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Comment moderationPosted Friday, September 4, 2009, at 9:36 AM
From time to time, I have to delete comments on stories or blogs. I've never -- not once, not ever -- done this because I disagreed with the commenter. We only delete comments because they are in violation of our Terms of Service. That might mean that they include defamatory personal attacks (the most common reason), foul language or other offensive comment.
Of course, anyone whose comments are deleted immediately complains that we're taking sides on an issue.
Recently, a commenter on one issue created a new account for the purpose of responding to an issue in a halting dialect suggestive of the way Native Americans were portrayed in old movies. Today, this kind of dialogue is considered an offensive stereotype, and I felt it probably violated the portion of the Terms of Service which refers to expressions of bigotry. Imagine what would happen if someone posted in, for example, an "Amos 'n Andy" dialect. Native Americans might well be just as offended by the dialect our commenter used.
But I felt like it was probably an honest mistake on the part of the commenter, and so I went above and beyond my responsibilities to try to warn the commenter, so that he (or she) could continue to participate in the discussion, without the dialect.
I tried e-mailing, but got no response. I suspect that the e-mail address the commenter used to sign up for a user account was a bogus "throwaway" account which was forgotten once the account had been created. I could very easily have banned the account at that point, but I took the extra, and somewhat unusual, step of responding to the commenter openly, in the forums, explaining what the problem was and asking him to avoid the dialect posts.
The commenter posted again, in dialect, accusing me of having been bothered, not by the dialect, but by the content of his posts.
The fact of the matter is, I really hadn't been paying attention to the content of the discussion. The Celebration is a busy time here in the newsroom, and I really haven't had time to read all of the story comments in detail. (That's why enforcement of our Terms of Service is largely complaint-driven.) In all honestly, I couldn't tell you exactly what the issue was or what the commenter was complaining about. I only cared about the offensive dialect. I don't expect the commenter to believe this, but it's the truth.
At any rate, despite my best efforts, the commenter made it clear that he really wasn't that concerned about our Terms of Service, and I felt I had no choice but to ban him. It's one thing to get a little overheated and step over the line; it's another thing to indicate that you don't see or care about the line.
We encourage a vigorous debate of the issues -- from all sides and viewpoints. That's the whole purpose of having a comment system. But personal attacks or offensive content will not be tolerated. Our Terms of Service are available at http://www.t-g.com/help/legal/ if you need to refer to them.
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John I. Carney is city editor of the Times-Gazette.