From the editor: Want to comment on our stories? Treat others with respect.
Among the many things that make community newspapers special is their ability to serve as a public forum.
At The Park Record, we do that most prominently on our opinion page, where we publish letters to the editor and guest editorials in each edition, providing readers a vital outlet to weigh in on the news of the day. With the rise of the internet, our online comment sections, both at the bottom of stories on parkrecord.com and also on our Facebook page, have also come to fill that purpose.
The idealistic vision is for our commenting platforms to be a place where community members can gather to exchange ideas, challenge viewpoints and engage in civil disagreements, all in real time. We imagine it being home to all the conversations that are important, even necessary, for a well-functioning community.
As anyone who frequents our website or Facebook page can attest, though, the reality seldom, if ever, lives up to that standard.
More often, the discourse devolves into name-calling and anger as frustrations bubble over or a comment thread is hijacked by someone whose interest lies not in participating in a dialogue but rather preventing anyone else from doing so.
In recent weeks and months, the situation has worsened and tensions have become even more inflamed as our news pages and website have been filled with coverage of controversial topics like officials’ handling of the coronavirus pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement.
It’s been disheartening to see such division in our community. And frankly, the status quo is untenable. The vitriol has become so incessant that a few readers have even called for us to shut down our comment sections altogether.
Rather than do that, we’re calling on commenters to do better. To take the high road and behave in a way befitting the beautiful community we all love.
Many commenters, of course, already do, and we encourage them to continue to participate. Their voices are important and wanted.
Others, though, require some introspection and a change in their behavior.
What are our expectations? They’re spelled out in our commenting policy, which prohibits threats, hate speech and defamatory comments directed toward subjects of stories, other commenters or Park Record staff members.
Anyone who is unwilling to abide by those rules will find their comments deleted. Those who are repeat offenders, or who commit an egregious violation, will be banned without warning.
In the past, our moderation has frequently erred on the side of allowing questionable comments to stand. After all, we are journalists, and the free exchange of ideas is one of the values we hold most dearly.
It is now obvious that a harsher tack is required, and we will be more swift in meting out punishment to those who treat others poorly.
Will our judgements be perfect? Hardly. The truth is comment moderation is subjective, and finding the line separating speech that is uncomfortable but adds to the discourse from speech that isn’t worthy of a platform is challenging. One hundred people would approach the task in 100 different ways.
That said, our goal is not to stifle speech. We want our comment sections to be filled with vibrant debate, with people on all sides of issues contributing to the discussion. That’s why they exist.
So, please, disagree with other commenters. Criticize us if a story has missed the mark. Take your elected officials to task.
Just do it with respect.
That, we believe, is a simple request but one that would make a remarkable difference.
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