Rogue posters, beware

Published 9:28 am Saturday, January 16, 2010

One of the most popular features of our newspaper is our online forums, which allow readers to comment anonymously on news stories that we’ve published.

One of the most complained about features of our newspaper is our online forums, which allow readers to comment anonymously on news stories that we’ve published.

A publisher’s conundrum is to protect the former while forcefully addressing the latter.

The last resort will be to tell the 3,000-plus registered users of — some thousand of whom post regularly — that the forums are being shut down, though I’m not beyond doing it.

At their best, the forums are a marketplace of ideas where readers interact in a lively but respectful debate about the pressing issues of the day. At their worst, the forums degenerate into a cesspool of juvenile name-calling with all the maturity of a third-grade classroom.

The forums were designed to be self-policing. A “Suggest removal” option on each post gives readers the opportunity to alert site management when a post has crossed the boundaries spelled out in our terms of use for registered users.

Many readers “Suggest removal” of opinions different from their own. That’s not the purpose. When the “Suggest removal” feature is used legitimately on occasion and comments are removed by our staff, offending posters too often don’t take the hint. They simply return to the site and post more garbage.

Because our staff doesn’t have the time to review each post individually, our new strategy will be to simply ban those users who violate the rules.

For those who didn’t read the terms of use when registering or who have forgotten them, here are the relevant parts:

By using this Web site’s user-contribution features, including comments, photo galleries, or any other feature, you agree to abide by the terms of this agreement.

Please read this agreement in its entirety because it contains useful information that will help you better understand the rules and general “good manners” that are expected when contributing content to this Web site.

We want to encourage an open exchange of information and ideas. But if you use inappropriate language (even when typographically obfuscated), or make potentially slanderous or libelous comments when using this site and its features, or engage in ad hominem attacks on fellow commenters, people mentioned in stories or any employee of the newspaper, we reserve the right (but assume no obligation) to remove any and/or all of your contributions. If you become a problem for us or our site’s other users we may ban you from using our services and Web sites.

We believe it is absolutely possible for people from a variety of points of view to discuss issues in a civil manner and will remove comments that foster incivility.

It is important to know that we DO NOT review every contribution made on this Web site. More than likely, you will see user contributions before anyone on staff here does. This may include information and opinions from a variety of individuals and organizations other than official content from this Web site and its staff.

We do not endorse or guarantee the accuracy of any user contribution, regardless of whether it comes from a user, celebrity, “expert,” or other source.

Responsibility for what is posted or contributed to this site is the sole responsibility of each user. By contributing to this Web site, you agree not to post any defamatory, abusive, harassing, obscene, sexual, threatening or illegal material, or any other material that infringes on the ability of others to enjoy this site, or that infringes on the rights of others.

Flagrant violators of these terms will be banned immediately. No warnings. No questions asked.

A banned user is welcome to call or e-mail me to discuss why. On rare occasions, privileges will be restored, if it is determined that the newspaper wrongly banned a user or if the user convinces me that he will play by the rules going forward.

To the hundreds of posters who use the forums correctly, we at the newspaper pledge to do our best to keep them open. To the relatively small number of posters who abuse the privilege, our patience is running thin.