A comment on comments
April 19, 2011 —
In creating a new, more technologically advanced website, one of the assets The River Reporter was most interested in developing was the comments function, which allows for an ongoing conversation among our readers, and between us and our readers. Such a conversation promotes several goals that are part of our mission as a newspaper and an online presence: to create and strengthen community, and to provide a venue for discussions that lead to constructive solutions of shared problems.
We also recognized, however, that this asset comes with some formidable challenges—including, chiefly, the obligation to moderate the conversation in a way that promotes the abovementioned goals. And as anybody who has ever participated in an online forum knows, the conversation all too easily degenerates into a mud-wrestling match that destroys, divides and manufactures problems rather than bringing people together to build something.
In order to prevent this kind of result, it will sometimes be necessary to delete individual comments or even ban certain users. This week, we experienced our first test in this regard with a post by a user named TheHick that responded to Jane Prettyman’s My View, “Just One Pad,” and for which we received feedback that the comment was objectionable.
After careful thought and discussion, we have decided to leave this comment up. But we thought that an account of the reasoning we used in making this decision would be helpful to others in understanding, in the future, what kinds of comments will and will not be tolerated here, and why.
It is incumbent upon us to be fair and evenhanded with regard to our moderation, and that means developing a set of objective principles according to which comments should be deleted that can be applied across the board, regardless of whether we may agree or disagree with the authors. The set of such principles that we are working with at present are:
• No ad hominem attacks, which means, attack the authors’ arguments, not the morals, manners, character or other attributes of the authors themselves.
• In keeping with the above, no use of pejoratives, including no racist, sexist or otherwise bigoted language.
• No statements we know to be contrary to fact.
Here is the comment in question, and below it our reasoning: