Thursday, September 9, 2010

Comments: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly (And Rejected)

The tasering of a student by a Middletown Police Officer has touched a nerve in our community. Parents and students are concerned, civic leaders are concerned, in the past couple of days it has been the primary topic of conversation wherever I have gone on Main Street.

I have spoken with friends and acquaintances whose reaction to the tasering is almost completely the opposite of mine. These conversations have challenged me, but every one has left me enriched by the thoughtfulness and care that exists in our community.

Concern is also reflected in the comments section of every news outlet covering the tasing story. Unfortunately, these comments sections seem to attract many who hold a simplistic view entirely devoid of empathy for either students or police ("Punk: deserved it" OR "Police: stupid thug").

The comment moderators on The Eye (Jen Alexander, Ed McKeon, and myself) will not reject comments that we disagree with or that are difficult to understand, but we will reject any that are anonymous and ugly. Of course, each of us has slightly different ideas of ugly, but we share the belief that no anonymous comment should insult or defame or spread rumor. This morning I rejected an anonymous comment which called another commenter 'you idiot'.

If you want to publish an anonymous and insulting comment, you will have to find another news outlet. If you really really must insult somebody in The Middletown Eye, let everybody know who you are and we'll approve it.

Hopefully our community's thoughtfulness and care can be reflected in the comments section of The Eye.


Karen Swartz said...

I asked Stephen to estimate how many comments are rejected and he has told me he has only rejected at a very low rate of about two comments per year, which means, in my estimation probably about half dozen comments in the total life of this blog - not very many. He is one of the three comment reviewers on this site, and I don't know the rate for Ed or Jen.
It's important to know that there are objective standards and criteria employed equally in the screening of all comments. I believe that part of the intent of this article regarding comments is to remind readers of what the standards are. The main point being that the EYE will not post specific claims or accusations that have no basis in fact. It is not correct to think that the EYE is censoring at will or that the EYE rejects a lot of comments. This is illustrated directly by the fact that rejecting just one comment was a big enough event for Stephen to call it out in an article and notify readers that one comment was rejected and why.

Jen Alexander said...

Hi Karen - I don't know the exact number of comments I've rejected, but I don't think it's more than a dozen since the Eye started. It takes a lot to make me click delete - usually it has something outright profane, threatening or expressing ethnic/racial bias.

My frustration is not as much with comments that I delete - those are easy. It's the ones that are hurtful enough to sour the debate - yet we let them through because we are trying to provide a community forum.

Though I rarely delete, I often let those comments sit before approving them. That's just my passive/aggressive way of wishing that people would be less nasty. Then it falls to Stephen or Ed to make the call, which isn't very nice of me, but there you have it.

Our policy is this: The surest way to get your comments approved is to sign your name! Remember John "Sailor Talk" deBoer's comment on the Spear Park trees? I'm sure we wouldn't have approved THAT if it was anonymous - and look how much good it did. The trees are saved!