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Anonymous Comments, Personal Attacks and Common Decency

People are encouraged to think before they post.

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.

If you see an offensive comment, please send me an e-mail at paul.singley@patch.com describing why you believe it's offensive.

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. 

Tired38 March 07, 2011 at 11:10 AM
Well said as usual Paul!
Rich Gee March 07, 2011 at 12:07 PM
BRAVO Paul! This is why I read the Oxford Patch every day. Keep up the GREAT work.
Ed Hardy March 07, 2011 at 01:23 PM
While I prefer to identify myself when I have an opinion, I believe that you are correct in allowing anonymous postings. This has been a practice in America since colonial times. Some of our greatest leaders , such as Alexander Hamilton and Benjamin Franklin, used this as a means of getting information or preferences out to the general public. Good work!
Donna Popowski March 07, 2011 at 01:44 PM
Paul, I appreciate you writing this article it’s very well written and very much (sorry to say) needed.
Christine March 07, 2011 at 03:29 PM
I understand our First Ammendment right protects freedom of speech, and people may desire to comment anonymously, particularly if they know they are being offensive, but I think that Patch should not allow anonymous comments. Allowing anonymous comments allow people to say things they normally may not, and may deter the paper's journalists from expressing any emotion behind the articles they write, which, to me (to and extent), is what makes articles worth reading, as opposed to straight facts. By allowing anonymous comments, I really do not see what sets Patch appart from, say, YouTube, a website where, if you ever scroll down and read some of the comments, you will be entertained and appalled by the offensiveness of people's comments, which string into conversations and arguing. I think not allowing anonymous comments would put Patch on a more respective and professional level than sites such as YouTube.
Janis Hardy March 07, 2011 at 04:35 PM
I firmly believe that more people chose to remain anonymous to protect their privacy, their jobs or their families from potential retaliation, rather than to use that ability to be deliberately offensive. If people were denied the opportunity to post anonymously, they would be denied their right to speak out on issues of concern to them in a more open manner than if they had to identify themselves. People can post what they really think, not what may be considered 'politically correct speach'. Thus, very useful information can be gathered about the 'real' opinions floating around town. Paul is absolutely correct about the maner of expressing those views, and if we all agree to follow his guidelines, we can continue to enjoy the ability to have an open forum on matters of personal concern.
Craig Zac March 07, 2011 at 06:16 PM
Anonymous posting DOES lead to people posting the most rediculas things. Ever take a look at the Yahoo News board? they actually had to stop allowing posting, now they only have it on for certain stories. But it was really bad, and most of it is bored kids, Adults who havent grown up yet, and people who think they are being funny. posting rude remarks on a story about a little kid being kidnapped does nothing but show everyone how stupid humans can be. There is no comedy in that. Anonymous posting just leads to problems. I have found that making people either use their real names or showing thier IP or email address next to their name does cut out alot of stupid comments.
Ed Rowland March 07, 2011 at 11:33 PM
May this be the era of respect and civility in Oxford politics
Bette March 08, 2011 at 01:40 AM
Ed. That would be a welcomed change.
Ed Rowland March 08, 2011 at 01:55 AM
It does not take much effort to be respectful and decent to people.It would be nice to have a political season in Oxford with all the candidates for all offices to be civil and respectful to one another.Sticking to the issues rather than the personal attacks.This election season will be interesting .So many things to think about with respect to those seeking office.
Janis Hardy March 08, 2011 at 12:53 PM
Ed, I agree whole-heartedly! National polling indicates the vast majority of voters (of all kinds) want the same thing: civility and an honest debate on the issues. The problem, and the sorry fact is, just as many national polls indicate that negative campaigning works. So why is it that we all want the one thing, yet allow ourselves to be influenced by the other? I was the victim of name-calling negative campaigning while I conducted a non-negative issue-oriented campaign and many of us remember how that went: we got APIII by 8 votes!
kathy johnson November 16, 2011 at 07:49 PM
Yes Janis and the third OHS vote was defeated by 7 votes giving APIII a chance to have his name on the OHS plaque. Playing on peoples fears and negative campaigning does indeed work. But as we have seen in this last election sooner or later the voter gets fed up. You should have been elected to the P&Z. You were a victim of nasty politics being pushed to the extreme. I feel that those on the Patch should use their own names. After all you have to sign your name when you send a letter to the editor. I appreciate what Paul has accomplished with this blog. and I will continue to post with my real name because I personally will not respect an opinion made by an anonymous person. By the way if read about Ben Franklin and others they often made up news stories to sway public opinion. Read the book All The News Unfit to Print by Eric Burns. Its an eye opener.
kathy johnson November 16, 2011 at 07:51 PM
By the way I know this is an old posting but better late than never.
Robert Williams January 08, 2012 at 03:52 PM
Paul, thanks for re-posting this, great article and I think everyone should read this before posting, although I doubt it will do much good. There will always be those that can only feel good when they are bringing others down. I also agree that just because a post is anonymous, does not make it any less valid. There are dozens of valid reasons people want to and should remain anonymous.
Peggy Freeman March 19, 2012 at 10:47 PM
I find it interesting that people would not use real names. Also fear of retribution from a school (or any other entity) should never ever happen though unfortunately it does. What does that say about us as individuals? Speak your opinion as is your right, yet use your name, as that is respect and speaks to your character.

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