A couple of weeks back we ran a letter to the editor in the print edition of the Review. As we always have, letters in print must be signed by the author. We require a phone number to verify authorship. Seems pretty clean and simple.
But over here on the digital side of the enterprise, that letter has gone viral – at least by our small town paper version of viral. Last I looked there were 444 comments on this single thread.
It took a couple of days for the comments to begin piling up but then it was like a round-the-clock blizzard of comments. In the two years the Review website has allowed live comments to be posted this was the greatest influx of comments we’ve seen. And after a few days, based both on the volume and intensity of the comments and suspicions from some commenters that there was a steroid-infused troll at work I asked our programmer to look at the thread.
What he reported back was that a very large number of comments – 156 of the total of 444 currently – came from the same IP address. More distressing to me is his estimate that those 156 comments were posted under at least 50 pseudonyms. So we have one IP address swamping the comment thread and attempting to deceive readers into believing there were dozens of people who shared a point of view.
Our goal is to create and nurture a forum for lively debate of local issues. Given the live comments and the anonymity we allow we understand there will be some deceitful behavior. We’re not giving up on live comments. We are evolving our approach though.
The IP address in question – and we have no idea who is behind this IP – is now blocked from live commenting. Every comment that comes from that address will now have to be approved by Jean Lotus, our editor. And we will more actively be watching for such rude behavior and will be ready to act more quickly to offer protections to those who actually want to have a healthy discussion.
Finally, I’d ask each of our posters to elevate the conversation. Let’s cut the name-calling and the schoolyard bullying. We will more actively be pulling down rude and childish comments, too. Readers are also encouraged to flag comments they find inappropriate.
Thanks for your help in making this forum vital and worthy of a town as interesting as Forest Park.