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Comments: To Be Or Not To Be?

Published: August 24, 2017

Here we are, well into the era of “advanced” civilization, and we remain unable to resolve differences without physical confrontation or verbal abuse.

Two weeks ago in Charlottesville, Va., white supremacists unleashed hate in words and actions, vehemently opposing the removal of a statue of General Robert E. Lee from a public space, and inciting opposition to violent reaction. Taking advantage of a situation and a political atmosphere that seems to give the nod to those inclined toward hate, a young man with neo-Nazi leanings added horror to that protest scene by ramming his car into a crowd of counterprotesters, resulting in mayhem, injury, and death.

While physical harm is outwardly more damaging than words, verbal confrontation can be powerfully harmful, as well.

We find that recent attitudes expressed online at our website have created a conundrum. The Newtown Bee has elected to invite discussion on stories posted there. Thoughtfully presented and crafted in a manner that does not incite or harm, but rather give light to another opinion, words can be the foundation for change that is for the betterment of society. We always hope for comments that are insightful, curious, and provoking on an intellectual level. Comments can lead to new stories, or lead us to deeper investigation of a matter.

There are those whose names are familiar in the comments section. Considering the thousands of readers on our website, though, it is a small number who comment. We wonder, is this truly a means of engaging conversation?

Nor are all who comment on our website stories looking to be productive or informative. There are those who use it as a place to anonymously attack others of opposing views; and there are those people far from Newtown who latch onto a story, spreading misinformation in a most hateful manner. One negative comment leads to a thread of vitriol, and a back and forth between characters who may or may not have any connection to our town; whose only purpose serves to stir anger, renew trauma, and create an atmosphere of negativity. It is distressing for our readers as well as our staff when conversation veers into angry rhetoric.

Options that would use artificial intelligence to weed out unacceptable comments before they are posted are looming in the future, but for now, we must rely on our human resources. Moderating comments is time-consuming to sort legitimate discourse from what is unacceptable.

Many news sites have opted to disallow commenting on stories online, or have limited the number of stories on which readers can comment .

How valuable do you, our readers, find commenting on  our online stories to be? Are we a platform for negative and/or hurtful comments, or are we providing a welcoming space for diverse opinions? Do we follow suit of other news media websites, and shut down comments for our website altogether?

Do we leave it to social media to host these comments?

Let us know. You can send your thoughts to editor@thebee.com.

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