Some readers have a problem communicating in the Sun-Star.
"You're an idiot!"
"Oh yeah? Your mother wears combat boots!"
No, I didn't find these exact words posted to online stories or blogs, but there are plenty of other examples of inappropriate language.
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Trolls are lurking everywhere, on blogs, online stories and for- ums. These trolls are not creatures living under a bridge, but maybe they should be.
The trolls I'm talking about are defined by the online Free Dictionary as "a person who posts deliberately inflammatory messages on an Internet discussion board."
Readers can communicate with other readers and the paper in several ways: a) Traditional letters to the editor; b) Posting comments to online stories; c) Posting comments to online blogs; or d) Posting comments to the unique special forum for readers -- the "Sun Spot Forum."
There are different guidelines for reader input. Letters to the editor are straightforward, with a few simple rules;
1) You must identify yourself with a name, address and valid phone number. The editors will call the supplied number to make sure it's valid.
2) The editors decide which letters will be printed based upon local interest and relevance.
3) All letters will be edited for grammar, spelling, length and taste. Letters under 200 words in length are preferred.
4) Submitters will not be notified when their letters are not selected for print.
Several readers have alleged that editors have significantly changed their letters, but so far I've found that's not the case.
I'll keep watching.
Guidelines for posting comments online are quite different. Unlike letters to the editor, you don't need to identify yourself or supply a valid telephone number. You can remain anonymous.
Many think anonymity causes problems in that it allows users to post without accountability.
"d. Members shall not use any portion of mercedsunstar.com for uploading, posting, e-mailing, transmitting or otherwise making available Member Content that is harmful to minors in any way, harassing, harmful, threatening, abusive, vulgar, obscene, defamatory, libelous, hateful or racially, ethnically or otherwise objectionable."
Instead of that legal mumbo jumbo, I like the way The Sacramento Bee, another McClatchy paper, states it:
"Here are some rules of the road:
Keep your comments civil. Don't insult one another or the subjects of our articles. If you think a comment violates our guidelines click the "report abuse" button to notify the moderators. Responding to the comment will only encourage bad behavior.
Don't use profanities, vulgarities or hate speech. This is a general interest news site. Sometimes, there are children present. Don't say anything in a way you wouldn't want your own child to hear.
Do not attack other users; focus your comments on issues, not individuals.
Stay on topic. Only post comments relevant to the article at hand. If you want to discuss an issue with a specific user, click on his profile name and send him a direct message.
Do not copy and paste outside material into the comment box.
Don't repeat the same comment over and over. We heard you the first time.
Do not use the commenting system for advertising. That's spam and it isn't allowed.
Don't use all capital letters. That's akin to yelling and not appreciated by the audience."
Trolls have taken over the online Sun-Star. Posted comments are too often out of bounds. That's why comments are not allowed on some stories at all.
All other stories have a three-day comment period. After that comments are turned off. Unfortunately, the comments posted up to that point are also removed.
They Sun-Star has little choice. While some papers have a staff of moderators who review posts before they're published, the Sun-Star and most papers allow users to post directly. When a user clicks "submit," it's published.
Moderated posts have the advantage of making it easier to keep a civil tone -- but at a cost. Obviously, you need moderators. There's also a delay in posting while the posts are being reviewed. Many papers have postings only during certain hours and limit of the number of posts on a story.
Finally, if posts are edited, courts have ruled that the papers are responsible for their content.
On the other hand, if readers post directly, the paper is not liable until someone notifies them of inappropriate content.
Some readers have cried "censorship!" I think not. The Sun-Star is merely protecting itself and us from a few bad apples.
Maybe someday we'll clean up our act and be able to have responsible civil discourse.
I hope that day comes soon.
In the meantime, I've identified one particular reader whose keyboard spews filth at every opportunity. I'm suggesting he or she be permanently banned.
And by the way, my mom doesn't wear combat boots.
Tom Frazier writes Sun Dog and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.