Since Oxford Patch launched on Nov. 16, we have had very good readership numbers and a ton of comments about stories.
Many of the comments have been positive and have led to further story ideas, some of which have had a positive influence on the lives of Oxford residents. This is great, and for it, I thank you.
However, some people have used the comments field as a soap box through which they attempt to disparage and embarrass others. And most of those comments are posted anonymously.
Some people have complained that we allow anonymous posts, a policy that has made some people threaten to stop reading Patch.
While this is disappointing, I never noticed how much the anonymous comments turn people off until a couple weeks ago when I interviewed someone for a positive news story. The person told me she was reluctant to speak to us because of negative comments made about certain stories. (Note: The woman's story was posted and no negative comments have been made.)
The woman pointed out that part of her reluctance came from a story we wrote about the Oxford High School cheerleading team going to the national championship. Someone posted an anonymous comment in which he or she made derogatory remarks about the girls. I did not see the comment because it was deleted before I could look at it.
This was rare because in most cases, comments are made about politicians. They are elected officials and some may argue they are subject to some level of scrutiny. However, when someone starts picking on high school students who are doing good, that is totally unacceptable and the writer should be ashamed. While there were more than 60 positive comments about the girls, unfortunately, as is often the case, the negative one was what stood out.
Help Monitor Comments
Just because we do not require a full name to post a comment, it doesn't give people a license to be rude to others.
This doesn't mean I don't see valid reasons why someone would want to post anonymously. For example, a woman who has a problem with her child's school might want to post about it to let others know what is happening without fear of repercussion.
As Monroe Patch editor Bill Bittar points out, Patch originally had a policy against anonymous posting, but we've been told it has become impossible to enforce as the company has grown at lightning speed over the past year. Absent a mechanism to force people to use their real names, all a Patch editor can do is delete offensive comments and/or suspend chronic offenders, Bittar says. (Please note that most, if not all, of the news outlets that cover Oxford allow people to comment on stories, and none of them require full names. Also, people tend to notice our comments more than they do on other sites because ours show up on the home page.)
I would much prefer if it were not necessary to monitor comments as doing so takes up far more time than I'd like. And sometimes it is impossible for me to delete an offensive comment before others see it. This is where you can help.
So, what is offensive?
The following is how Bill Bittar has described it on his site, and I agree wholeheartedly. Rather than reinventing the wheel, I figured I'd shamelessly "borrow" it from Bill, who says:
Simply disagreeing with someone or having a viewpoint that you think is silly does not necessarily make the comment offensive.
By all means, feel free to attack an idea without mercy.
However, personal attacks, hitting someone with a barrage of names and insults, can lead to a post being deleted. Curse words are also an obvious abuse.
As I indicated before, there is more leeway with public officials than with the general public - within reason. In other words, it cannot be libelous.
None of us want to be Big Brother, and we don't expect everyone to hold hands and sing kumbaya, especially in a town with such storied political feuds like we have in Oxford. So it usually takes something blatantly obvious for me to step in.
As long as people use common sense, and a bit of common decency, we should be all right.