Friday, 11 July 2008

Cyberclinic: Should I report offensive posts on the internet?

By Rhodri Marsden
Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Jay-Z performing at Glastonbury

Matt Cardy/Getty Images

Jay-Z performing at Glastonbury

I have had an email from a "deeply exasperated" reader by the name of Andy, who had noticed someone had posted racist comments on YouTube below a video of Jay-Z's Glastonbury performance, and wondered what he could do about it. On the surface, it was a fairly straightforward query – but as I was about to shoot over the details of YouTube's complaints procedure, I suddenly realised that if I'd noticed those comments, I probably wouldn't bother.

I've almost become impervious to mindlessness and stupidity on the net; it seems to be everywhere, so I've developed the ability to ignore it rather than challenge it. But surely this can't be a good thing?

But while misguided or even offensive comments are causing rational thinkers to shake their heads in despair and log out, it gives the casual browser the impression that the ill-informed have the most powerful voice. In his book Counterknowledge, Damian Thompson stresses the importance of fighting back against the deafening online noise which might suggest that, for example, most of us believe that 9/11 and 7/7 were both inside jobs. Full marks to those who are conducting this battle, because challenging deeply entrenched opinions can be a futile and thoroughly depressing experience.

Of course, our exasperated reader will still be eager to report those racist comments to YouTube – and understandably so – but it's far less straightforward than flagging offensive videos; you need to go to this page (, click "Report abuse", then "User harassment", then "Continue", then "Preventing unwanted communication", then "Contact us". I told you it was long-winded.

So my email reply shamefacedly offered a cliché of non-confrontation: "Leave it, Andy, he's not worth it." Because if you start trying to police that kind of thing, you'll just end up losing your mind.

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