Comments: enlightened dialogue or a cesspool of vitriol? | Editor
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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Comments: enlightened dialogue or a cesspool of vitriol?

Posted by on Wed, Nov 30, 2011 at 1:16 PM

Fair warning: Between my gloomy morning ritual of reading the newspapers and blogs, and the Senate's repeal of the Racial Justice Act, I'm feeling forlorn and grouchy today. Plus, explaining the Indy's comments policy can get my dander up. But at the risk of sounding shrill and schoolmarmish, here goes:

Comments can be enlightening, smart and insightful. They can also be ignorant, punitive and hateful. In other words, they're a bitch to moderate.

People will say things on a website that they would never say to someone's face. I think that's cowardly, but it's a fact. We've mulled over whether to require commenters to provide their real name, thus abolishing anonymous posts, but then decided it would be nigh on impossible to verify the information.**

(If for some reason you choose not to register under your name, don't use the name of someone else. We have had commenters posing as other people. We banish those commenters and post a note stating why.)

That said, at the Indy, we have to balance our desire to host a genuine discussion about the issues with the risk that the trolls will turn the comments section into a cesspool of vitriol. And when the comments turn into a cesspool, it deters people from wading in with something meaningful to say.

Some basic rules: No ad hominem attacks (and that includes those aimed at the writer), name-calling, slander or libelous statements. What's a libelous statement? Asserting that someone has committed a crime if that person has not been convicted, for example. You cannot state as fact someone is a child molester if that person has not been convicted of child molesting. Don't even insinuate it.

Don't stray from the topic; comments must contribute to the greater dialogue about the story.

Tip: Reaaallllly loooonnnggg posts are a red flag to your fellow commenters. It says "crazy," not as in eccentric crazy, but as in tinfoil-hat crazy.

For rule-breakers, and you know who you are: We can delete your comment without explanation or notification. We can block your IP address. And when you send a comment from a new IP address, we can block that one. And the next one. Et cetera. We have elves who do this all day long; actually, we don't, but it's a budget item for next year. We can also close comments on a story.

Who decides if a commenter has violated a rule? We do. Denise Prickett, our web editor, usually makes the call, although she and I also consult with each other.

There have been instances in which commenters have alleged that we are violating the U.S. Constitution by restricting their speech. Civics 101: The Constitution states that government shall not abridge speech; we're not the government and thus aren't required to protect speech on our website.

We believe in free speech, but we're not the town square. Instead, think of indyweek.com as your friendly neighborhood watering hole. Come in for a drink and a chat. But if you get soused and ugly, our cyberbouncers will toss you out. It's our bar.

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