Vice President Spiro Agnew once famously described members of the media as “nattering nabobs of negativism.” I can’t think of a better way to describe some of the folks who comment anonymously on our articles at timesleader.com.
There’s a core group of posters – a half-dozen or so – who will leave negative comments on nearly every story we write. No matter how touching the subject, nor how beautifully written the prose, the comments invariably will devolve into negativity.
More often than not, the comments aren’t even relevant to the story.
I’ll never understand what drives people to hang out on timesleader.com all day simply to leave negative comments. I don’t get how someone can derive joy from sitting behind a computer or smartphone bashing others. And to do it anonymously, through screen names that obscure your identity, makes the comments as cowardly as they are childish.
Several editors at other newspapers have taken the draconian step of eliminating comments on their websites. There are days when I consider joining their ranks. The amount of vitriol that’s left on our pages – much of it hurtful, some of it racist, nearly all of it catty – only solidifies the negative impression this area leaves on many.
I prefer interacting with readers on Facebook, where there’s at least some semblance of accountability to comments. While anyone can create a fake email address to create a fake Facebook account tied to a fake name, that’s much more cumbersome than creating an alias on timesleader.com using our Disqus commenting system. Those readers who choose to comment on our stories on Facebook, using their real names, versus our website, using anonymous screen names, tend to be more thoughtful and more civil.
Last week, we posted a news article online titled “Wilkes-Barre police seek shooting suspect.” On Facebook, every comment made about our story was attached to a real name. The comments ranged from “What a surprise. Suspect is from Sherman Hills” to “That’s a shock right there.” And those comments, however sarcastic they were, were neither offensive nor hurtful.
That same story on timesleader.com generated comments using the “N” word (which we pulled), “scumbag” and – my favorite – examples of anonymous commenters turning on anonymous commenters.
One anonymous commenter called another anonymous commenter “the biggest racist here.” A third anonymous commenter piled on: “You seem comfortable in your self appointed position of judge/jury/hangman.”
Yet another anonymous commenter felt his or her view was the right anonymous view because he or she gleans information by “reading from a variety of news sources. Not just the ones that cater to my particular political philosophy as you do.”
Talk about chutzpah!
So why do we retain this commenting system?
We have commenters who provide value to readers with their commentary. Sometimes, they provide context to one of our stories they felt was lacking. Sometimes, they provide updates from which we can build additional stories. I’d hate to pull an entire system because a half-dozen anonymous adults can’t behave themselves.
It is heartening, though, to see more of our readers opting to comment on stories via Facebook. At least there if you’re brave enough to share your opinion online, you have to attach your name on it. Those who flex their muscles via toiling in anonymity are silly by comparison.