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An editor's message about those online comments

As pressdemocrat.com has grown, so has your involvement. More of you than ever before are reading stories and blogs, watching the videos, looking at the photo galleries, listing your events in our calendar, placing your classified ads online, browsing for cars or homes, or doing any of a number of other functions.

You also are engaging — some of you, aggressively so — on our message boards.

This month, we're undergoing a transition with the way comments are handled on our Web site. A new system is being installed. And while that is ongoing, I've heard from many of you either decrying the state of our message board feature or decrying that it appears we are curtailing it. We're not taking it away, but we are working to make it a bit more user-friendly, and we're working on making it easier for readers to report offensive posts.

As those of you who have spent time on our message boards have quickly realized, it is no place for the timid. Occasionally, it's no place for the civil-minded, either. It can be a barrage of chatter, ranging from inane to mundane, from odd to offensive. It usually is not boring.

But our message boards have also been a source of contention. We do not moderate comments. That is to say, we do not approve comments in advance. We have neither the staff nor the time to do this, and the majority of the comments are in fact civil and inoffensive. And time spent deleting offensive messages is time not spent newsgathering.

Anonymity encourages people to speak, or write, freely. And that has been a blessing and a curse for not just our Web site but for the Internet in total. Combine that with the immediacy of Internet publishing, and it's an irresistible combination for anyone who feels chatty. One click, and suddenly you're published, weighing in on whatever you want.

Our policy at pressdemocrat.com has been to remove inappropriate posts when they are brought to our attention and to suspend the posting rights of those who abuse this policy. Neither has been a foolproof measure, and we know that many comments that should be deleted aren't and that many people who shouldn't be part of a civil discussion continue to be.

But we do our best, and we trust our new system will help even more.

Here's my question: Wouldn't it be better if people didn't post these remarks in the first place? This isn't about spirited debate, free speech, liberals and conservatives, or censorship — none of those themes have anything to do with some of the trash talk that people engage in on our message boards.

As I remind the people who frequently complain about our forums, the people who post to our discussion boards are not strangers. We can tell where our users come from, and the comments — the good, the bad, and the ugly — come from our neighbors, our co-workers, our colleagues and the people we encounter every day. No mystery there.


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