Comments, etc.

The Northfield News will implement its new policy on anonymous comments on Monday, July 12.   There’s been an active discussion by non-anonymous commenters over on Locally Grown about this issue.

Here’s the e-mail I received as a registered member of northfieldnews.com

Effective Monday, July 12, only those who identify themselves by name will be authorized to automatically post comments to the newspaper’s website. Readers who wish to post anonymously will submit comments to a pending queue, where they will be reviewed for approval.

Members who receive automatic posting credentials will be identified by the same user name now in place, but readers will be able to click on the user name to identify the author. No other information will be visible…To continue posting anonymously, you do not need to do anything. At approximately, 10:00 p.m. Sunday, July 11, anonymous comments will fall into a pending queue, where they will be reviewed for approval. Comments will be approved or rejected within 24 hours of their submission.

Only those anonymous comments that contribute to the conversation in a thoughtful, respectful, civil manner will be approved. The decision to approve or reject a comment is admittedly a subjective one and establishing firm, comprehensive standards is difficult. But those who identify themselves will be given broader boundaries to express their opinion. Authors of rejected comments will receive an email response.

I’m somewhat curious about how this will change comments received by the News, but I’m a 1st Amendment hard-liner and while the News isn’t the government acting to limit speech (remember, the 1st Amendment is a limitation on government),  I still think the best general rule is more speech – and especially more counter-speech in response to whatever one considers “bad” speech rather than attempting to silence the speakers.

As an elected official, I chose to put myself in the line of fire – not always fun, but I volunteered for the job and try to use attacks to learn how my actions are perceived by at least one person.  The interesting thing I learned back on the Planning Commission which continues now I’m on the Council is that when one person or group is slinging mud at me, I often receive fan mail on the same issue from others.

The internet and its various means for expressing oneself do make it easier to insult, attack, and criticize others from the privacy of one’s own computer.  Of course, it’s equally easy to praise and celebrate.  It’s especially easy to indulge kneejerk reactions and instant self-expression rather than plan thoughtful, considered, edited responses.    But if deliberate, well-reasoned debate is what we want, I don’t think censoring anonymous comments is likely to do much good.

High-quality discussion takes time, knowledge, education, manners, and self-restraint.    Think about it.

One Reply to “Comments, etc.”

  1. Responding to your city council dilemma is another reason that I strongly support the Open Meeting Law to include all committees of city government. If citizens don’t know the process, by which a decision is arrived at, they have reason to question that decision even if it is only a recommendation to council. At that point, the council vote becomes questionable because the reasoning forming that decision is absent.

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