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.