Friday, May 16, 2008


I'm disappointed. It seems that far too often American political debates and policy disagreements degrade into personal attacks. I fear that these attacks cast a corrosive fog over the entire process. Why would any reasonable person want to stand for elected office in this environment? Where will we find tomorrow's leaders?

The national election campaigns are notoriously vicious but personal attacks are occurring even at the local level. For example, the comments that were posted in response to last week's ethics story got totally out of hand in my opinion. I am so disappointed about some of those comments that I'm considering disabling comments.

I have not made up my mind because I'm torn between a desire to encourage healthy discussion of important local issues and my fear that every post during the upcoming Laurel election season will devolve into petty bickering and personal attacks. I wanted to create a cyber front porch where reasonable people could share their opinions on our community's goals, problems and solutions --- not a dark alley for attacking people.

The software has three comment modes. I can turn comments on, turn them off completely, or moderate them. Moderate means that I must approve the comment before it is posted. I don't want to moderate comments because I have always strived for complete transparency here. I have only deleted two comments in the history of Laurel Connections. Both of these comments met my standard for an over-the-line ad hominem attack. I pulled the comments after they were posted.

It's been my experience that most of the people who seek local elected offices have dedicated many years to community service. Most are involved because they genuinely want to serve. If elected, many shoulder their civic responsibilities at great personal sacrifice to both family time and career progress.

Why should this blog provide a public platform that submits these fine people to unsubstantiated and anonymous personal attacks? That's neither helpful for them nor healthy for our community.

Have I allowed the commenters to go too far? Are the comments useful for you? Should I disable comments? Where is your threshold for an inappropriate personal attack?

Please tell me what you think.


Anonymous said...

Disappointmnent is a result of unmet hopes or expectations, and yours of humans were apparently unrealistic. There exist circumstances under which any of us could cave to our monkey urges, spurn thousands of years of cultural development, and fling our poo at our neighbor. No human society can stand in the weightlessness of absolute freedom; it must have limits, both to survive, and to thrive. Imposing such limits is the duty of those who, for whatever reason, exhibit less of the monkey. Reality may be lamentable, but resistance is futile. Heed the call. Be a moderator. Moderate.

Anonymous said...

Rick, I whole-heartedly agree with you regarding the nature of the way we discuss / debate politics in this country. Personally, I feel this is because it's easier to attack someone, whom they associate with, or what they may seem to represent rather than research and discuss actual issues. Maybe people are afraid that their world will be rocked by a revelation they really don't want to hear!

Mike McLaughlin said...

It was interesting and more than a coincidence that the day you posted your "Disappointment" blog, the TV show "20/20" had a segment on a new college web site called "Juicy Campus" that traffics in anonymous gossip. And the discourse on that web site got so hateful and hurtful that it caused a backlash against anonymity, including T-shirts printed with the message "Anonymous=Cowardice".

Anonymity may have a long tradition in politics, but that was before the cyber-piling on that the Internet affords anyone with a computer keyboard and ISP.

Don’t disable the Comments, Rick. Disable anonymity. Make folks stand behind what they write, instead of hiding behind the veil of anonymity.

Mike McLaughlin

Rick Wilson said...

Mike: I would love to disable anonymity but the software doesn't work that way. If I disable anonymous posting it simply forces the commenters to make up a name. It doesn't need to be your real name. "On the internet, nobody knows you are dog." BTW - You had a great day for a car wash. I hope the kids did well.

Anonymous said...

I've posted anonymously before, ..but that's usually because I hate having to go through account creation at every different blog or blogging site I happen to visit.

I took a look at that thread for the first time. You may be dismayed, but as blog comments go, this wasn't too egregious. The BoingBoing method of "disemvoweling" people who seem to be getting out of hand might work for you...removing all the vowels from their post. Their words are still there, but are inconvenient to read and easier to skip over. A warning without a full censoring.

switch to moderated if it makes you feel better, but I don't think we're doing too badly -- even with the local personality conflicts. I've learned useful things in the comments sometimes...this blog would be less interesting to me without them.

josh said...

I think I'd moderate if I were you. You make a good point about the "front porch." I'd throw most of the anonymous posters off my own front porch based on their comments masquerading as attacks.

Bill said...

To be honest, no matter what you say, some people will twist it for their own personal rant. I spend a lot of time surfing the net, and I have seen, even on a "World of Warcraft" gaming forum discussing elf wizards, the conversation eventually degenerates into a "Bush is Evil" rant. Some people have only one thing to say, and will say it no matter what the actual topic is.

I really think you should avoid moderated mode. Sure, you could filter out the garbage and off-topic posts, but this takes time away from everything else you do. I have only recently started reading your blog, and it would be a shame if you had to cut back on quality or quantity because you spend so much time babysitting childish tantrums. Most of your readers recognize the off-topic comments and just ignore them anyway. Keep doing what you are doing, and don't let the mindless Mob get you down :)