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Thursday, April 1, 2010

NEPA's Internet Underbelly

I've noted on several occasions my fondness for reading content on-line. I have about six national news sites that I regularly read, as well as the local newspapers and various local blogs. I also frequent a few local message boards. There is one message board in particular that I'd like to reference for a few moments. No, I'm not going to list the address, as that would just be free advertising, and nothing but my opinion is free around here. I will, however, give you a description of the site: it was created and exists primarily to highlight the actions of Scranton Mayor Chris Doherty and other elected/appointed city officials. In fact, just about every elected official is fair game for the anonymously posted rumors, innuendo and sometimes slander that is put on the site, with once exception: Council President Janet Evans.

Now you don't need to take my word for it that Mrs Evans has a special dispensation from critique on this site. In fact, you can take the word of one of the recent site posters, who recently wrote the following:

Posts: 102

Date: Apr 1 2:19 PM, 2010

"Hold on a minute. This site allows accusations without justification based on speculation and opinion. However, when Evans is thrown into the mix, all of a sudden it is "lay off"?!?!? Perhaps this is not as much a free speech site as I thought. Is it "free" only to the extent it is consistent with a specific agenda?!?!? or individual opinion?!?!? There have been many a person thrown to the dogs for only being questioned but since it is Evans we have to lay off?!?!?"

Now just how bad do the rumors and speculation get on this site? Well as someone who has been reading it for a while, I've read claims that included...

- A certain state senator is having a same-sex relationship with a local judge
- Mayor Doherty has had extra-marital affairs with various members of his administration
- A former member of city council conspired to keep a young woman in jail
- The Mayor is responsible for the deaths of two children in a Scranton house fire
- A former member of city council used to perform sexual favors as a young adult

...and the list goes on, but I think you get the picture. Basically an on-line version of Jerry Springer, but without the visuals. Now with all that kind of spew sputtering forth from the pie-holes of countless anonymous posters, you would think that just about nothing would be off limits. Well, you would be wrong. Here is a posting from the administrator of the site, who by the way is just about the only person there who posts under his own name...

"Lay off Janet. She's far too good of a woman/public official to put up with that kind of derogatory assertion. Totally unjustified and you know it."

...yes, unfounded rumors and innuendo is okay at this place, except if it involves Janet Evans. "Derogatory assertion"? That specific comment came from the same site administrator who once called Scranton Times reporter Stacy Brown a "nigger"

So what's my point? Well maybe it's this: when it comes to political discourse in the Internet, I think there are two polar opposites at play in Northeastern Pennsylvania.

On one end you have blogs written by Gort, Marc Cour, Tom Borthwick and others who state facts and opinions (sometimes strongly worded opinions), but do so within the full sunlight of accountability. When Marc wrote something about my blog that I didn't like, I called him out on it. Him, by name. When others have had issues with something I've written they have told me so. When I'm wrong I'll man-up and say so. When I'm not, I'll explain why. Either way, on this side of the fence you don't find nameless cretins hiding behind an obscene avatar trying as much to shock as they are tying to make some form of quasi-point.

On the other end of the spectrum you find message boards full of bitter, angry "oppressed" peoples who claim that they can only express themselves under three conditions:

1) Anonymously (I guess so that the "man" will not keep them down)
2) Without Limits - Anything can be said, no matter how untrue, vile, obscene or otherwise stupid
3) At one message board, #2 has a footnote that says "except for Janet Evans"

I say that it's actually good Mrs Evans gets a pass in the vile/untrue innuendo department, however I just wish that same "luxury" of civility would be extended to everyone targeted.

In the end it's kind of a night vs day thing. Say what you want about "new media" such as bloggers, but what I've been reading in NEPA is impressive. No, I don't agree with all the ideology, but I do agree with the civil discourse associated with presenting ideas and opinions in a way that encourages discussion. That's a far cry from sleazy message boards that seemed to have a corner Internet discourse, particularly in the Scranton area, up until recently.

Sunlight was, is and always will be the best disinfectant.

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