Starting Monday, June 26, Watertown News will have new guidelines for commenting on stories on the site, with preference given to people signing their names to comments.
Due to numerous complaints I have received from people in the community about people commenting anonymously or using a screen name, the rules for those who do not use their name will be different. I read comments before approving them to go on the site, but over the past year or so I feel some debates have gotten out of control.
While I understand people may not want to use their own name, I also think it is not fair to allow people to make statements – especially directed at other commenters or people in the story – under the anonymity of a screen name.
People will still be able to comment without their name, BUT, a person can only make one comment per story anonymously. You will not be able to respond to posts about to your comment from people using their name as their screen name or who sign their comment. Also, people will be able to comment about the story or issues in as story, but will not be able to make comments directed at someone else’s comments.
Essentially, if you really believe in what you are saying in your comment you need stand behind it by using your name.
To comment using your name you must have your real name, first and last names, either in the “name” section of the comment form or by signing at the end of the comment. You do not need to include your address or street.
There are also rules for those who use their name when commenting, including no personal attacks or slights, and no swearing or rude language.
Why make the change now? It is a slower part of the year and before we get into this year’s Town Election. Still, there have been few recent issues have inspired heated debate, some of which went over the line. It is my hope that the new rules will result in more thoughtful discussion and debate and less focus on who is making the comments. I did not want to require everyone to verify themselves because this sometimes discourages people from commenting. Some ways of doing so, such as requiring a Facebook account, limits who can participate because they are not on Facebook or other sites.
One more thing, if you are commenting and have a concern about your comment or people’s responses to your comment you can always contact me “off line” by email at firstname.lastname@example.org rather than responding in the comment section.
Editor, Watertown News
Tips for Commenting
People have become divided across the nation and right here in Watertown, and I believe online commenting and social media has contributed greatly to this divide. People focus more on differences than on what unites us. Sometimes these can be due to misunderstandings and pitfalls that can be avoided.
Here are some of my tips:
Take a Minute
Before you hit Post Comment take a minute to think about it. Often people will comment immediately after reading the story or another comment and what you really want to say is not communicated clearly, or sometimes you may realize you didn’t want to make the comment. By might avoid getting into an argument and you can get your message across clearly.
Expand on Your Opinion
I remember getting notes from my teachers on tests or papers saying “Expand on this,” or “Explain.” I think this is good advice for commenting. Instead of “I don’t like this,” say “I don’t like this because …” Even a brief explanation can be helpful in getting your point across. Remember, people don’t know what you were thinking when you made the comment so what makes sense in your head when you made your comment will not come through unless you include that information.
Respond to the Comment, Not the Person
When you write a comment and use the person’s name, it will appear much to be much more personal, even targeted at the person. When someone reads “I disagree about this issue …” it is reads differently than if you say “Joe Public, I disagree with you …” or “I disagree with Joe Public on this issue …”
You Don’t Always Have to Respond
On that subject, if someone responds negatively to your comment, it is understandable you want to react. Sometimes you can explain why you made your first statement or add some information. However, if it is the third or fourth time you are going back and forth it is not likely you will convince the other person, and this is often when the debate gets into the weeds and gets into personal slights, assumptions are made about the person and other areas far away from the original comment. Sometimes leaving the argument is the best move, and you can take comfort that you took the high road.
Don’t Make Assumptions About Others
As mentioned above, I have seen multiple discussions end up with people making statements about another person, usually who they do not know personally, based on what is said on in the comments. That is such a small window. Don’t think that a person fits a larger stereotype just because of their opinions on one or a few subjects. And when you “attack” their values and make assumptions, the reverse also occurs and they will only see you as a stereotype. While we have a wide range of opinions in Watertown, I believe most people would get along if they actually met in person – and being such a small town you might just run into them.
Don’t Get Baited
I believe this is where many people get into unintended or unexpected heated debates. Fans of “South Park” may have seen the story arc on Internet Trolling. The show did a surprisingly good job at boiling down the issue. One of the points was sometimes you will state your opinion and others will egg you on until you react in a way that will make others upset and totally sidetrack your original point and may put people off from your entire opinion – no matter how insightful it is. This is where assumptions often come into play.