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A comment about comments

Submitted by on 1, November 2, 2009 – 5:45 am4 Comments

michele-blog-photoThe last couple of days I’ve been involved in a lengthy exchange regarding my comment policy. And what I took away from it is that I need to be clearer with people about what my policies are regarding comments, and why.

Let me start by saying that as a longtime newspaper reporter, I struggle with the concept of anonymity. To be frank, I don’t like it. Many of the comments that get posted online would never in a million years be considered for publication as letters to the editor at any of the newspapers I’ve worked at, anonymity being the chief reason. That said, I’ve come to learn that people expect – and for the time being, I’ve come to accept – something different online, that people have different standards here. So I have allowed people to comment anonymously, using initials, a first name, or a “handle.”

That said, there are limits to what I feel comfortable allowing. I ask that if you don’t feel you can sign your name to the comments that you make, that you will at least choose one “handle” and stick with it. Commenting under several different names can give a wrong impression regarding the tenor of a debate, and I think it’s unfair to the folks who are willing to play by the rules (and especially those brave souls who just sign their names to their comments). I do check to see if commenters are using multiple handles, and if I find that’s the case, those comments are deleted. So I ask that you please pick one name, whatever it is, and stick with it.

I also want to be clear with folks about what I consider unacceptable material for publication. Anything that seems like it could even be remotely libelous gets chucked. I am also not a big fan of personal attacks, rumor or innuendo, and typically, those will go, too. I also keep an eye out for anything that could be flat-out offensive to folks (some examples of this that I’ve seen include some racially tinged comments and one commenter who I know to be well-educated who has affected a grammar-lite voice – not cool).

I admit that this is not an exact science and that I don’t make the right call on comments sometimes. To be honest, moderating comments is my least favorite part of running this site because most of the time, they’re not easy calls. But this is not about censoring anyone, or furthering an issue-specific agenda, or attempting to quash anyone’s point of view. It’s about protecting a community full of people who are passionate about a range of issues (not just Alameda Point, folks), and in order to do that I personally think it’s critical to try to maintain a civil and above-board debate.


  • Tom Schweich says:

    Back in the Middle Dark Ages, when Al Gore first started the Internet, we had a saying, "You own your own words." I think that meant you should be willing to sign your name to what you type and send out.

  • Audrey Lord-Hausman says:

    Well said. If we can't own our words, then they are not worth printing.

  • Jon Spangler says:

    Michelle, I agree with your approach. We all need to own what we say, ands we benefit from considering our words carefully before we utter them. Hate speech, froth, gibberish, cheap shots, innuendo, slander, and similar negative speech do not add to the civil debate and discourse, and do not help build a community. (If you were face to face with someone, would you still say the same words that you might use anonymously in cyberspace?)

    I agree with Audrey and Tom: think about what you have to say, own your thoughts, and sign your name–or at least be consistent in using a recognizable handle or screen name. Accountability helps.

  • Lauren Do says:

    Hi Michele:

    I know it's difficult to make the hard decisions regarding comment moderation. It's a tough position to be in, but you're doing a great job.

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