Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A comment rejected

The Middletown Eye frequently publishes comments which are critical of elected or non-elected public officials, even when those comments are anonymous. Three of us (Jen Alexander, Ed McKeon, and myself) have "volunteered" to decide whether a specific comment should be published, a task which none of us particularly enjoy, but which we think is very important for The Eye's success. When I am faced with such a decision, I try to evaluate whether the comment is closer to a constructive expression of a personal opinion or closer to a destructive attack.

In the last week or so I rejected the following anonymous comment [ellipses and brackets indicate my alterations]:
What don't any of you get! [Name of public official] is operating the puppet strings of the .... They do whatever .. suggests and recommends. [This person] made a mess ..., does not care about ... The sole purpose of ... actions is to make [this person] and the "yes" people surrounding ... a big pay day .... Wake up Middletown ... taxpayers! This [person] is ruining ... town, and spending our money on things we don't need, or have anything to do with .... Need to be chased out of town!
Always wanting to see the best in others, I think that the authors of comments such as these are expressing a heartfelt, albeit extreme, opinion about a person working as an elected or non-elected official in Middletown. However, when hypernegative comments are written anonymously, with absolutely no facts to back them up, they are read by most people as little more than the spewing vitriol of someone unhinged.

For me they have crossed the line into a personal, anonymous attack, and they do not belong in Middletown's community newsblog. I will reject them.

To reiterate what has been said by Jen and Ed before: sign your name and demonstrate that your opinion is informed, and your comment will be published and you will help to make our city a better place.


Anonymous said...

Whatever you want to call it, it's still censorship. I for one believe I have the intelligence to make decisions for myself. I don't blindly believe whatever I read written by "anonymous" or a named writer. A name doesn't make something true and anonymous doesn't make it false. I understand it's your ball and therefore you feel you have the right to set the rules. Principles such as free speech are hard to adhere to in practice, aren't they. You know what's best for us just like the Bush administration knew what was best for us. Slippery slopes always end up at the bottom.

Middletown Eye (Ed McKeon) said...

As many people do, you confuse ree speech (the right to say or publish anything in public), with the non-existent "right" to have a defaming statement published in a newspaper, blog, book, etc., of which you are not the responsible publisher.

Read the laws and rulings on slander and libel, and you'll see that your "free speech" rights stop where the rights of the person you are defaming begin.

Censorship. Yes. We will always do our best to censor slander, libel, hate speech, unfounded accusations, innuendo and plain old stupidity.

I feel my footing is solid on this slippery slope and that you are using a mis-reading of the Constitution to slide to the bottom.

Anonymous said...

Middletown Eye you did the right thing. I agree with your decision 100% at some point you have to draw the line at that's what you did. Keep up the good work!

joseph getter said...

I support the Eye's policy of not publishing certain comments. That's sound editorial judgment & discretion. As a reader, I don't want to read anonymous, angry rants, or provocative trolls here. I'd rather read signed, thoughtful, constructive opinions.

To call it "censorship" is a misunderstanding of the concept, in my opinion. Anyone may start a blog, so there is freedom of speech in this arena of the so-called blogoshere. If the government or blogger.com shuts you down, then that is censorship.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Anon. 7:18 with one exception. The next to last sentence should be corrected to read the "Obama administration"....

fishmuscle (Stephen H. Devoto) said...

Maureen Dowd's NY Times column on August 25 was about anonymous comments. I cannot do any better than to quote her closing remarks:

The Internet was supposed to be the prolix paradise where there would be no more gatekeepers and everyone would finally have their say. We would express ourselves freely at any level, high or low, with no inhibitions.

Yet in this infinite realm of truth-telling, many want to hide. Who are these people prepared to tell you what they think, but not who they are? What is the mentality that lets them get in our face while wearing a mask? Shredding somebody’s character before the entire world and not being held accountable seems like the perfect sting.

Pseudonyms have a noble history. Revolutionaries in France, founding fathers and Soviet dissidents used them. The great poet Fernando Pessoa used heteronyms to write in different styles and even to review the work composed under his other names.

As Hugo Black wrote in 1960, “It is plain that anonymity has sometimes been assumed for the most constructive purposes.”

But on the Internet, it’s often less about being constructive and more about being cowardly.

Anonymous said...

I apologize to the Middletown Eye editors and readers. It was my comment that was censored. Even though I still do not totally understand the reasoning behind the censorship issue, but I acknowledge it was Ed's right to do so.