Dennis D. McDonald ( consults from Alexandria Virginia. His services include writing & research, proposal development, and project management.

Goodbye Washington Post (on Facebook, that is...)

By Dennis D. McDonald

I’ve decided to “unfriend” the Washington Post discussions on Facebook.

Let me explain. I already subscribe to the paper edition which is delivered every morning — usually by 6 am — to my home in Alexandria Virginia. If I’m home I’ll browse through it at breakfast, starting with the editorials and comments section. I’ll even post links to it in my own blog posts (here’s an example).

But I’ve also been tracking the Post via Facebook and have on several occasions jumped into the discussion. I enjoy the discussions — usually. Maybe it’s because I’ve always enjoyed “letters to the editor.” The give and take of ideas is always fun and enlightening. Plus, it’s not unusual for me to see something posted there that I missed the first time through the paper edition.

Lately though I’ve been increasingly disturbed by the crudeness of some of the comments on Facebook and the tendency to reduce discussions to counter-insults.

Don’t get me wrong. I can tolerate differences in opinion. But thinly disguised racism and frequent name calling just don’t shed light on matters.

I guess it was naive of me at one time to think that people would be less willing to make outrageous and inflammatory statements if they had to sign their names to online commentary.

Comments in the Washington Post Facebook discussion threads have convinced me otherwise.

I probably shouldn’t be surprised by this. Any completely open discussion venue has the potential for veering into lowest-common-denominator diatribes. Perhaps the increasingly social nature of online communications is removing more traditional social control methods based on common assumptions regarding politeness and decorum. I expect this when reading comments in aggressively liberal or conservative blogs; it’s disappointing when the same behavior patterns are repeated with established institutions such as the Washington Post.

I guess I am old fashioned. I just don’t think it’s necessary to insult people to make a point.

Just as I tend to avoid Fox and MSNBC commentators, I’ll now be avoiding the Facebook Washington Post discussions on Facebook as well.

Discussion question (feel free to comment below): I realize that Facebook is “free” of subscription fees and that, as a baby-boomer, I may not fit the “desirable demographic profile” for online subscriptions.  My question is: Would people be willing to pay for online access to newspaper based discussion forums if they knew they were moderated and that crudeness, vulgarity, idiocy, and race-baiting were “moderated out”?

Copyright (c) 2010 by Dennis D. McDonald

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