Today we’re playing a round of You Be the Editor. Your job is to read comments posted at thenewstribune.com – and flagged as questionable by fellow commenters – and decide whether each one stays.
Your goal is to allow as much free expression as possible without permitting a comment that violates our posted code of conduct.
• Looks OK. I’ll allow it.
• Not good. Delete because of: advertising/spam; obscenity/vulgarity; personal attack; hate speech; copyright/plagiarism; all caps (effectively yelling online); off-topic; libel/slander/unverifiable.
• Not acceptable. Ban the commenter.
1. “History and common sense have proved for more than 200 years that open homosexuality destabilizes the military and weakens military readiness. The military is not the place to force a radical, pro-homosexual social engineering experiment on our culture.”
2. “Sounding like an air-headed teenager, Paula Hammond said, ‘That’s bad on me.’ Tearing down the eastbound off-ramp is costing taxpayers $890,000. Not only was there no oversight between the eastbound and westbound crews, but the agency was not straight about the problem.”
3. “Re: Relatives sue over Lake Tapps helicopter accident. Nothing says lovin’ like a wad of cash.”
Thenewstribune.com receives about 1,000 comments a day, posted at the bottom of stories or on one of our blogs. We began allowing comments a few years ago, as did most daily newspapers, believing we could provide a forum for community conversation. Online readers expect to be able to tell us and each other what they think.
Many thoughtful conversations take place in our comment forums; many awful ones do as well. Occasionally, they devolve into cesspools of name-calling, bigotry and hatefulness.
Editors across the country struggle to manage commenting. Some with larger staffs have full-time comment moderators. Some require commenters to register their names, believing anonymity prompts incivility. Some even require commenters to register with a credit card that verifies their identity. Some editors turn off commenting on stories about race, crime or other topics sure to prompt nastiness. Others have turned off commenting entirely.
We’ve chosen a more moderate route. We post rules asking readers to keep comments “civil, short and to the point.” An automatic filter flags comments with obscenities or suspected to be from spammers. And we depend on commenters to police one another.
Oftentimes, commenters will coax one another back on point or chastise a personal attack. When that doesn’t work, readers can flag questionable comments, sending them to a file monitored by a handful of editors. Editors have the same choices you did – allow, delete or ban the commenter.
No, we don’t delete comments simply because we disagree with them or because they criticize our work. No, deleting a comment does not violate the First Amendment. We are not a government agency bound by the Constitution; we are a private company trying to moderate a civil conversation.
As you might guess, some editors take a harder line than others. We’re all human and come with our own sensibilities.
Doug Conarroe, our assistant managing editor for online, developed a quiz that included the three comments above (far from the worst we see). We recently gave it to a dozen editors as a conversation starter about the appropriate place to draw the line.
• Editors disagreed about whether or not to take down Comment No. 1. Some found the first sentence factually overreaching, while others read it as the person’s point of view.
• Editors let the No. 2 comment stand. While it calls Paula Hammond a name, Hammond is the state transportation director, a public figure who should have to withstand some public ridicule.
• Editors agreed that comment No. 3 is insensitive. Some editors would delete it for being hurtful to a victim’s family. Others said the comment should stand because the family filed a suit that could be paid by taxpayers, leaving the matter open for discussion.
Some of Conarroe’s questionable comments came from our Letters to the Editor file where commenters must leave their names, dispelling the myth that anonymity alone is to blame.
Our lives as editors would be simpler, frankly, if we turned off the commenting. But we remain committed to providing this forum as long as we can manage it.
We invite you to tell us what you think, to challenge ideas and one another. But we ask you to please keep it civil and productive.
Karen Peterson: 253-597-8434