At Large: A new year in the Comment community

At Large: A new year in the Comment community

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We continue to fine-tune the Comment feature on mvtimes.com. As I’ve written before in this space, we like the feature, and we think it is useful for commenters and non-commenting visitors. But, we also look for steady improvement in the quality and variety of contributions. Recently, there’s been some bad behavior that has occasioned lots of deletions and a few excommunications. To avoid these going forward, I am going to expand on some of the terms of our comment policy.

The rules:“The Times invites comments on news, editorials, features, and other information posted on its site. Comments are not screened before publication. The Times welcomes constructive debate, but not personal attacks on other commenters. Comments that we regard as obscene, defamatory, vulgar, repetitive, intended to incite violence, or unreasonably long will be removed.

“If you find a comment offensive, you may flag it. Repeat offenses may result in removal of posts and revocation of posting privileges.

“Please do not post comments that are commercial in nature or that violate any copyrights.

“Except for brief excerpts from quoted material, comments must be wholly the work of the site visitor.

“MV Times staff members, full- and part-time, as well as regular columnists on the Editorial pages must use their own full names when they post comments.”

On the attack

Note that the terms outlaw personal attacks on other commenters. I find that these occur in two ways, both equally nasty. Some commenters don’t write as well as others. Their grammar is not perfect, neither is the spelling and punctuation. When these participants want to criticize another commenter, they write “You’re an idiot” or “You’re a fool” or something altogether vulgar. Such comments will not be tolerated. Other commenters, just as hateful but more literate, use disdain and condescension to do the trick. Each tactic is an attack, and neither is welcome.

Going beyond

Implicating others, expanding on The Times’ published report with speculation or allegations that were not part of the article as published are out of bounds. You cannot post comments that make defamatory, unfounded allegations, or speculations about the subjects of published articles or — even more egregious — about people not even mentioned in published reports. The newspaper tries very hard to publish only what it knows and can support with careful, documented reporting. We try to speak with all the legitimate parties to the story. We try to let the readers draw their own conclusions after reading. We try to consider the information we have against the importance of the story to our community and readers. You may know something we don’t know, but we publish only what we’ve satisfied ourselves that we know. That’s what is available for comment.

Once is enough

We don’t want repetitive posts. Make your observation, reply to another post if you like, but once you’ve had your say, let go. I have to read these things: don’t bore me.

Nobody cares

I’ve had it with the washashore versus longtime or native Islander debate. The labels are meaningless, add nothing to the debate, and never constitute a valuable observation.

Likewise, calling commenters liberals or conservatives. It’s tiresome, contributes nothing to an online discussion and raises questions about the good sense and good faith of the commenter.

Who art thou?

Similarly, the occasional debate over whether anonymous comments ought to be tolerated is pointless. Anonymous postings are welcome. Postings that violate the standards are not, whether you name yourself or don’t

You’re out

If a commenter’s behavior doesn’t meet the standard, he or she may be blacklisted. Is it permanent? It’s a case-by-case decision. Sometimes the commenter’s remarks are so far out of bounds that the judgment of the participant is in question. Exclusion in such cases may be permanent. Despite the occasional view that the Comment feature is merely a device for nurturing visitorship to mvtimes.com, we know there are other forums for some kinds of comment posts, and we invite commenters unhappy with our standards to use them. For most others, I’m easy to reach, and a conversation in which we agree to abide by the terms of service going forward is enough to effect reinstatement. For me, it’s the desirable outcome.

What interests us

We publish stories that interest us, that we think may interest you, that we think are important to the way our community, its government, its economy, and its people behave. Sometimes, the stories may simply be about things that surprise us, for example the story about the new Edgartown welcome sign that ignited commenters on all sides of something we hadn’t thought was an issue.

The stories we publish may be the stories that you want us to tell, or they may not be. They may be stories you wish we hadn’t told. You may suggest that we tell a certain story or look into a certain issue or at a certain public figure. We may do so. Or not.

When we don’t publish something you wish we had, or don’t take the line you wish we had taken, some of you are quick to decide and to announce, as provocatively as you can, that it’s because The Times and its leadership are friends with the newsmaker, we’re beholden to an advertiser, we’ve been threatened with lawsuits, we’re cowards, we miss the big stories, etc., etc. Utter nonsense, except the part about missing some stories. There are thousands of you, only a few of us. Sometimes we do miss stories.