Censorship? We don't do that

Mail Tribune Editor Cathy Noah asked for your thoughts on the comments we now allow on our website, but which generate far more work than seems warranted given the number of people who post them. Responses have streamed in, by email and in comments on mailtribune.com and on the Mail Tribune's Facebook page.

The problem is a few very vocal and frankly nasty commenters who seem more interested in picking fights with each other and hurling abuse than in discussing the issues of the day in a civil fashion. We asked for your feedback on whether we should end comments entirely.

The response has been mixed. Some say they don't read the comments and don't see much value in them; some say keep them, but require commenters to identify themselves rather than hiding behind anonymous screen names.

Then there are those who, predictably, accuse us of censoring views we don't agree with or being afraid to have our "facts checked."

We have no problem with people who disagree with us or want to criticize our editorial stances or our news coverage. That comes with the territory. If we make a factual error, we want to know about it so we can correct it.

Allowing comments online is about providing a public forum where people feel comfortable exchanging views without being attacked. Here's what it's not about:

It's not about censorship. The First Amendment ("Congress shall make no law ...") gives us the right to publish what we wish without the government telling us we can't. It gives individuals the right to express their views free of government interference. It doesn't give anyone the right to have those views published in our newspaper or on our website.

It's not about point of view, despite the claims of some commenters that we seek to silence those with whom we disagree. The question we are asking is whether to end all comments, not to pick and choose.

If online comments were disabled, readers could still submit letters to the editor, as always. Letter writers do have to follow the rules, which include using their real name, adhering to length limits because space in the print edition is limited, and refraining from personal attacks on other writers.

Many readers urged us to continue the comments but review them all to prevent uncivil or threatening posts. We simply don't have the staff time to do that and still produce a newspaper every day.

We haven't made a final decision yet; we're checking on what technical tools may be available to identify users and more effectively block those who refuse to follow the rules. Stay tuned.

— Reach Editorial Page Editor Gary Nelson at gnelson@rosebudmedia.com.

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