Lotman: Journalists Often to Blame for Provoking Over-the-Line Comments ({{commentsTotal}})

Photo: Arvamusfestival
Photo: Arvamusfestival Source: Mihhail Lotman

An Opinion Festival forum attended by such leading thinkers as semiotician Mihhail Lotman and IT pioneer Linnart Viik tackled the topic of online comments on Estonian media sites, often seen as a problem by the public and the organizations themselves, rus.err.ee reported.

Insulting comments added to online articles should be "partly on the conscience of journalists," who write low-quality pieces on certain topics and provoke readers with headlines, says Lotman, who is also a politician.

The topic has often been discussed in Estonia, but despite a precedent-setting case where shipping magnate Vjatšeslav Leedo successfully sued Delfi for allowing a reader's comment (in the end, Leedo was awarded less than 400 euros)  the sphere is still relatively unrestricted. In the meantime, one daily conducted an experiment requiring readers to sign in by ID card. It was not popular. Most outlets have unmoderated comment sections with a few anti-spammer controls.

Lotman argued that the comment sections themselves did the public a service. "Journalists in Delfi don't understand what they are writing about. The commentary often consists of professionals fleshing out the commentary and it often exceeds the caliber on Wikipedia."

But, he said, "even Socrates warned that literacy could be very harmful as people write all sorts of foolishness that everyone reads later. When the printing press was invented, it was thought that only the Bible would be printed but then books about witches and vampires appeared."

"The same happened with computers. They were invented for one purpose but are now used mainly for games," Lotman added. "The problem is not that people know how to write but that they don't know how to read."

Linnart Viik, considered an IT visionary by many, said at the same forum that he wanted Internet outlets in particular to rise to a new and higher level of quality.

But for now, he said, journalists produce "small, basic articles" designed to push people's buttons and which people don't gain anything from.

"Half a million people read Delfi comments," said Viik. "Did these comments enrich people so that their lives became better? Or is it all just statistics for advertisers and CFOs?" Viik asked.

Viigi said media outlets acknowledge that comments are part of articles and should be liable for the content of comments.

"The problem of hating in society would not be so pointed if sources would moderate and guide comments. If you do that, it won't be just readers who become happier, but your journalists too, and society will become purer," said Viik.

Viik said there were increasingly fewer comments with some "real value or content."

Delfi editor in chief Urmo Soonvald argued that a small group of people were responsible for the hate-filled invective. He said that comments should not be closed to everyone, but pointed to the example of Scandinavia, where rules were established by media organizations after the massacre outside Oslo.

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