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Forsyth County News

 

In the increasingly interactive world of online media, it has become routine for some news outlets to offer online readers an opportunity to comment on the stories they read.

The commenting option is intended to provide those in the online audience a chance to express an opinion on what they have just read, allowing for instant feedback on either the subject matter or the media outlet’s handling of the story. In theory it’s a good idea. In practice, it’s a mess.

Visit stories on many of the big online news and entertainment content aggregators and you’ll see comments from readers that run the gamut from articulate and informed to embarrassingly profane and insane.

You can also expect to see more than a few spam posts offering to sell you something, along with  links to Web sites you really don’t want to visit.

Such sites have created an atmosphere in which those who comment, usually anonymously or under the guise of fictitious screen names, can say anything they want, without fear of repercussion or rebuke by those responsible for hosting the comments.

Think about the meanest bully in the fifth grade, and what he would have said to and about others if there had never been any chance of him being caught by anyone. That’s typical of many online commenters, which is unfortunate because there are others with very intelligent things to say.

The result is a very uncivil online world in which the profane is intermingled with the profound, and personal attacks, character assassination and vile accusations of all sorts seem to be the gold standard. Sadly, those traits seem to be increasingly common in life outside the cyber world as well.

Under the cloak of anonymity, people write things they would never say in person, and take perverse pleasure in doing so.

That isn’t the environment we want to create on forsythnews.com, nor is it one we feel obligated to accept.

The Forsyth County News has spent more than a century building reputation and credibility. We don’t believe that an electronic online free-for-all in the commenting section of every story fits with our established standards for news reporting.

We allow commenting on some of our stories. On occasion, we take down comments we feel are inappropriate. On some stories, we do not allow commenting at all.

Experience has shown that there are certain stories that bring out the worst in the online audience and guarantee the posting of comments that sink to the level of unacceptable. That is why we sometimes choose not to allow commenting on a story.

In a perfect world that would not be the case. In a perfect world, each comment would address the issues raised by a story in a civil manner, no comment would skirt the edges of legal libel, racial prejudice or sexual preference, no one would ignore story content in favor of personal character attacks, no one would hide behind anonymity to repeat unfounded gossip and rumors, and no one would use one story to offer comments on a totally different topic.

But the reality is nothing about the online world is perfect.

The owner of every online web address has the option to decide what they will allow to be posted to that address. At the Forsyth County News, we want as much interaction with our readers as is possible, within the bounds of civil discourse and rational conversation. But we aren’t going to play host to a forum that allows an anonymous blitzkrieg of personal attacks, innuendo, unproven allegations, criminal accusations and libel.

For all the potential that interactive commenting has as part of the online media scene, the sad reality is this: some of the more credible newspapers that once offered commenting on stories have abandoned the concept all together, and many of those that still offer the option do so under strict standards and guidelines to control behavior of the online audience.

If you want to post comments on Web sites where anything goes without question, there are thousands of options available for doing so. Forsythnews.com is not one of them. We think our readers and our community expect and deserve something better.

Norman Baggs is general manager of the Forsyth County News.