Record editorial: Why we’re turning comments off — mostly
What’s the value of a public forum if anonymous commenters lobbing personal attacks and others sowing misinformation drown out the civil discourse?
That’s a question The Park Record has been grappling with for a long time, and one that has become even more urgent over the last several months as harmful behavior in the comment section below articles on our website has increased.
Despite our idealism about fostering a community conversation, the comment section too often is less a venue for the open exchange of ideas, well-reasoned debate and civil disagreement than it is for name-calling, trolling and bad-faith arguments meant to inflame tensions rather than contribute to the conversation.
We’ve tried devoting more time to moderating the comments, deleting ones that cross the line and banning repeat offenders and users whose posts are particularly egregious. But it’s a 24/7 task. Monitoring the comments adequately has proven virtually impossible.
We’re now taking an escalated step: turning off comments on most articles on our website, save for ones that we believe are unlikely to invite problematic posts or situations where we determine opening the comments serves the public good.
Admittedly, those calls will be subjective. But, indeed, they are ours to make. Lest anyone suggest otherwise, our move to limit commenting is not a First Amendment issue. The Constitution doesn’t provide the right to log onto a news outlet’s website and opine on the topic of the day — it simply guarantees that the government will not restrict your speech.
Further, there will still be ways to make your opinion heard. Namely, we encourage readers to submit letters to the editor, which we publish both in print (and the accompanying e-edition) and on parkrecord.com. Our policy is to publish every letter or guest editorial we receive, with the exception of ones that could be libelous.
The caveat is that authors of letters or guest editorials must include their full names. In our view, that addresses one of the primary shortcomings with the comment section: the ease with which someone can post anonymously. Our commenting software does not prohibit anonymous commenters, and it seems that the users who sling the most mud are often the ones taking advantage of that shield.
We believe that, if you want to voice your opinion, you should not hide in anonymity. That’s especially true if you’re offering up critiques of elected officials or other subjects of articles. The ability to criticize those in power — or, for that matter, The Park Record — is important, and we frequently publish letters taking others to task. But you should be willing to sign your name and stand by what you write.
In that spirit, we invite you to weigh in on our decision to limit commenting on our website. Maybe you think the move is a step in the right direction and long overdue. Or perhaps you believe we’re making a major mistake.
Either way, we want to hear your opinion. We’re leaving comments open on this editorial, but here’s another suggestion: Send a letter to the editor to firstname.lastname@example.org, complete with your full name and the details we require to verify your identity (phone number and home address).
We’ll publish it. Because it’s important to us to provide a forum for a diversity of viewpoints, a place where readers can contribute to the conversation and offer their ideas.
We’ve long hoped the comment section could also serve that purpose. Alas, it’s clear that, despite our best intentions, that is too often not the case.
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