When online, less is more

Can online commenting be placed in the same vein as “water-cooler gossip,” where people who share the same social space escape the humdrum of the work week by gathering around the communal water-dispensing unit during office breaks to discuss the day’s issue? Or is their something more spiteful behind some of the posts left on public forums?

Perhaps the truth falls in between the two.

In the online world of publication there is a growing symbiotic relationship between readers who post online comments and journalists. Journalists, in this sense, look to those who post comments for feedback, and those who post responses look to journalists for information — the way it’s been since the origin of written text.

Either way, people who leave online comments should exercise a level of caution and decorum before posting to a Web site.

At one point or another, most of us have been faced with this scenario: we come across a tidbit of information that doesn’t suit our liking and then we hastily reply to it, leaving behind a caustic and incendiary comment. What follows is a subsequent torrent of replies from other readers who either share the same sentiment or just want to engage previous responses.

Is this a constructive use of time for anyone? Realistically, how useful is it when an irate student taps out a nasty retort about a professor on their Facebook page after receiving a poor grade on a test, or when a reader misinterprets something printed in a newspaper and decides to impetuously voice their disdain for the topic, or writer?

Whether comments are intended to be insightful, slanderous, or just a way to show-off your pseudo-intelligence on a particular subject, the words you post online exists eternally in the digital realm as a reflection of the type of person you were at that moment.

Although we would like to think otherwise, there is a level of recourse associated with instantaneous publication.

To eliminate this dilemma and to minimize impetuous responses, perhaps a Brady Bill for posting comments online should be instituted. Under this new law, people who wish to post comments have to wait a length of two days from the date of publication before responding to written material.

Likewise, readers will have to undergo a background check before leaving comments on public forums. This will diminish the heir of invincibility that comes with anonymous posting.

More importantly, the right to communicate under the veil of anonymity would be adequately balanced against the need to assure that those who choose to abuse the opportunities presented by online forums can be held responsible for their transgressions. Meaning, no more social gadflies, spam bots and war trolls who hold captive forums with wars of words and drive-by commenting.

Now, in this newly remodeled realm of online commenting, those who have been so willing to offer their opinion, yet so reluctant to divulge who they are will be subject to the same standards of accountability as any other professional.

Don’t get me wrong, we want to draw traffic and spur discussion on our Web site, but we also want to maintain a level of civility while also preserving journalistic fundamentals. However, when the relationship between journalist and commenter turns caustic it’s easy enough to just suspend the user account.

Although pseudonyms and anonymity reign supreme in the instantaneous realm of digital publishing, the moral of the story is that comments are visible for all to see.

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