Lakeland Online Forums

There was much discussion yesterday among local journalists about comments to their online articles. The gist: commenting is great, the comments not always so.

Commenting on local articles used to mean “Letters to the Editors.” They were never anonymous, usually short, often edited by the paper, and rarely rambling. None of which is typical for online comments.

The local papers all allow semi-anonymous comments to their articles and on their forums. They require registration with an email address, but that’s easily circumvented. Without a need to defend their reputations, writers often push aside quiet debates full of civility and accuracy for bullying and propaganda.

When I first moved to Lakeland I joined the in Ledger forums. A few weeks later I walked away. Cliquish in-fighting, bullying of the less-erudite, and a disregard for accuracy were the hallmarks of the forums. I had participated as a moderator in forums since the early 1980s. I knew where it led when forums operated like wild-west towns. I didn’t have the time for pointless confrontations.

Recently though, I heard the Ledger’s Managing Editor / Digital, Barry Friedman, decided enough was enough:

I have a confession. I rarely look at theledger.com forums anymore. The personal attacks and mean-spiritedness I see there show how far the forums have degraded from their original purpose: to offer a local venue to discuss issues and maybe even to create community.

It’s time to take the forums back for people who want to have civil discussions. It’s time for people to feel safe to post their opinions without fear of personal attacks. — Friedman

I applaud Friedman’s dream of a much-better forum,

So what will the forums look like in a few weeks? Some of the regulars will be gone for awhile. Those who are here only to harass others will leave for good. As the forums become more hospitable, I predict people who have shied away will start expressing themselves. Maybe the community will become self-policing, warning violators to delete or edit improper posts to avoid suspension. — The forums are changing. it’s time to be civil.

Lakeland’s online community needs a safe haven to discuss the issues facing our city. Maybe the Ledger’s forums can become that place. If you haven’t participated because the tone of the debate, I urge you to give the Ledger forums another chance.

Lakeland.net offers a similar anonymous forum. Since they have delayed their official opening I’m holding off with my review. However, the director of that forum has expressed the he believes “some of the strength of the internet is anonymity.”

Disclosure: At Lakeland Local I moderate all comments to make sure there no spam makes it online. At this site I have only blocked one regular comment, an anonymous comment on the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.

I don’t feel this publication is the place for anonymous comments. If a commenter can’t point to an online presence, or send me contact information such as a phone number or address, then this isn’t the place for his or her comment. It’s very easy to set up an anonymous blog if someone has a need to express, but a fear of retribution.

12 thoughts on “Lakeland Online Forums

  1. I, too, no longer read The Ledger’s forums due to them evolving into a place where anonymous attacks of a personal nature and pointless rantings are ruining the opportunity to engage in constructive dialogue. Visit other blogs and you will find this is not unique to the Lakeland scene. Perhaps we can take the lead toward creating an online community where ideas can be openly discussed rather than where every flippin’ knucklehead can spew their venum only to end up saying literally nothing at all.

  2. I, too, no longer read The Ledger’s forums due to them evolving into a place where anonymous attacks of a personal nature and pointless rantings are ruining the opportunity to engage in constructive dialogue. Visit other blogs and you will find this is not unique to the Lakeland scene. Perhaps we can take the lead toward creating an online community where ideas can be openly discussed rather than where every flippin’ knucklehead can spew their venum only to end up saying literally nothing at all.

  3. Stewart Brand, co-creator of the WELL, insisted on no anonymity.

    “I knew that flame wars would go over unless somebody’s nose was identifiable so that if necessary, you could go punch their nose.”

    Here’s a recent interview with Brand at Wired.

    I’ve always been a fan of the anonymous net, but as I turn my attention to how to build effective community pages, I find myself siding with Brand.

    The question I have now is how do you assure true identity if you want to avoid anonymous comments or forum participants?

    Both Metafilter and the WELL have nominal fees, but that seems like too much of a hurdle for community pages like you’re talking about.

    I suppose the solution is careful monitoring, and different tiers for different levels of “knownness,” with anonymous comments being heavily monitored, semi-anonymous posters/contributors (regular visitors, but you don’t know their name) are lightly monitored, and the non-anonymous are considered participants that need little-to-no monitoring.

  4. Stewart Brand, co-creator of the WELL, insisted on no anonymity.

    “I knew that flame wars would go over unless somebody’s nose was identifiable so that if necessary, you could go punch their nose.”

    Here’s a recent interview with Brand at Wired.

    I’ve always been a fan of the anonymous net, but as I turn my attention to how to build effective community pages, I find myself siding with Brand.

    The question I have now is how do you assure true identity if you want to avoid anonymous comments or forum participants?

    Both Metafilter and the WELL have nominal fees, but that seems like too much of a hurdle for community pages like you’re talking about.

    I suppose the solution is careful monitoring, and different tiers for different levels of “knownness,” with anonymous comments being heavily monitored, semi-anonymous posters/contributors (regular visitors, but you don’t know their name) are lightly monitored, and the non-anonymous are considered participants that need little-to-no monitoring.

  5. Actually, I’m surprised that people are shocked at the sorts of things you find on these “forums”.

    We live in a country where racism (and other forms of hatred) are ubiquitous, and the Lakeland area is especially bad (Tampa has only one recognized hate group listed- Lakeland has two in the local area and used to have more!)

    Combine that with the presence of dominionist churches (that seek to overthrow democracy and replace it with a theocracy- in the name of “returning America to it’s ‘Christian roots'”) and the problem is compounded. These churches are well documented for spewing hate in the name of God.

    Research indicates that Letters to the Editor tend to reflect the attitudes of the area (in spite of the polarity of the opinions stated), and I think in a sense this also crosses over to the news blogs. So, yes, you’re going to see a lot of bigotry and hatred. It may be a bit more hidden on “the streets”, but it’s still there. People hide their identity on these blogs and then you’ll see the “real person” behind the mask (although I would argue that they’re only repeating what they’ve been programmed!)

    If anything, I wish that they would take these “blogs” off the home page of the Ledger, and that they would hide the comments to the news in other venues. I get really tired of seeing hatred directed at people who think like I do (Liberals).

    Especially since it can be demonstrated that most of the things we’re hated for are actually the result of conservative actions.

  6. Actually, I’m surprised that people are shocked at the sorts of things you find on these “forums”.

    We live in a country where racism (and other forms of hatred) are ubiquitous, and the Lakeland area is especially bad (Tampa has only one recognized hate group listed- Lakeland has two in the local area and used to have more!)

    Combine that with the presence of dominionist churches (that seek to overthrow democracy and replace it with a theocracy- in the name of “returning America to it’s ‘Christian roots'”) and the problem is compounded. These churches are well documented for spewing hate in the name of God.

    Research indicates that Letters to the Editor tend to reflect the attitudes of the area (in spite of the polarity of the opinions stated), and I think in a sense this also crosses over to the news blogs. So, yes, you’re going to see a lot of bigotry and hatred. It may be a bit more hidden on “the streets”, but it’s still there. People hide their identity on these blogs and then you’ll see the “real person” behind the mask (although I would argue that they’re only repeating what they’ve been programmed!)

    If anything, I wish that they would take these “blogs” off the home page of the Ledger, and that they would hide the comments to the news in other venues. I get really tired of seeing hatred directed at people who think like I do (Liberals).

    Especially since it can be demonstrated that most of the things we’re hated for are actually the result of conservative actions.

  7. Bob,

    Are you talking about the Ledger’s reporter blogs? Or the Polk Voice blogs?

    I’m interested to know which, because I haven’t seen a political bias reflected in the blogs I’ve seen published. And that surprised me.

    Could you point me to the conservative blogs you’ve seen on the Ledger?

    Thanks.

    PS: I’m not talking about the article comments that are in the far right column, but the two columns of blogs in the left and center columns.

  8. Bob,

    Are you talking about the Ledger’s reporter blogs? Or the Polk Voice blogs?

    I’m interested to know which, because I haven’t seen a political bias reflected in the blogs I’ve seen published. And that surprised me.

    Could you point me to the conservative blogs you’ve seen on the Ledger?

    Thanks.

    PS: I’m not talking about the article comments that are in the far right column, but the two columns of blogs in the left and center columns.

  9. I’ve noted “very conservative” statements at the Ledger home page “blog” section (over time). I’ve noted this problem more in comments to news reports (such as on responses to the TV reports)… that’s what I mean “in blogs”.

    I don’t know exactly what to call responses by people to news reports/comments by pundits, but that is largely where I’ve noted the hate/verbal violence. I think of those as blogs- maybe they aren’t.

    In fact, based upon previous experiences, I’m very surprised that I haven’t gotten hate filled responses to what I’ve said here.

    Some news services have the story followed by all of the comments. I find that very irritating because in many cases, you’ll almost immediately read messages vilifying liberals (sometimes minorities!) Even with the news organization policing the messages, you’ll still encounter some really vicious ones (and that makes me wonder about the ones that ARE deleted!)

    I rarely go to any of the “local blogs”- especially considering the attitudes of this area (I am politically and economically liberal, and I am NOT a fundamentalist). I don’t like “fights” and especially don’t like being attacked (for instance- being told I’m an atheist or going to hell because I’m liberal. The opposite is the truth!) However, I noted your comments about the viciousness on the Lakeland Ledger home page (it caught my eye)- and thought I’d respond as I’ve noted the same thing. Normally I wouldn’t have come back to your blog- based upon past experiences that would have meant subjecting myself to verbal violence, and that I don’t like (I’m really not sure WHY I chose to “come back” here!)

    Also I thought you’d like to know some research on citizen feedback had been done in the past. Much of my own research involves letters to the editor and other forms of public discourse- and the attitudes expressed in those letters.

    What I find isn’t pretty, but triangulates well with other forms of data gathering.

  10. I’ve noted “very conservative” statements at the Ledger home page “blog” section (over time). I’ve noted this problem more in comments to news reports (such as on responses to the TV reports)… that’s what I mean “in blogs”.

    I don’t know exactly what to call responses by people to news reports/comments by pundits, but that is largely where I’ve noted the hate/verbal violence. I think of those as blogs- maybe they aren’t.

    In fact, based upon previous experiences, I’m very surprised that I haven’t gotten hate filled responses to what I’ve said here.

    Some news services have the story followed by all of the comments. I find that very irritating because in many cases, you’ll almost immediately read messages vilifying liberals (sometimes minorities!) Even with the news organization policing the messages, you’ll still encounter some really vicious ones (and that makes me wonder about the ones that ARE deleted!)

    I rarely go to any of the “local blogs”- especially considering the attitudes of this area (I am politically and economically liberal, and I am NOT a fundamentalist). I don’t like “fights” and especially don’t like being attacked (for instance- being told I’m an atheist or going to hell because I’m liberal. The opposite is the truth!) However, I noted your comments about the viciousness on the Lakeland Ledger home page (it caught my eye)- and thought I’d respond as I’ve noted the same thing. Normally I wouldn’t have come back to your blog- based upon past experiences that would have meant subjecting myself to verbal violence, and that I don’t like (I’m really not sure WHY I chose to “come back” here!)

    Also I thought you’d like to know some research on citizen feedback had been done in the past. Much of my own research involves letters to the editor and other forms of public discourse- and the attitudes expressed in those letters.

    What I find isn’t pretty, but triangulates well with other forms of data gathering.

  11. Bob, thanks very much for responding. Let me clarify a couple of things before I discuss your comments.

    • The section you describe is not the section where blogs are featured, but the Ledger’s community forum. Please take a look at those two links. They explain the difference much better than I could.

    • Lakeland Local, this blog, is not owned or operated by The Ledger. That newspaper carries news from this blog and others as a community feature. It is similar to a print edition’s editorial section “Other Viewpoints” or “Online Letters to the Editor.”

    • The comments that you see at the end of Ledger articles are not blogs. They are pseudonymous comments as part of the forum. Though the Ledger does require registration to comment, users are not required to give the same information they would for a letter to the editor. Must use pen names.

    • “In fact, based upon previous experiences, I’m very surprised that I haven’t gotten hate filled responses to what I’ve said here.” — You are currently responding at Lakeland Local, and not the Ledger forum. I simply don’t allow hate speech here. (And, to be fair, I believe the Ledger is working hard to remove those who practice it on their forum.)

    • I appreciate that you took the time to comment and respond. If you take the time to read my archives you’ll notice articles and comments here do not vilify either liberals or conservatives, democrats or republicans, the majority or minority.

    • I am sure the readers here would appreciate any links to any studies, or your experiences writing letters to the local papers. I know I would.

  12. Bob, thanks very much for responding. Let me clarify a couple of things before I discuss your comments.

    • The section you describe is not the section where blogs are featured, but the Ledger’s community forum. Please take a look at those two links. They explain the difference much better than I could.

    • Lakeland Local, this blog, is not owned or operated by The Ledger. That newspaper carries news from this blog and others as a community feature. It is similar to a print edition’s editorial section “Other Viewpoints” or “Online Letters to the Editor.”

    • The comments that you see at the end of Ledger articles are not blogs. They are pseudonymous comments as part of the forum. Though the Ledger does require registration to comment, users are not required to give the same information they would for a letter to the editor. Must use pen names.

    • “In fact, based upon previous experiences, I’m very surprised that I haven’t gotten hate filled responses to what I’ve said here.” — You are currently responding at Lakeland Local, and not the Ledger forum. I simply don’t allow hate speech here. (And, to be fair, I believe the Ledger is working hard to remove those who practice it on their forum.)

    • I appreciate that you took the time to comment and respond. If you take the time to read my archives you’ll notice articles and comments here do not vilify either liberals or conservatives, democrats or republicans, the majority or minority.

    • I am sure the readers here would appreciate any links to any studies, or your experiences writing letters to the local papers. I know I would.

Comments are closed.