Some comments on commenting ... our guidelines are evolving
08/21/2013 • Gary King, editor
Responses to our online stories are often insightful, informative, entertaining and downright inspiring. People show genuine compassion for those suffering the greatest of losses, even if it only amounts to a “God bless the family.”
Then there are the contributions of the minority, some of which could be considered a bit petty, oftentimes even rude and disrespectful.
Although we are not legally responsible for third-party comments on our Facebook page or website, we’re always looking for ways to strengthen our vigilance in allowing a free forum with little censorship while at the same time protecting innocent bystanders from being hurt. It’s a work that’s still in progress, with our paper edition and the social media connection we established a few years ago … namely Facebook.
“It’s censorship,” one local resident posted on our Facebook site after we recently began posting notices that the site was being monitored and that speculation, finger-pointing or accusatory remarks would be taken down from the site.
After the third story in two years involving the disappearance and death of a child, it was obvious that the parents in each case deserved to be defended from speculative comments. Some forum participants came to the defense of the parents in each of those cases, but somehow that only served to fuel more comments that insinuated some level of guilt or ineptness.
It was argued the comments regarding the first such case were less monitored that the most recent.
Stories which involve investigations by law enforcement invite speculation. As a society, we love to judge, and court cases allow us to play detectives and armchair prosecutors, sometimes with little honor to the creed “innocent until proven guilty.”
Whether or not there should be any comment allowed on our stories covering such events is questionable.
Criticisms of law enforcement, whether it be the local sheriff’s departments or police departments, is something we allow, short of personal attacks on specific individuals. Public officials know, after all, that public scrutiny is part of their job - and rightfully so.
Our decision to establish a Facebook site a few years ago sometimes strikes us as somewhat of a mystery but it seemed like a good idea at the time: utilize social media to drive traffic to our website. It seemed logical.
Today the Leader has as many Facebook followers as subscribers to its traditional paper-and-ink version. One story can be read by more than 13,000 “unique visitors" in one day after being posted on Facebook, and for a small weekly newspaper in a two-county region with a total population of 50,000, that seems too easy.
After all, we work hard to attract and maintain the 4,000 to 5,000 subscribers to our “real newspaper.”
With our growing electronic presence, we ask for some patience while we figure out how to moderate 24/7 public feedback with limited resources, unlike big city media outlets which can hire professional organizations that specialize in such work.
We love stimulating online conversations and will continue to resist censoring, realizing that allowing our readers to voice their opinions outweighs, most times, the need to moderate the discussion.
But we want to carry our newspaper policy of no vulgarity, hate speech, threats, harassment, sexually explicit content or suggestions of criminal acts, to our websites.
Remember, people are innocent until proven guilty - use the word “allegedly” and stay relevant to the topic.
In the meantime, we extend our gratitude to those of you who visit our sites, read our stories and weigh in, in a respectful manner - and for any patience you can afford us while our guidelines for online posting evolve.