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Should we kill the comments section?

It takes much time to clean up the comments. (Dollar Photo Club)

When NancyOnNorwalk began seven years ago (light years in internet time), the comments section was conceived as a ‘digital town square,’ where residents could meet and discuss issues that we’d reported on. Readers came together as a community and talked about all things related to our coverage of politics, education, and land use in Norwalk.

Comments sections were the model of the day for most news outlets, and ours was fairly robust. Often, a commenter would inform a particular story, either with additional first-hand or historic background that provided a richer experience for our readers. We had – and still have – local politicians contributing to the discussions, offering up a true opportunity for vibrant local dialog.

But over time, our comments section has devolved into a small group of individuals who are quite vocal about their agendas. You know who you are. (Most of the readers do too, although some of you have had to be put in moderation or, worse, have been banned from commenting entirely.) Some commenters are elected or appointed officials (past and present), others call themselves activists, and some just simply want to say their piece. And, sad to say, some are just bullies.

A recent study from the Center for Media Engagement determined that, on average, it takes 18.4 seconds minutes to moderate a comment for a news site. Moderating comments makes moderators more emotionally exhausted, the study states.

Moderating what is often bad behavior puts stress upon our shoestring operation. Most news outlets have abandoned comments sections in the past few years, primarily because of the challenges that moderation presents.

So, we would like to put the question to our readers directly: Is it time to kill the comments section?

Note: We’ve prepared a short Reader Survey to get your feedback – or you can simply use the comment box to let us know what you think.

But do it nicely, please.

This article was altered after publication to show that the average time to moderate a comment is thought to be 18.4 seconds minutes, not 24 minutes as was originally written, and to highlight other problems with moderating comments. 

58 comments

Kevin Kane August 31, 2019 at 6:03 am

I hope it’s not 24 minutes so I will keep it brief:
Keep the comments,ban people who are morons or write behind a fake name. Thanks.

Tom Keegan August 31, 2019 at 6:14 am

Please keep the comments and we all should remember that tact is the art of making a point without making an enemy…….

David August 31, 2019 at 6:44 am

Please keep the comment section. I do read it and find interest in commentary from the small group of not currently banned and honestly stuff that got banned did not affect me in any way and would like to see re-inviting some of them 24 minutes well spent

Adam blank August 31, 2019 at 7:03 am

I would kill off the comments during election season and put them back on post election. Between now and Election Day an enormous percentage of the comments will simply be pushing an agenda for elections, whether related to the article or not.

Bill Kutik August 31, 2019 at 7:07 am

Keep the comments. The interactivity is what makes the Internet better than dead, pressed trees.

John E. Tobin August 31, 2019 at 7:07 am

While some of the “bullies” do put their name to their words, others do not. If people are going to comment, they should have the power of their convictions and use their real names. You strip the mask from Antifa and the KKK you leave them powerless.

Red headed movie star August 31, 2019 at 7:43 am

Pls keep the comments. I appreciate the thoughts and learn from the information and differing opinions.

Susan Wallerstein August 31, 2019 at 7:48 am

Good suggestions.! Possible to monetize/control by only allowing those who have made minimal donation to comment?

ConcernedToo August 31, 2019 at 8:26 am

The linked study says it took 24 minutes to moderate 78 comments, not 24 minutes per comment.

24 minutes per comment would be absurd.

Scott Vetare August 31, 2019 at 8:34 am

Keep the comments but somehow make the people use their REAL names. Like John Tobin said, “You strip the mask from Antifa and the KKK you leave them powerless.”
Maybe by subscribing only by credit card using the name on that card?

ConcernedToo August 31, 2019 at 9:06 am

Obviously, using real names would reduce bad behavior. But it means many people (particularly those not established in their career) will stop posting.

We live in a world where every prospective employer will do an internet search to dig up anything they can about a prospective hire. Most people in the younger generation are constantly told to keep their public profile online as minimal as possible because employers don’t want controversy (and many don’t want people with outside interests that interfere with the endless work week required of many young corporate employees). And since most younger folks are changing jobs every 5 years or so, this requirement to keep a low profile extends beyond their first 2 years out of school.

The people who use names on here are typically older and well off, secure enough in their situation that a few comments on a website won’t affect their prospects. That’s not true for the much larger pool of people who would become silent rather than using real names.

So I vote for anonymity! I think it allows people who don’t feel comfortable publicly sharing their opinions to have a say. Yes, some of those opinions may be abhorrent and require moderation, but I think there’s value in providing a forum.

Ursula Caterbone August 31, 2019 at 10:08 am

Keep the comments but make full names mandatory.
Anyone who comments should be willing to back up their input with their identify.

Claire Schoen August 31, 2019 at 10:20 am

Yikes, we stand corrected! Thank you @concernedtoo! But I hope we made our point that moderation of comments is time-consuming and at times emotionally draining. (There are times when it does indeed take 24 minutes or more for just one comment.)
What do people think about paying a small subscription to be allowed commenting privileges?

Bruce Kimmel August 31, 2019 at 10:31 am

As someone who stopped commenting and submitting columns months ago, all I can say is, read the first comment above. Morons???

I do read NON on a daily basis. But to be honest, I’m fairly sick and tired of being trashed no matter what I submit. It’s not worth my time. I suppose now I’lll be slammed for not having a thick enough skin.

And by the way, it is certainly not worth a moderator’s time either.

John Fitzpatrick August 31, 2019 at 10:34 am

Yes: Keep comments and require name. Happy to learn it doesn’t really take 24 minutes to moderate one comment! A “Like” option might be useful and might reduce the number of comments needing moderation.

Diane Lauricella August 31, 2019 at 10:40 am

Good that NON asking seriously about this topic. Keep the Comment Section with the following caveats
PLS:

1. Only continue Comment section if require use of real names. That way, the public square can judge that person for their ideas and words. Many people refrain from commenting because they are afraid of attack and defamation by people hiding behind fake names with uneven moderation. End this loophole now, Board of Directors, Nancy and Bob, for it is reducing your ability to raise funds!

2. Moderating Comment Section 24/7: Find a volunteer “morning” , “evening” etc. moderator, maybe a college journalism majoring exchange of credits, so that early morning commentors cannot leave their nasty words online violating NON Guidelines..

3. Any chance that NON could sell her brand to Hearst/Norwalk Hour with a real, user-friendly Comment Section (unlike the present Norwalk Hour) with journalistic independence, financial and moderation support baked in the contract? They could use your help…your daily column would be called “Nancy on Norwalk “!!!!

Piberman August 31, 2019 at 10:49 am

It’s an open secret that the comments sections (overseen by editors) of both The NY Times and Washington Post – the nation’s premier newspapers – are worth their hefty subscriptions precisely because of their comments section. It’s where the serious news gets discussed.
And you have to pay in order to play.

Same thoughts apply to most of the well known political commentary sites. It’s the job of the writers to get the discussion going. But the really good stuff is from reader comments.
The key seems you pay to play and comments need some oversight to keep out the nut caes. Or t shoe we disagree with !

Adolph Neaderland August 31, 2019 at 11:10 am

Please keep the Comments, but require real names.

NON “Comments” is the only avenue left for community open dialog left for affirmation or opposition to ongoing issues, hopefully read by public officials who don’t generally attend hearings.

The 3 minutes allowed for comment at those public hearings is hardly adequate, and often not available to missing commissioners and/or officials who get “screened” information.

CAROL August 31, 2019 at 11:19 am

please keep the comments,they are informative and widely read,if someone abuses them 2 or 3 times then ban them.
your column is my go to page every day.

John Miller August 31, 2019 at 11:35 am

Nancy:

Please keep the comments section. It allows those of us who comment occasionally (I use my real name by the way) and do not hide behind anonymous handles to be uncivil the opportunity to express our views. While I can understand Mr. Kimmel’s point that being trashed all the time can be frustrating and tiring, removing the comments section would for all intents and purposes validate the positions of those who choose to be uncivil and eliminates the opportunity for civil discourse. Dirty politics and vilifying people is nothing new. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 had to be amended to make Vietnam era veterans a protected class, a disgrace if there ever was one.

Finally. Please remain independent. Becoming part of a corporate media giant like Hearst would ruin NON.

Bobby Lamb August 31, 2019 at 11:55 am

I find some of the most egregious, self serving and bullying comments come from those who use their really names. So not sure that solves the Boards issue. Also, some commenters go after anyone who disagrees with them so harshly it intimidates people from commenting. I think it’s a really tough call for the NON board. Honestly, I don’t find the comments of late to be that helpful – a few commenters who use this as a platform for their own agendas. If you do keep the section going, I agree with Adam – turn it off during election season.

ConcernedToo August 31, 2019 at 12:37 pm

Sorry to be nitpicky but the correction is also wrong. 78 comments in 24 minutes is actually 3 comments per minute. You switched the top and bottom of the division problem: 24/78 not 78/24.

Rusty Guardrail August 31, 2019 at 1:19 pm

An individual who knowingly receives undeserved public money lacks conscience, and lack of conscience renders that person capable of retaliation against citizens who level accusations at them. I’m not a tough guy, and I don’t have guns–so I’d rather remain nameless than live in fear of unscrupulous people who see their livelihood threatened by whistle-blowers.

EnoPride August 31, 2019 at 1:21 pm

I think NoN should keep the comments section, but somehow define in its user policy that it is a comments section, not a diatribe section set up for commenters to go after each other. It’s a fine line. Some highly engaging NoN comments can be op-edlike in quality and spark discourse – part of NoN’s appeal which sets it apart in a positive way from comments read on “The Hour”. “For Insiders” seems to often be inspired by NoN and its commenters. Conversely, it only takes a few diatribes to bring discourse to a screeching halt.

I agree with @John E. Tobin that commenting under real names could reduce some slime which would save time for the NoN staff. On the flip side, I have often read comments under real names which have slandered, ascribed motives and name called without restraint.

I also understand where @ConcernedToo is coming from. Politics is a hot button topic and brings out so many differing opinions, emotions, etc. A younger reader who is protecting her/his online reputation no doubt feels emboldened to be able to voice opinions anonymously on NoN without feeling judged. NoN will risk losing anonymous commenters who positively contribute to their “digital town square” if they choose a no pen name policy.

Incidentally, the younger demographic is who is scarce to missing at Norwalk public meetings and workshops. If Nancy is doing an effective job of capturing the younger readers’ interest in local politics with her comments section, then perhaps NoN is doing the right thing to allow anonymous commentary.

Dagny August 31, 2019 at 1:59 pm

Keep the cimments for sure. Sometimes I read the comments first. It gives me insight into varying views as i consider the feedback as i read the article. P. S. I also read magazines from the back cover to the front. LOL

Diane Lauricella August 31, 2019 at 2:05 pm

To allow anonymous comment without proper moderation reduces the credibility of this platform, IMHO.

It is quite easy to slander someone when you can hide behind a pen name.

Young people need to learn that they too should be accountable for their words…disagree it would discourage them.

Jus’ sayin!

Peter Torrano August 31, 2019 at 2:34 pm

I am a past board member of NoN. I had advocated for the use of real names at that time. But the concern of some of the other members of the board was that those who posted under fake names were concerned for their safety, reputation, standing in the community, and various other reasons that in my mind did not add up. I have always used my own name and will continue to do so. To my way of thinking, regardless of any title I may have had or office I held, I am responsible for my words and thoughts. I should not be allowed to be vicious, snarky, rude or offensive without having to be held accountable. I said it, I own it.

But even should those who comment be required to use their names there will still be some who continue to be all of those things I just mentioned because they are either convinced of their right to act the ass or they are too ignorant to know it.

So keep the comments. Require names. Do more to moderate.

Lee Fleming August 31, 2019 at 2:43 pm

Think about implementing Facebook or Disqus commenting — much easier to moderate. Require real names as Woog’s 06880 and WestportNow.com do. Check out the WestportNow.com comment policy. (Disclosure: I am the webmaster for WestportNow.com.) Using a commenting system such as FB (which is free) also allows readers to flag content.

I doubt I would read NoN much without the comments because there wouldn’t be any other perspectives to consider. I’m used to skipping over the rants, broken-record posts, attacks, and anonymous comments.

Rusty Guardrail August 31, 2019 at 4:24 pm

Some of the very thoughtful and cogent entries in this thread have been posted by commenters using either pseudonyms or partial names:

David
Red Headed Movie Star
Concerned Too
Roger
Carol
EnoPride
Dagny
Rusty Guardrail (me)

NON readers who would dismiss these commenters’ views out-of-hand would be ignoring roughly 25% of the opinions expressed here.

Bill Dunne August 31, 2019 at 6:26 pm

Keep the comments, please, but require real names. It teaches civility, and isn’t that what we all want?

Tom in East Norwalk August 31, 2019 at 7:23 pm

I read the comments section virtually daily and for nearly every article. Thank you Nancy.

I would miss the comments section. I post behind a fake name – I don’t wish to expose myself to some of the nonsensical bitterness I’ve sense. So, please follow Ben Franklin’s example and allow the continued use of pseudonyms.

Warn, block for a period of time and then ban abusers of the stated guidlines.

Steve August 31, 2019 at 8:44 pm

After some reflection I’d say get rid of the comments. Everyone wants to add their two cents, I think it’s rare that any opinion is changed. At the same time, promote people submitting their own opinions articles. I think the articles would have far more depth, The editorial staff could check for reliability and credibility. The comments section generally becomes the grumpy people section that largely has the same few names- anonymous or otherwise. It’s not hard for the comment section to become a cacophony

Mike Mushak September 1, 2019 at 5:04 am

Please eliminate anonymous commenters! It is unfair and often leads to bullying attacks by the usual trolls, something this site should change immediately.

I have always used my real name and stand behind my comments, even when calling out ignorance or outright lies which I do often. (I love how that’s often described as bullying by the same folks who dish it out regularly!)

I have been attacked repeatedly by anonymous commenters for as long as I’ve been posting my comments, the equivalent of fighting while I’m blindfolded. Many times these fake names are unique to my post, leading to the conclusion that some folks are posting under multiple names and perhaps using various devices or IP addresses to avoid detection by the editors for posting under different names which is supposedly forbidden. But it happens.

The policy should be real verifiable names only, to encourage more honest and fair debates about important issues.

Diane Lauricella September 1, 2019 at 8:01 am

Great thread!
I find myself agreeing with Mr. Torrano and Mr. Dunne about this topic…using ONLY real names…will wonders never cease! 🙂

Sorry Rusty Guardrail and Tom from East Norwalk, while many of these pseudonyms are clever, you are in the minority on this topic and in order to participate in this public square should be accountable for your words.

A pay wall to comment, if modest, may be ok but another way to reduce amount of moderation time is to limit our comments to “x” number of words and “x” number of comments per article. Literally cut our entries at the maximum length you decide.

I really think that if you insist upon real names and improve moderation coverage you will increase donations …and possibly grants… for the new and improved NON!

Have a kickoff party as we approach election season! You’re welcome!:)

Lisa Brinton September 1, 2019 at 10:06 am

All thoughtful responses from those posting under their real names and pseudonyms. Personally, not fussed about identity. I know first hand why they feel the need to do it. This can be an unforgiving town.

Comments on this site allow for dialogue and information sharing that we do not get at city hall in the 3-minute allotment for public comment or due to a reporter’s space, time, memory, etc. and therefore, may not be covered in the originally posted story.

As for anonymous written abuse and/or crossing the line of decorum, at least from my personal experience – that individual proudly signs their name 🤣. Sadly, we are experiencing a low period in local, state and national politics – where a healthy debate of the issues and different points of view have been replaced with broad stroke labels and name calling. As an advocate of free speech, this sort of behavior, especially on a relatively ‘well informed and insider readership’ site like this – usually reflects more poorly on the poster and rarely changes opinion.

EnoPride September 1, 2019 at 10:43 am

Diane Lauricella, you are providing a great example in your comments as to why pseudonym posters like to remain that way. Your first post in the thread implied that commenters should use their real names so they can be judged in the square (Ummm, something about being judged in the square just doesn’t sound too equitable…) yet your last post is judging pen names anyway. Your first post suggests pen name commenters make some afraid to comment, but your last post suggests sorry, we pseudonyms are the minority and essentially should go away. Hhhmmm…

Meanwhile, what I found to be the most interesting gem of this entire thread came from Tom from East Norwalk, a pseudonym, who suggested NON follow Ben Franklin’s example and continue the allowed use of pseudonyms. Just brilliant. His comment did what pseudonyms who positively contribute comments do – it sparked creative discourse, educated and offered different perspective on the subject, like Ben Franklin’s comments did. How many readers were intrigued to look up Ben?

Thank you for inspiring, Tom from East Norwalk! Here is an Interesting link:

https://www.pbs.org/benfranklin/l3_wit_name.html

Diane Lauricella September 1, 2019 at 11:22 am

@enopride
Ben Franklin wasn’t always wise in his beliefs nor are we at times.

Your post shows exactly why we should ban pseudonyms…easy to criticize without being accountable…Have a great weekend!

Mimi (EnoPride) September 1, 2019 at 1:37 pm

We can agree to disagree! Just because my opinion differs from yours does not mean I am criticizing you, Diane Lauricella. I merely provided a differing perspective from you. People have the right to speak their opinions, pen name or no pen name, without feeling judged. Freedom of Speech is a beautiful thing that way. My real name is Mimi Chang, by the way. Does coming out from under my pen name make me any more or less accountable for my comments? Policy abiding commenters Rusty Guardrail, Tom from East Norwalk, ConcernedToo, etc., should have as much right to comment under pseudonyms as you or I do under our real names. See you at the next traffic safety meeting. 😉

Nor Res September 1, 2019 at 2:26 pm

No anonymous comments then many of us will Unsubscribe to NON.
People in position of power for the city can be vindictive.
Just speaking from my experience.

Rusty Guardrail September 1, 2019 at 2:53 pm

Diane Lauricella: Readers were asked “Is it time to kill the comments section?”. NON didn’t ask for opinions regarding the use of pseudonyms, partial names, or altogether fake names that appear to be genuine.

Yet you proclaim: “we should ban pseudonyms”. The “we” you refer to doesn’t exist.

You also announce: “Sorry Rusty Guardrail and Tom from East Norwalk while many of these pseudonyms are clever, you are in the minority on this topic and in order to participate in this public square should be accountable for your words.”

But I’m not necessarily in the minority. It will be your loss if your superficial standards compel you to dismiss worthy opinions expressed by readers who decline to identify themselves.

I’m open about not disclosing my identity. I could instead trick you by signing my comments as, let’s say, Bill Stevenson.

You’re of course entitled to your personal criteria, but fortunately you’re not in a position to impose it upon others.

Victor Cavallo September 2, 2019 at 5:02 am

Don’t capitulate to the snowflakes, keep the comments section but ban that one person whom you’ve allowed to reign free to spew personally destructive hate with eviscerating poison-pen defamatory novellas against anyone Republican and anything Trump- lately for the sake of one or two key democrat candidates whom I strongly suspect also find his comments to be despicably uncivil. Perhaps. instead, you might want to edit down that person’s comments to one sentence.

J Hench September 2, 2019 at 9:56 am

I’d also like to speak up for anonymous comments, for the reasons suggested above. Also, anonymity is helpful for the sort of whistleblower journalism that seems to be favored here.

I don’t think it would necessarily solve the time/expense problem, but it might increase the quality of discourse if commenters who wished to post anonymously could request to do so, with those posts being reviewed prior to being posted. That way, users could post anonymously, but not use the anonymity as a shield from behind which they can fling abuse and vulgarity.

As others have pointed out, many of the most condescending and vitriolic posts have been made by commenters who are in positions of power and who are using their real names to post. It would be nice if their willingness to show their true colors was rewarded with a loss of public support, since that would seem to be the natural consequence that would lead to a more polite and respectful public discourse. Unfortunately, that does not seem to be a likely outcome in the current political environment. I do not have a solution to that difficulty, but think it is important to acknowledge the existence of the problem.

John Levin September 2, 2019 at 4:06 pm

I’m out of the country and just reading this article, and its comments, now. Wow – I’m so impressed: there are many differing opinions that I find exceptionally well reasoned and compelling, with most of the discussion focused on anonymous posting. Reading these comments, I find myself generally responding: “that makes sense” to nearly every comment. So I would like to share my own experience. I try to read the comments with each article, and usually I learn from them, and occasionally my opinion is changed. Rarely, there are commenters that I find to be rude, obnoxious, or irrational. Some use their names, some do not. Regardless, I tend to ignore, or deeply discount, future comments from these people. That gets the job done for me.
No one enjoys being insulted. But I think that the insults and obnoxious comments do much greater harm to the commenter than to the person’s target. Anonymous commenters won’t necessarily feel that harm directly, but frequent users of this site can form their own opinions, and likely will follow a course similar to my own: ignore them.
There are some unsung heroes: they are Nancy Chapman, Bob Welsh, Claire Schoen, and of course Mark Chapman, and likely some others (all real names, btw), who have read and moderated comments and done their best to enforce the comments policy for 7 years now, maybe not always to the satisfaction of every reader. I can see that not everyone will be happy with the results, and not everyone will like the rules for the comment section, including allowing anonymous comments, but I hope we all can see the bigger picture, and show tolerance for imperfection. Personally, I find the virtual town square that NancyOnNorwalk offers to be profoundly vital and effective. I can live with the yahoos if it means that I can hear the opinions and views of my neighbors.

Diane Lauricella September 2, 2019 at 8:50 pm

@johnlevin Walk a mile…even a half-mile in my shoes…

While you may be happy with ignoring insults, not everyone has the luxury of doing so because others read the anonymous insults and often assume the comments are true…
Totally disagree with discounting the value of using real names..

While NON asked if they should kill the comments, many on this thread answered with a caveat…”no please keep BUT with real full names!”.

Many of the anonymous posters make cogent civil comments…but some others do not…

Anonymous posters would eventually reveal themselves cuz they love NON so much…

Please …Keep the Comment Section but Stop anonymous commenters.

james gallacher September 3, 2019 at 10:45 am

i’m all for comments … from everyone … however there should be a zero tolerance policy on attacking people rather than their positions. posters who do that will either learn to play by your rules or go away when they see their nearly daily vitriol deleted.

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