Starting this week the Forest Park Review will require a Facebook login to comment on ForestParkReview.com.
What does that mean? Well, starting now you will have to use your Facebook account in order to post a live comment to our site. And, yes, you have figured it out, that means you will have to attach your name to any comment you post.
So if you want to be as rude and snarky, as uncivil or accusatory, as destructive of the civic fabric of our town as many of our commenters have devolved to, then you’ll have to be willing to do it with your own John Hancock appended.
This is not a step I have wanted to take. In fact, I have been the holdout here at the Review as others have urged this step. That’s because I am admittedly, proudly a believer that the local paper, whether it is delivered on newsprint or in pixels, has an elemental responsibility to provide a soap box for citizens to debate and argue, support and share opinions and ideas. We’ve done it for decades through our letters to the editor, and in recent years we have tried to transfer that forum to digital platforms.
But the free speech right to debate issues is not the same as a right to act like bloody fools attempting to diminish and eviscerate others. Ultimately, I cannot stomach what our comments have become and I cannot stand for the Review to be seen as fostering this venom. With a contested election just revving up in town, it seemed clear that the vitriol and personal attacks would only intensify.
The challenge we face here is epidemic on journalism websites most everywhere. Try, I dare you, to read comments on The Washington Post or Politico. Inane is a best case scenario. Vicious, racist, ignorant, narcissistic, closed-minded are par for the course.
Here are two exceptions: The New York Times where a permanent staff of comment moderators and a registration system lead to a thoughtful, often intense debate of actual issues. And our own Riverside-Brookfield Landmark where our editor took us to Facebook verification more than a year ago.
What lessons have we learned from the Landmark? A handful of fairly certifiable people in Forest Park are about to have a lot of time on their hands, because they won’t post this muck with their names attached. So the number of comments is most likely going to drop precipitously. So be it.
But there will be some regular commenters who, freed from the trashy environs we have allowed to fester, will use Facebook Verified and will begin a healthy debate on a wide-open platform. Others will gradually join them.
Multiple times in recent years I have asked village leaders and, in these pages, I have asked our readers, “Why are the politics in this town so personal?”
There are a few good reasons and some blame to be assessed. But inescapably, a portion of the responsibility for the miserableness and the rancor in our public life ties back to these comment boards.
But no more.
Speak up. Take credit for your ideas, take the shots you’d be willing to take if you were in the next pew, on the next bar stool or in the next row at the public meeting.