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Commentary from Sunday Times Leader Feb 1, 2015
Zeroing in: Vocal few can make comment board a nasty place
Last updated: January 31. 2015
Betty RoccograndiZeroing In COMMENTARY FEB 1 2015
Story Tools: TIMES LEADER
Years ago, the Times Leader published a wildly popular feature called, “Say So.”
It was also, at times, an insanely unfair free-for-all verbal slug fest.
“Say So” grew by leaps and bounds because it allowed anyone out there to not only comment on news stories but also to take pot shots at just about anyone. Some of these cowards attacked individuals while hiding safely behind cloaks of anonymity.
I believe, for that reason, the powers that be at the time stopped the feature.
It’s so easy to criticize someone, isn’t it, when you’re not required to reveal your identity? How many comments, some vile, would appear online if the spineless authors were required to stand behind their remarks? I’m guessing not many.
There’s a lot being spewed in the comments section at the end of news articles, editorials, letters to the editor and opinion columns in local and other newspapers. Spirited debates are encouraged, and I’m all for that.
Writers generally love to hear what readers have to say. Sometimes those who weigh in are insightful and witty. Many readers make excellent points. It’s always enlightening to hear the other side because there’s always another side.
Then there are those who make the dialogue personal, add nothing to the conversation and diverge from the subject at hand while putting on display their narrow-mindedness, pettiness, sheer ignorance and, in some cases, viciousness.
Take, for instance, the person disparaging activist Mark Robbins, who shined the spotlight on Wilkes-Barre City’s former towing contractor Leo Glodzik, who has since been charged with several crimes. He or she comments as MarkGayRobins. Another called city critic Frank Sorick, Frank “Soredick.” Not funny in the least.
Now, if Bethany Morgan Rhodes is who she says she is, then we commend her for being one of the few who goes on the record. However, the youthful, innocent photo she includes with her postings belies her vulgarity. It’s hard to take an immature potty mouth seriously.
There’s no doubt that if our newspapers only published comments from those willing and unafraid to identify themselves, the comment sections would shrink. I’m not advocating this; however, there needs to be some controls.
It doesn’t take any guts to go online, as the big bad wolf, to opine that it “sounds to me” that a Luzerne County councilwoman’s ”got her hands down the manager’s pants!” or for “Wacknuts” to call Hugo Selenski’s former girlfriend an “ex-crack head” for everyone to read and possibly believe whether it’s true or not.
It would be nice to know who these people really are, so the rest of us can consider the source.
I cannot understand why a newspaper won’t publish a letter to the editor before the paper verifies the author’s identity and hometown but will allow readers to take anonymous swipes online at others with whom they disagree.
If someone wants to accuse a prominent elected official of being a drunk, a scoundrel or an adulterer, why not come out of hiding, tough guy, so the accused can come face to face with the person who defamed him? If not, how about sparing the rest of us your unsubstantiated remarks, which come darn close to libel.
Actually, there are codes of “Member Conduct” attached at the comments section of the Times Leader. They forbid using sexual preferences to insult someone “in any way, shape or form” and from using vulgar, profane, sexually explicit or defamatory language.
Unfortunately, some readers who seem to get a kick out of indulging in all of the above haven’t read the memo.
Personally, I’m flattered that Comedy Central superstar Jon_Stewart reads my column. Or does he? His picture accompanies his posts, so it must be him. If that’s not Jon Stewart, what’s stopping the rest of us from hijacking someone else’s name and photo to comment on news articles, pretending to be someone we’re not?
I believe the whole idea for comment sections is to get people engaged in the subject at hand, to agree or disagree, so fellow readers can hear diverse points of view on important issues which affect us all.
But like everything, there are those who feel the need to ruin a good thing by debasing a public forum with unnecessary name-calling, defamation and unverified allegations.
Betty Roccograndi is a Wyoming Valley resident and award-winning journalist. Zeroing In appears weekly.
George Spohr: Why do we allow such awful
comments on the Times Leader’s website?
Last updated: January 31. 2015 11:30PM - 489 Views
Every day – sometimes multiple times a day – the newsroom is contacted by someone who wants us to delete a comment made by a reader on timesleader.com.
Some of those comments are lies. Some are vulgar. Some are offensive.
And all, unfortunately, are fair game. (Is this the policy of Civitas? To publish lies?)
Online comments are the bane of many news organizations. As champions of free speech, most journalists probably would argue that anyone should be allowed to say anything at any time. As is so often the case, though, that freedom is abused. As a result, dealing with fallout from reader comments takes up an increasingly bigger part of our day.
Different news organizations have tried different approaches to solving the comment conundrum. Some allow their editors to edit comments. Some allow editors to delete specific comments. Some allow editors to delete entire threads. Some have moved from anonymous comments to Facebook’s platform (the theory there being that people are likely to be kinder when their name is attached to it). And still others have turned comments off of their website completely.
For a very brief period last year, timesleader.com began moderating comments. The backlash was swift from readers who accused us of censorship and deleting comments critical of the Times Leader. (For the record, that did not happen. Our journalists were instructed to approve any negative comment about the Times Leader – including personal attacks against me – simply because we didn’t want anyone to think we were censoring our readers.)
In response to that backlash, we returned to our old system that relies on “community policing.” When a comment is downvoted by three different users, that comment is hidden from view.
In the interest of full disclosure, what’s driving our policy is a fear of being sued.
Once we as a media organization begin tinkering with comments – either by moderating them or editing them – we have exerted “control” over that content. We then assume responsibility for that content. Given how many people misuse our commenting system, that’s not an assumption of responsibility we’re willing to accept.
Where we should draw a line between removing hurtful or harmful comments and not exerting control depends on whom you ask.
Different lawyers told us different things about where our responsibility falls. One attorney told me that we can delete comments and, so long as we don’t edit them, we haven’t crossed any “control” threshold. Yet another attorney told me that deleting comments is a de-facto form of exerting “control,” and we shouldn’t do it.
The same goes for users and usernames. Over the past few days alone, we’ve had multiple requests from readers asking us to ban users who were either impersonating or stalking other users. We couldn’t help them.
There’s no right-or-wrong way to handle those type of requests, it would seem. We tried doing the right thing by moderating comments – forcing readers to keep their comments clean and on-topic. But the online community revolted and we relented. Damned if we do, damned if we don’t.