The Brooklyn Paper has started inviting its readers to add their comments directly below the articles that appear on our Web site.
And now, the deluge.
Certainly, we would not be opening up our Web site to public comment if we were not fully committed to encouraging a free and open exchange of ideas.
At the same time, eagle-eyed readers will notice a disclaimer embedded into the comment box compelling commenters to not post any “abusive, obscene, vulgar, slanderous, hateful, threatening or sexually oriented material, or any material that may violate applicable law,” on the site.
In today’s fast-moving, “e-mail first, ask questions later” world, it’s pretty easy to see why that’s an important bit of legalese.
When it comes to the dissemination of information, the Internet may indeed be mankind’s greatest innovation since the printing press. But because most users are shielded by a false assumption of anonymity, reasoned debate typically breaks down faster than you can say, “IMHO…”
The examples are legion, but a recent case is worth mentioning. The other day, our friends at Brownstoner.com ran a story about a sheet of paper that appeared on the window of a vacant Fifth Avenue storefront. The note asked locals what kind of stores they hoped would fill the empty space, and what kind of stores would not be welcome.
Fair enough. But the subsequent comment section of the Brownstoner Web site — which started as a reasonable discussion of what stores people would like to see in the space — quickly devolved into a racially ugly debate about shopping habits that included such insightful commentary as “white people suck” and how black people don’t mind the Atlantic Center Mall because they “just shrug, get their shopping done, and leave.”
This “debate” followed a pattern that has become all too common — and, bizarrely, accepted — on the Web, where a Wild West mentality seems to apply.
We believe our readers are not served by such coarse, vulgar broadsides. As a proud supporter of civility, reason and intellect, we hope our respondents won’t use the comment section to merely spew venom from behind a screen name. As our disclaimer says, “doing so may lead to the removal of your post and to your being permanently banned.”
We hope it won’t come to that, but here’s a good ground rule: If you could not stand up in front of a crowd of strangers and say aloud the words that you are typing, it’s safe to say that such a comment is out of bounds in a civil society.
That said, please use our new comment pages to fully exercise your right to free speech.
But as the old sergeant used to say on “Hill Street Blues” — “Let’s be careful out there.”