Editorial: Where are those online comments?
Readers of summitdaily.com have probably noticed a change made to the website last month: We took away our online commenting function. Offering only a short explanation about “pausing commentary,” it’s left some of our online readers scratching their heads. Why would we take away such a popular feature of our website – one that allowed instant feedback on everything from opinion pieces to news articles?
The short, Facebook answer is “It’s complicated.” The longer explanation is that online comments have been a vexing feature of our website for years. On the one hand, they do provide a wonderful forum for discussion of news and opinion. On the other, they can provide a platform for an awful lot of unsavory and insulting language, both from regular readers and from “trolls” from all over who bounce from site to site commenting on topics of interest to them (and these folks tend to be the nastiest of the nasties). Because our commenting software did not require a “real name” convention, most folks appeared under anonymous screen names – a situation that often facilitated what many might consider to be the polar opposite of civil discourse.
Managing online comments is a hot topic among newspaper editors and in journalism trade publications. We believe they can be a great feature of our websites, but we deplore the lack of civility the anonymity allows. We also recognize that, over the years, we’ve established a double standard for our letters to the editor – which require a verifiable name and address – compared to our online comments.
There are some technical issues as well. This winter, the First Lady visited Vail and our sister paper, the Vail Daily, ran a seemingly innocuous story about Michelle Obama enjoying a rib appetizer at one of the local restaurants. The story got linked to the Drudge Report and other anti-Obama sites, and before long the thousands of comments (many of them racist) crashed our servers. Meanwhile, our Aspen Times newspaper experienced a maddening attack of spam that was clogging the comments section of every story they posted.
So what to do? Again, it’s complicated, but we hope soon to replace our old commenting platform with something that works better, that has better accountability and that promotes an online community willing to discuss issues and not simply hurl bombs. And, we hope, we can find a solution that allows a real-name convention – such as a log-in using a Facebook account.
For now, we ask for patience as we work to implement a solution. In the meantime, as always, we welcome letters to the editor at email@example.com. You will, however, have to use your real name.
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