Thursday, September 23, 2010

CNN Blogs - Media Theater?

After battling with CNN's Belief Blogs all day, trying to post well researched, cited and attributed source material in various conversations, I've pretty much given up on their site.

CNN's blogs, although they're reached via the domain name, are really hosted on  When CNN configured those blogs, they obviously built up a list of "bad words" and plugged them into wordpress' basic comments moderation system.

Which is where the problem begins.'s badword filters use a simple regexp, which reads from the badwords list one word per line.  The downside to this way of filtering, as anyone with a shred of internet history knowledge knows, is what's known as the "Scunthorpe Problem".

In essence, I wouldn't be able to post the word "Scunthorpe" on CNN's blogs as a comment, because within it, it contains a bad word.

Whoever configured those blogs for CNN should have known this would be an issue -'s settings page, where they would have had to added the list of bad words, prominently warns of the filtering methodology.  It seems CNN didn't think it was an issue and so pasted their bad words list in, one word per line, nonetheless.

Anyone with half a brain would have known that they could have easily and readily avoided the Scunthorpe Problem by the simple expedient of adding a space before and after each word on the list.  There are even text editors that could have automated this for them.

I guess they didn't have the right half of a brain available when they configured the blog.

This means however that it can be near impossible at times for commenters to engage in meaningful informative debate and discussion within the blog comment system.

CNN's Belief Blog says in its sidebar:
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives.
I don't believe that it can come close to that performing that mission under its current configuration.  Not only is the badly configured badword filter annoying, but to be able to post anything of substance demands trying to guess what words might be triggering moderation, and repetitively posting revised versions until you find a combination that works - which in and of itself is wasteful of's resources.

More importantly, this misconfigured comments system makes it extraordinarily difficult to be able to readily post quotations or citations that are accurate, which when dealing with matters relating to religious texts and tracts is a critical ability.  Changing the words to get around a bad word filter, words that aren't in and of themselves bad, can lead to even more misinformation, rather than communication.

I do not believe that CNN is serious in its stated mission for its blogs.  I believe that if they were, they would either have someone to handle approving false-positive comments, or would take the time to properly configure the filtered badwords.  They have done neither, leaving the comments section essentially nothing more than soundbite website property.

CNN may look as if it's actively fostering debate, but in reality it is nothing more than appearance.  Debate is stifled, throttled, and muted for the simple reason of bad configuration and apathy by CNN as to resolving it.

The dangerous part is that current topics being discussed on the site contain blatant misinformation, vitriol, false quotations, and outright falsehoods, and CNN's current configuration gives anyone who attempts to challenge or rebut those comments a serious handicap in doing so.

CNN prides itself on its reputation of trying to be neutral, but these blogs, as they currently stand, serve only the purposes of those who deal in generalities and innuendo, insinuations and rabblerousing, whilst denying any meaningful ability of scholarly challenge, by the simple virtue of making it impossible for any serious response to be posted without having to dance around a media giant's inability (or apathy) to resolve one simple technical issue with a website.

Whilst it is CNN's site to run as they like, if they're going to run it in this way then it's time they were honest about it in the blog's description in the sidebar.  I would suggest they change it to read:
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global playground for soundbites and childish hurling of insults but no real serious debate or discussion about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives.
Just sayin'

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