After “bullying” Adk Enterprise scales back public comment section

The Adirondack Daily Enterprise is radically curtailing options on its website for public comment and feedback.  The newspaper’s editorial team lays out some serious concerns about on-line dialogues and their limitations:

The intention was good, but some of the comments were really bad and have been getting worse in some ways.

Unlike letters to the editor that are signed by the author, the anonymous comments on the Web let people spew their verbal vomit without accountability.

We noticed the dull, negative clouds of comments were dividing our communities more than enlightening them.

These people, if they met on the street after a town board meeting, would underscore their debate with some degree of understanding. But with their identities veiled online, they bickered and bullied shamefully.

The newspaper hasn’t ended comments completely.  According to the editorial board, on-line feedback will still be welcomed “editorials, columns, polls, forums and blogs.”

It seems to me the Enterprise is wrestling with reasonable concerns.

We here at NCPR have worked hard to foster good on-line discussions and we are, generally speaking, satisfied with the culture and tone of our discussions.

But it’s worthy of a fresh discussion.  What do all of you think about the on-line discussions, on the In Box and in the news story sections of

Do you find the conversations informative, thought-provoking and productive?  Do you ever feel bullied or shouted down?  Any ideas about how we can do this better?

Meanwhile, on a lighter note, I’ll offer this video just to illustrate just how hard-wired debate is in our beautiful, human psyches.


26 Comments on “After “bullying” Adk Enterprise scales back public comment section”

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  1. myown says:

    Cute video. But it reminds me of political pundits on the typical talk show – which is why I don’t watch them anymore. In my opinion things here are usually pretty civil, interesting and informative.

  2. dave says:

    Anonymous posting, reputation systems, echo chambers, cliques, bullying…

    These are issues that online communities have been grappling with for a long… long… time now.

    There are even books written about the subject. Sunstein has written some fascinating books that speak to all of this, if anyone is really interested in geeking out.

    In my experience, there is an almost predictable cycle to this (especially to the first few phases) and only so many potential outcomes… yet I still find it interesting to watch as “new comers” to the medium – such as small newspapers that are just beginning to really utilize the web – grapple with and respond to these old issues.

    Personally, I think The In Box, and the NCPR site, are doing a good job of fostering an online community.

    Overall, thumbs up from me.

    PS: Speaking of thumbs up… very basic reputation systems (like your new thumbs up/down system) almost always cause angst among a portion of users. And ultimately, they rarely end up doing what it was they were originally intended to do. Such as becoming a means for one side to “out point” the other, instead of being a nice way to quickly say “thank you”, or the like. Expect to continue to hear complaints about this one.

  3. Bret4207 says:

    Not having seen the stuff in the Adk Enterprise I sort of wonder just what the problem was. Was it nasty stuff or just “spirited debate”? The big push here a few weeks back was for everyone to talk nice and be respectful. That lasted about 3 days.

  4. Paul says:

    These discussions are usually pretty civil. Bret, you missed a show at the ADE! The comments were mostly ridiculous. If you have ever listened to “the talk of the town” on WNBZ, the ADE comments were like a no holes barred version of that radio program. The personal attacks were mean, but I will miss some of the other just colorful stuff. The problem was that almost never were comments coming from the smart people in Saranac Lake, and there are a lot of smart people in that area. For some reason the “school yard” of the comments section at the ADE was dominated by the bullies, and everyone else just sat off to the side where it was safer.

  5. dave says:

    Unless you are referring to something else… the big push here was to isolate and eliminate extremist and violent rhetoric. It came in the wake of the Gifford’s tragedy.

    The title of Brian’s post was, “Is there another way to ask for less violent rhetoric?” –

    It was not about talking nice. Although some people, not surprisingly those most prone to extreme rhetoric, did seem to take offense to the suggestion and created the straw man you mention.

  6. Jon bouman says:

    “The test of democracy is freedom of criticism”

  7. phahn50 says:

    I for one am going to miss those ADE forums. (although they were capable of being pretty nasty and personal.) For example, in the great WalMart debate that reverberated for years and still goes on, I think I finally understood why all those people who want a WalMart really want one. Same thing with the ACR. I drive through Tupper Lake frequently, and you can easily see why the business community there was in favor of the development, but the passion came out in the forum. I will admit it wasnt very nice to read though. The worst was all the anti-teacher stuff. I still dont really get that. Peter Hahn

  8. jillvaughan says:

    Love the inbox- feel like I can predict what this one or that ones gong to say. I can’t imagine how Bret has the guts to keep posting. i like the like/dislike function- allows for an easy affirmation if I like something. I did, however, complain about the function that collapsed the comments if there were way more silikes than likes- seemed a perfect way to stifle dissent. They assure me that it’s changed now, and comments will remain readable even if people dislike them.

    I don’t feel bullied because I don’t post much. I am rarely surprised by the comments, but every now and again I’m amazed by an out-of the box perspective.

  9. Mayflower says:

    The blog on my hometown paper features absolutely horrendous name-calling and bigotry, pretty much a handful of posters who egg one another on. Dreadful and absolutely unproductive.

    For some reason, I can’t stop myself from reading it. I wish the paper would shut it down and save me from myself. Helphelp.

  10. Bret4207 says:

    Dave, no straw man involved. Everyone was all afire to silence “violent rhetoric” which meant pretty much anything said by someone on the right that they disagreed with. Within days things were right back to normal with the lefties here going overboard. Shades of Chucky Schumer.

  11. Pete Klein says:

    Old saying: If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen.
    I think things are mostly mild and reasonable.
    Bullying has become the “next big thing” but is the same old thing with a digital twist.
    On the digital front, the problem to me is the attacks are often anonymous. The masks should come off. This should include all forms of reporting. I just have never been one to accept the idea of “unnamed sources.”

  12. PNElba says:

    Oh that mean “Chucky Schumer”. Imagine actually suggesting the Sen. Boehner is boxed in by the Tea Party.

  13. John says:

    This is a shame. There have been excellent discussions, and sound dialog. Many of the issues are contentious and divisive, and it seems that some of the bloggers resort to name calling and misinformation when their views are rejected.

    Inertia is building and there needs to be a reasonable outlet for public discussion. I think judicious moderating would be a better answer. For instance, in recent public comments about the TNC logging fiasco, one of the bloggers resorted to name calling right out of the gate, which was completely uncalled for, and turned a serious discussion into idiotic rambling. A moderator or administrator could have handled that quite easily.

    Now more than ever the general public of the Adirondacks need their voices to be heard. The public outcry against the “green groups” from the good folks from Tupper Lake needed to be heard. The moral outrage and social and cultural injustices need to be stopped!

    I find the timing of this decision quite suspicious. Did the Enterprise receive a really big “donation” from one of the green groups or what?

  14. dave says:

    “Dave, no straw man involved. Everyone was all afire to silence “violent rhetoric” which meant pretty much anything said by someone on the right that they disagreed with.”

    You essentially just said, “no straw man involved” – and then re-presented the exact straw man I was talking about.

    But like I said, no surprise that those among us here who are prone to use, defend, and respond to this type of rhetoric, took offense to the call to eliminate it.

  15. Walker says:

    John, name calling? I wrote “That’s Roy Orbison!” It was childish, I admit, but hardly hurtful– Orbison was a great singer. The comments that followed almost entirely ignored my remark (as they should have!) with, I believe, a single exception, someone who strung a number of Orbison song titles along in an equally silly comment.

    But the rest of the comments were on topic and I don’t recall any name calling. Of course, we can’t go back and look because the ADE has deleted the discussion. Would you care to be more specific about the “misinformation” that you claim accompanied the “name calling?”

    As for your conspiracy theory that a big donation to the ADE from some green group is behind the paper’s decision, how does that even make sense? You think green groups are spreading money around to news outlets seeking to silence anti-environmentalists?!

  16. Ben Hamelin says:

    As stated above, these issues have already been solved.
    Look to most modern day forum sites – they require a user account w/ email address before you can comment. Write a forum guidelines policy.
    In event of inappropriate use the account is disabled, email address banned, etc. Your guidelines are your “opt in, I have the right to delete your account at any time” safety net. This will keep the serious engaged, the casual reading and the die hard “I want to be abrasive” continually creating new accounts and email addresses. I see no reason to ban commenting altogether.

  17. Brian says:

    It’s very discouraging. Even when comments aren’t nasty and uncivil, they too often veer toward talking points. Too often, people act like they’re arguing with a generic liberal/conservative/whatever than specifically engaging the points made by the INDIVIDUAL in question. Even this non-partisan topic quickly split into ideological divisions. People need to stop reading from a script and starting using their own brains.

    (Echoing myown, that’s why I stopped watching political wrestling shows years ago)

  18. Walker says:

    Well, Brian, call us on it, case by case. Complaining in general terms isn’t awfully helpful. I imagine you could be referring to some of my posts; I read Jack Krugman and Gail Collins regularly, and they generally express pretty well what I feel about the state of this nation. I certainly don’t intentionally “spout talking points” and I certainly try to engage actual posts on this blog, not straw men, but if you feel that I have engaged in the behavior you’re describing, by all means, call me on it, and we can take it from there. I would think others would appreciate the same courtesy.

  19. Bret4207 says:

    Talking points are exactly what the Schumer link was about. I suppose that’s just another strawman.

  20. Mark, Saranac Lake says:

    The In Box is usually pretty civil which is why I take the time to read it and occasionally comment on it. The ADE web comments were, in a word, awful. It was consistently a dozen of the same bitter people making very nasty comments on a very regular basis. I often wondered if these people had any kind of a life outside of sitting in front of a computer and writing unpleasantries all day… seriously, I really wondered what they do. As Paul said, it was quite a show and the comparison to Talk of the Town was right on. I haven’t commented on it in years and stopped reading the comments quite awhile ago. It was a forum that just didn’t really contribute much. I like spirited discussion coming from all sides but when it gets to mostly cheap name calling, well, I’ve got better things to do with my time than read that drivel. I was a target a few times, and always only with cheap name calling, never with thoughtful dialogue that actually addressed the issue at hand. The ADE did take the step awhile ago to require the reader to click on the “comments” button (they used to be right below the article) and I suspect a lot less readers were taking the time to go there considering the reputation the web comments had. It is unfortunate – it would be great to have that kind of a forum that addressed the very local issues that those of us that live in the tri-lakes area have. But honestly, I applaud the decision by the ADE to stop allowing comments – I think it contributed in some way to some o the divisiveness in this area – there is no value in that. It will be interesting to see if that same dozen will learn a lesson (phahn – I’m not referring to you – you were one of the few that commented about the issues without getting personal – I applaud your patience with that bunch!) and maybe dial it back a few notches when they comment on the editorial stuff, which the ADE is still allowing.

    Monitoring would be great but that takes time and manpower – I can’t speak for the Enterprise but I can imagine they may just not have the staff to dedicate to that considering the economics of running a newspaper these days.

  21. Ben Hamelin says:

    After initially responding to this from the technical aspect of simple monitoring the comments, I’m now interpreting this as more of a statement from the paper. They don’t feel that some of these conversations are productive, more likely they are viewed as destructive. To micro manage the comments and police the conversation would not be true reporting. So, cut back the comments to the areas of the site where they feel the engagement has been positive and hope the message is received.

  22. Keith Silliman says:

    I think the Enterprise made the right decision. I read the posted comments, but never posted myself. For the most part, I did find them offensive. Being active in local government, I attributed the comments to what I call the exeedingly vocal, misinformed minority. I don’t blame them, I blame the silent majority (like me) that do not engage the vitriol head on. I don’t, as there is no point in the totally anonymous setting.

    If you ask the question, “what is the value-added from the comments posted on the Enterprise website?” as you read them, the answer is pretty clear– little to none.

  23. Peter Hahn says:

    Keith – The value-added for me was the raw, unfiltered views of that (misinformed) minority. I dont think I would have been aware of the prevalence of those opinions (feelings of outrage at virtually everything) otherwise. I agree that they were frequently offensive vitriol, and I think I understand the reasoning behind halting the practice.

  24. Steve Collins in Northville says:

    I watched the Leader Herald in Gloversville have exactly the same problem and solve it the same way as the ADK Enterprise.

    What I saw in both cases was a few (emphasize few) posters who used nearly every news article to continue their ongoing bickering. Lots of name calling and berating with only a little decent discussion here and there, usually by others than the regulars.

    I’ve been active in the online world since it got started in the early 1980’s. My observation over the years is that anonymous postings almost always generate the same set of problems.

    It is interesting and refreshing to see that half of the posts commenting on this issue here on NCPR are with full names, including my own.

    John bouman’s post above (“The test of democracy is freedom of criticism.”) is spot on, but in this online medium it only works when there is no veil of anonymous posting.

  25. Walker says:

    Steve, re: “in this online medium it only works when there is no veil of anonymous posting.”

    Much of the commentary that fomented the American Revolution was anonymous, most famously Common Sense. And taking the first 25 comments on a New York Times page, I note that 20 of them are anonymous. And of course there is the example of Wikipedia, written almost entirely by anonymous contributors, and judged by many scholars to have remarkably accurate material.

    In the Adirondacks especially, where anti-environmentalism has been known to run to violence, it seems to me that anonymous commentary is a good thing.

    I don’t know how much you have followed the Enterprise comments lately, but there have been some pretty fair discussions there in the last year, even if they have been heavily spiced with invective.

    But as Peter Hahn points out, above, it can be very worth while to read and to engage with those who post less eloquently than you might like. And, just as here, you find that some minds are less closed than they appear at first. Posting here can seem a bit tame, by comparison.

  26. Peter Hahn says:

    As an sociological resource, those comments in the ADE were very educational (as well as highly entertaining). I would guess that the local elected officials paid close attention as well.

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