browse the local newspaper to read stories about my area (specifically the Sacramento Bee and Davis Enterprise). I also like to read the user comments about the stories because I hope to get a local perspective on issues affecting my neighborhood.

Although most of the comment systems have a like/upvote option, almost none have a dislike/downvote option.

The problem with that is, once someone like/upvote a comment, those comments are promoted as if it is the natural concensus of the group. People who disagree are not able to voice their opposition.

Yes, you can respond to a bad comment, but 1) some comments do not deserve recognition, 2) it is hard to respond to a sensitive issue without making it into an argument, and finally 3) a good respond does not negate the fact that the original stupid comment is still being promoted as “liked”.

This does not work.

Let’s imagine a scenario where we have a town hall meeting to discuss an issue. But the rule is, you cannot object to any issue, you can only support it. 100 people are at this meeting. Someone proposes a new issue: no one is allowed to be outside after 5pm. 10 people supports the issue and vote for it. 90 people oppose it, but they are not allowed to object. The issue passes. No one is allowed outside after 5pm.

Does that make any sense?

This happens  all the time in the commenting system. Some one would say something completely moronic, factually wrong, or hateful in nature. A group of people would “like” that comment, and it becomes the top comment of the story.

For example. I see a lot of homophobic and racist comments in the sacbee. Obviously there is a group of homophobes and racists reading the sacbee and they are having a blast upvoting these hateful comments. But does that really reflect the opinions of sacbee readers? I hope not. But we can never know if people like myself are not allowed to downvote those comments into oblivion.

I am sad to say npr.org has the exact same problem. Whenever there is a controversial topic, there are a lot of hateful and troll-like comments popping up on NPR’s site. Without a way to down-vote those comments, how can users like myself trust what the public opinion is? A hateful comment with 20 “like”, could have 1000 “dislike” behind it.

I want to point out however that this does not apply to facebook. The “Like” system on facebook is different in that it is based on a closed system and a small network with no anonymity. In such a setting, you know who the “likes” come from so you have a sense of what type of opinion you are getting.

Here is the story that triggered my blog post:

http://www.sacbee.com/2011/05/26/3654860/sacramento-workers-lack-critical.html

If you sort by “most popular” comment, the first couple comments are just hateful and homophobic. I understand Sacramento is sort of backward, but we can not promote hateful speech in our own newspaper. I say “promote” because there is no way to object to those comments.