In moderationWritten by Michael Miller | Editor in Chief Emeritus | firstname.lastname@example.org
The following is an excerpt from a speech delivered Sept. 30 at the University of Toledo Banned Books Vigil.
“From the start, Internet users have taken for granted that the territory was both a free-for-all and a digital disguise, allowing them to revel in their power to address the world while keeping their identities concealed.”
— Richard Pérez-Peña, The New York Times
The following comments were deleted, by me, from www.toledofreepress.com:
- “**** ****** is a disgusting boil that needs lancing over at ***** *******. That guy was in my neighborhood. He parades around as some religious high and mighty yet he is evil to the core.”
- “***** ****** spends the taxpayers’ money like a drunken slut.”
- “Maybe you should get to know your ‘star’ before you publish on him. Consider his 3-year-old son that he would rather not spend time with; instead he smokes pot and falls asleep while his child watches television. Or how about the fact he drives his dead mother’s vehicle, lives in her house and still is not insured or pays the taxes?”
- “To Michael Miller: Your mother ****** my **** last night and she loved it. As my **** was starting to **** I thought about how great it was for Hitler to bake all of those ******* Jews and then put them in the ovens at Auschwitz. This is what should happen to all the ******* that overrun the streets of Toledo.”
First, my mother died in 1996, so at best, this is a case of necrophilia. I’m also unclear on the timeline in which Hitler “baked all of those ******* Jews and then put them in the ovens at Auschwitz.” That seems redundant, and inefficient by repellent Nazi standards.
So, why do we offer a forum for open comments and then selectively censor some of them?
Here is the Toledo Free Press comment policy, as posted on our website:
“We feel that all readers deserve the opportunity to voice their opinions and viewpoints on the stories and subjects we cover.
“While we prefer readers to use their true identities in publishing comments, we do allow anonymous comments as a way to ensure the flow of opinion without fear of potential retribution.
“All comments are moderated, and typically reviewed and acted upon within a few hours of being posted. We expect all those who comment to:
- Focus their opinions and information on the topic(s) addressed in the stories.
- Be civil in their comments; refraining from personal, libelous, vulgar or threatening attacks on any story subjects and other commenters.
- Not blatantly promote their own or another’s products, services or company (such as what’s typically considered “spam” comments).
- Not intentionally represent other individuals or organizations, no matter the tone of the comment.
“Toledo Free Press reserves the right to edit, delete and not approve comments that do not meet the above guidelines or other generally accepted practices for online comments.”
Most of these qualifications are subjective and require the personal judgment of two or three people. For a couple of years, Toledo Free Press was the only print news site that allowed comments on all of its stories. Technically, we still are. The Blade recently began allowing readers to comment, but not on editorial or opinion articles, which are generally the highest-viewed articles. So, again, why open the floodgates and then selectively spear a few errant fish?
It’s not for strictly legal reasons. Web site and blog comments are protected by Section 230 of Title 47 of the United States Code.
According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), “Section 230 (part of the Communication Decency Act of 1996) protects a website host from liability for any action voluntarily taken in good faith to restrict access to or availability of material that the provider or user considers to be obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable, whether or not such material is constitutionally protected. This would include editing or deleting posts considered objectionable, even if those posts would be protected by the First Amendment against government censorship.”
Toledo Free Press has no obligation to allow any comments. We are not infringing upon your rights by deleting your comment any more than we are by not publishing your letter to the editor. And moderating the comment can actually open us up to liability. Since comments actually have to be approved before they are made instead of instantly appearing without moderation, an argument could be made that we “republished” a defamatory or libelous comment. So, your craven anonymity does not protect us if you make some slimy comment that gets through.
And that gets us close to why we take the trouble to allow, moderate and post your comments. From this newspaper’s inception, we made two promises: We will be as transparent as possible and we will not use the newspaper as a tool to unfairly hurt anyone. This sets us up as the exact opposite of the daily model in our market, a topic I’d be happy to discuss at another time.
It also means that while we trust you to contribute, even anonymously, we also know there are those whose only intent is to insult and hurt. We censor them because we promised you this would not be a vehicle to unfairly hurt people, in print, online or in any other configuration. It is subjective, and it is a form of censorship, but not moderating comments would be like leaving open garbage in a locked room for a month; eventually, the stink would be unbearable.
Michael S. Miller is editor in chief of Toledo Free Press and Toledo Free Press Star. Contact him at email@example.com.