From the editor’s desk: Feedback wanted on NRI NOW comment policy

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The question of how to handle the online comment section has been an ongoing source of frustration, debate and trouble at every news outlet I have worked for.

It can be difficult and time-consuming to make decisions as to what should be deleted – and it’s not a process that comes naturally to a proponent of free speech.

The alternative, however, is to allow your outlet to become an ongoing source of insults, hatred and indecency. The situation becomes a lose/lose proposition as you will always alienate someone – whether it’s the commenter or the person they’re insulting. It is a distraction from the business of reporting the news and if left unchecked, has the potential to hurt the outlet’s reputation.

Some choices are easy: obscenities, of course, are taken down immediately. But we struggle with much of the rest.

Last year, we attempted to implement the policy found here. It was a sincere attempt to create guidelines that we have since abandoned. Why? Because while readers seemed to agree with the idea in theory, all it seemed to do in action was make everyone more angry. Those who were censored, of course, were highly critical, and I soon realized that no matter how much I pleaded with people not to make their comments personal, no one seemed to understand or follow the concept of sticking to the issue rather than the individual. Deleting comments is also an inherently subjective process: what I find offensive is not necessarily the same as every reader and your opinion will invariably be influenced by your political leanings and other beliefs.

And most often, the contributions fall somewhere in the middle between reasonable observation/opinion and unfair/offensive attack.

This is particularly problematic when it comes to candidates for political office. Some feel that by seeking or holding a seat in government, these individuals have opened themselves up to criticism and as such, become fair game. I disagree – in part because I know from years of observation that serving your community can be a thankless job that doesn’t come with many benefits. As a society, we need these people to step forward to serve and, at least to me, it doesn’t seem fair or right that we also require them to have such thick skin. More on my concern with this can be found in this editorial that I wrote last year.

In recent months I have taken a “hands off” approach, removing only the most heinous comments. To those who have found themselves a target of the angry troll mob or even just some unfairly harsh criticism as a result, please know my complicity is not an endorsement, and that I spend far more time than I want to thinking about this issue.

So what’s the answer? It has been suggested to me that eliminating the ability to comment anonymously could help. To do that, we would need to implement a verification process – which isn’t as easy as it sounds – but of course, also isn’t impossible. I’m not convinced, however, that it’s the right course of action, or even that it would fully address the problem. We aim to be a resource that contributes to the community and at least generally, we do believe that there is some value to offering a forum for open debate and discussion.

And so, I want to try to re-create policy democratically, and I’m asking you, dear reader, for your help.

I want your opinion on the following questions:

Should all comments on NRI NOW require manual approval by the editor?

Should anonymous commentary be allowed?

Should I remove comments containing personal insults?

Should comments be allowed on candidacy announcements and/or platform statements?

Should I edit reader comments to remove just the part that I deem inappropriate?

Should I shut down commenting altogether?

Readers are invited to submit feedback below or email their take on the matter to [email protected].

Sandy Hall

Sandy Hall is a North Smithfield resident, and the founder and publisher of NRI NOW.

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25 COMMENTS

    • How about previous responses and stories, that had such commenters to include but not limited to jp1165, hr, Kevin mutto, Bob Simpson, the terrible butchering of people’s actual names? Do any of those names flag as similar IP to other posters? Also, does it show if there’s a VPN involved?

  1. I also believe people should have to use their real names however I also understand policing the comment section of your page would be a full time job. It’s not just your page where this is an issue. It’s a bigger problem in the Valley Breeze comment section, but I don’t think they are too concerned about it. If you are not willing to stand behind what you are saying maybe you shouldn’t be saying it. But for you I’d say let it go. You’re too busy to be chasing ghosts.

  2. I believe that every comment must be posted using your real name and name calling will not be tolerated. Regarding political commentary and candidate qualifications, I believe that facts as stated, should stand regarding voting records, positions, party affiliation, etc.

  3. Richard G.– you are wrong. When I know a piece will rile up the townsfolk, I ALWAYS read ALL the comments. It’s interesting, laughable & sometimes informative. I’m sure there’s a tech guy Mrs Hall knows who can install a limitation on repeat commentators & then they can make a “coin a comment” monetary donation to their favorite news source to keep the flame alive!

  4. I’m of the opinion that people should have to post using their real name. If they’re willing to use their real identity it should not be edited. All too often, some elected officials post using fake identities (like Denis F.) and while I agree with Brian that observant readers who have become familiar with the writing style can usually identify the author, it’s not that easy for those who only occasionally read comments to solve the mystery. Particularly during the election season anonymous posts should not be allowed.

    • What proof do you have Mr. Clifford that any elected official does that ? Or are you referring to when councilperson Hamilton was caught doing that as Town Administrator years ago and is documented through the Valley Breeze ?

      What about people like Kevin Mutto, Bob Simpson, Dave J, Harley53 and on and on. Those are real people, correct?

      Real “people” who make misleading claims, insinuations and accusations. What happens to those “people”

      • I’m glad you asked what proof I have Harry (?), because unfortunately, as you know, the only “proof” would be for the VB or NRINOW to disclose the name of the individual using the acronym. That’s exactly why I believe acronyms shouldn’t be allowed. Absent a system that requires people to register by providing proof of identification (i.e. a license), people can only make an educated guess as to who is behind the acronym. For example, based on your writing style, I might guess you’re likely to be John Beauregard. He often engages with the aliases you referenced since they criticize him often, and he ties those names together as a group all the time. He uses “proof”, “correct?’ and often answers his own question and then seeks affirmation that his answer is correct. He does that at Council meetings and when he posts. He also likes to walk the fence by somewhat agreeing but not truly agreeing. As for what happens to “real” people who write comments considered to be accusations and insinuations, to start with, people unjustly charged would have legal recourse if they truly believed there was no truth to a statement. Have a good day Harry!

        • Sorry genius it’s not me using fake names, never have. Wrong again. . I do find it ironic you are so against fake names being used in Sandy’s page but have no issue with it on your own. Another example of hypocrisy by Mike Clifford. It’s going to be a long election season. Strap in.

          • Right John, you never use fake names just like you had no idea the police station was crumbling and the roof was leaking until you made a video of the leaking roof. Nobody beleived that one either. You were on the TC and a member of the MBRTF but had no idea any money needed to be spent on the station since 2016. Zero, you spent zero dollars on the station for all those years. Intentional neglect of a town building personifies a betrayal of the public trust. How silly of me to think you’d ever stoop to using a fake identity since everything you do is out in the open for all to see and read. You’re all about transparency. Right, lol.

            • Aren’t you the one complaining about “people” not staying on topic of the article and attacking people about topics that don’t have to do with the article? This is about fake and anonymous comments, not the police station. You will
              complain about others doing something and then find a way to justify doing the exact same thing.

              Nice try to redirect the narrative of the abundance of fake profiles and names on your Cliff Notes page that parrot and echo every word you type! Must be tough keeping all those user names, profiles and passwords straight LOL. Guess you took lessons from the best !

              • Speaking of the cowardly lion, right on cue enters “Harry” to speak for John. “They’re” not a tag team, it’s just a happy coincidence. Lol

                • I speak for myself, not Mr. Beauregard.

                  And this is no different than the echo chamber and parroted narrative repeats of Kevin Mutto, Bob Simpson, Tom Devito and Dave J on your page and other news pages..Oh and councilwoman “Not Her Again”, is it, Mr. Clifford?

                  • Well “Harry” why don’t you tell us who “myself” is? Using phrases like “echo chamber and parroted narrative repeats” sounds like Tony Guertin but perhaps you’re simply John trying to copy Tony’s style to throw people off.

                    • This comment section has turned into exactly what everyone was expecting.

                      I would prefer commenters be required to use their full name, but understand the instances some would prefer not to. I’m not sure if this feature would be a possibility, but it would be nice to be able to “like” or “dislike” a posted comment.

                    • Why don’t you bring all your “friends” to the next town meeting so we can all meet “Tom, Kevin, Bob and Dave” in person.

                      I notice how you never even acknowledge these “people” or address anyone questioning you about “them”

                  • I notice you still haven’t answered my question either Harry. Don’t care to identify yourself even to get your pal John off the hook? It doesn’t surprise me at all that you can’t and won’t. As for the people you call my “friends”, I don’t have any friends by those names who post on my page. I’m not a chicken like you are Harry, I always sign my posts using my own name. Anyone who knows me well, laughs when you suggest I’m afraid to speak my own mind. As hard as you have tried to shut me up over the years, I just keep at it because I get great satisfaction from frustrating a bully like you. That’s not exactly a secret in this town TEDNS.

            • Mr. Mutto I mean Mr Simpson, I mean Mr Clifford, Are you wrong or purposely covering up for someone? According to the town charter who is responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of town buildings?

              • Under the articles of the Charter describing the duties of the Town Administrator, Town Council, Department Heads and Boards and Commissions there are many references to maintaining a healthy and safe working environment and such, but I’d say Article XV, Section 11 clearly assigns oversight of public buildings to the Asset Management Commission. That Article charges the Asset Management Commission with the responsibility to “Assess the condition of all buildings and establish and prioritize the need for repairs or renovations.” More importantly, I think the question which needs to be asked is who told the Chief of Police NOT to file work orders for renovations and repairs because a new building would be built. He made that statement at a Town Council meeting but never said who gave him that directive back in 2016.

                • Under the charter, article xi, section 2, sub section 2 which is the powers and duties for the chief of police, it reads: “He shall also be responsible for all Town property in his custody.” Imagine not knowing the charter and trying to call someone out, yikes.

  5. I think to answer this question you need to first ask “what is a comment section for”? Ideally it is for people with either more knowledge of the topic or informed opinions or alternate views to weigh in and add to the discussion. And that does actually frequently happen on this site and others. So it would be a shame to shut down commenting. Of course in practice you often wind up with trolls as well, but I don’t see how you can fairly screen for one and only get the other. It just doesn’t work and will only lead to accusations of bias and favoritism.

    I wouldn’t worry about it though. Most trolls only reflect poorly on themselves. Few of them can string two sentences coherently together anyway and no serious person puts weight into an ad hominem attack.

    As for anonymity, I can fully understand people who have no wish to expose themselves but can add valuable contributions. They may have an employer who frowns on their views or otherwise would like to weigh in on topics without generating strife in their offline personal life. And anonymous trolls are never as anonymous as they think they are, especially if they are public figures, past or present. People have a way of inadvertently leaving clues to their identity when they splutter and rage. I find it amusing personally.

    So I say leave it as is.

  6. Let it Go. Very few people read all the comments anyway. There are clear divisions between repeat commenters. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the middle of it or you can just ignore it. People need a place to vent. There is a lot of frustration in town. You have chosen to be a public voice so it comes with the territory.

    I would also like to mention down below you have to be rated either great or not so great. I would suggest those answers will not help you.

    • Thank you for the feedback.
      As far as the rating, you may have noticed that the section comes with a box to provide further input, which is actually quite helpful.

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