The New York Times rolled out its new and improved reader comments feature with much fanfare today, only to have it crash and burn within hours. Before the system imploded under the weight of its own self-importance, more than 200 readers had weighed in on the changes. While many quibbled about the strange new appearance of the reader commenting section, most were incensed that commenters have now been divided between the "trusted" and those who are still in need of the watchful eye of a moderating Big Brother. (translation: a recent journalism school grad/student waiting to break into a real reporting or editing job.) Many readers detest the necessity of signing up for Facebook in order to prove their credibility and identities. More details are on Poynter.
Full disclosure: a couple of weeks ago I got an e-mail asking me to be a trusted commenter because of my "history of great comments". Naive person that I am, I signed up for Facebook for the sole purpose of becoming a Times Trusty. I have never been a fan of Facebook, especially since the news broke earlier this year that Goldman Sachs was attempting to wrap its slimy tentacles around it, and that Facebook admittedly has breached the privacy of users. So I signed up with the bare minimum requirements: no photo or any personal info other than my hometown and birthday. About a million sites already have my hometown and birthday, ever since the dreadful day more than a decade ago when I signed up for a discount card at CVS. Merchants sell this info to each other and it multiplies exponentially in cyberspace. (Helpful hint: clear your browser daily to get rid of those nefarious tracking cookies and also to reset your quota of 20 free Times articles.)
When I first tried out my new status on a David Brooks column, I was thrilled to see my comment appear almost instantaneously. No more being rejected outright. No more being deliberately shoved in the middle of the commenting pool at #355. But the thrill quickly turned to chagrin. I was all alone in Comment World! Where were all the other trusted commenters? Apparently, there weren't any. My comment sat there all by its lonesome for more than 12 hours, before the moderators got around to approving a few more. The reader recommendations that flowed in were meaningless. Half the fun of commenting is the sport of it all.
I emailed The Times to find out why so few people had apparently been chosen, and one Aron Pilhofer wrote back to explain that he had no earthly idea who the hell I, or any other contributor, was. He talked about a lot of factors going into the selection, and data being shoveled in and then out of an algorithm, and that it was basically a random process and it was still being tested. But not to worry. A few more weeks, he promised, and there would be trusted commenters bursting from the boards.
Meanwhile, I drastically cut back on my commenting. The few people I told about being a trusted commenter were understandably miffed, and I did not blame them! I tried to explain that my name was simply picked out of a hat and that they, personally, were not being rejected. A bunch of elite Times editors were not sitting around discussing Times commenters and their merits. They don't know us, they don't want to know us. They view us as mere $-generating clicks -- the sooner the comments can appear, the more the ad revenue. We commenters, both trusted and mistrusted, are helping pay the salaries of such multimillionaire columnists as Bill Keller and Tom Friedman. It is no different than the hoi polloi supporting tax-dodging corporations like G.E. and contributing to the pension plans of defense contractors -- not to mention the trillions of dollars we unknowingly gifted to the too-big-to-exist banks a few years ago. The disparity, the unfairness, the oppression go on and on and on. And so do the divide-and-conquer tactics used by overlords everywhere.
That is why I had to chuckle while checking my inbox earlier. One message in particular got my immediate attention. Michelle Obama Wants to Meet You. No, I am not that naive: Barack wrote me yesterday saying his next dinner was going to be a double date. He would be bringing Michelle, and I could bring a guest.... if I contributed $15 and if my name was picked out of another one of those algorithmic computer programs.
Well, at 10:30 this morning Michelle wrote and the chance to win had been reduced to $5!
At 11:30, she wrote back -- she slashed the price down to $3! Elle est désespérée!
This is another example of Two-Tiered World. If you are a member of the 1%, you can fork over thousands of dollars to meet the Obamas in person at any number of fundraisers, any time, anywhere. You don't have to enter for a chance to win. You have already won. You own the Obamas.
If you are in the 99%, you are asked to pay just a little less, volunteer for a campaign with no pay, and if you're very very lucky you may get to kiss a politician's feet. How this is any different from feudalism is anyone's guess.
The president was in NYC last night for what the Daily News calls three separate cash bashes. Before the prez-induced massive traffic gridlock, the NYPD (whom Mayor Bloomberg only semi-humorously describes as his own private army) started towing cars away. Occupy protesters were penned in far from the frozen zone so that Barack could rake in the bucks in peace.
I like to imagine that he saw their signs calling him a corporate puppet and war criminal. If nothing else good has happened these past few days, at least the pundits and the politicians have now been disabused of the notion that OWS could ever be co-opted.
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