Publisher's note

Opinion: Dan Haley

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By Dan Haley

Editor and Publisher

A couple of weeks back we ran a letter to the editor in the print edition of the Review. As we always have, letters in print must be signed by the author. We require a phone number to verify authorship. Seems pretty clean and simple.

But over here on the digital side of the enterprise, that letter has gone viral – at least by our small town paper version of viral. Last I looked there were 444 comments on this single thread.

It took a couple of days for the comments to begin piling up but then it was like a round-the-clock blizzard of comments. In the two years the Review website has allowed live comments to be posted this was the greatest influx of comments we've seen. And after a few days, based both on the volume and intensity of the comments and suspicions from some commenters that there was a steroid-infused troll at work I asked our programmer to look at the thread.

What he reported back was that a very large number of comments – 156 of the total of 444 currently – came from the same IP address. More distressing to me is his estimate that those 156 comments were posted under at least 50 pseudonyms. So we have one IP address swamping the comment thread and attempting to deceive readers into believing there were dozens of people who shared a point of view.

Our goal is to create and nurture a forum for lively debate of local issues. Given the live comments and the anonymity we allow we understand there will be some deceitful behavior. We're not giving up on live comments. We are evolving our approach though.

The IP address in question – and we have no idea who is behind this IP – is now blocked from live commenting. Every comment that comes from that address will now have to be approved by Jean Lotus, our editor. And we will more actively be watching for such rude behavior and will be ready to act more quickly to offer protections to those who actually want to have a healthy discussion.

Finally, I'd ask each of our posters to elevate the conversation. Let's cut the name-calling and the schoolyard bullying. We will more actively be pulling down rude and childish comments, too. Readers are also encouraged to flag comments they find inappropriate.

Thanks for your help in making this forum vital and worthy of a town as interesting as Forest Park.

Dan Haley


Email: dhaley@wjinc.com Twitter: @OPEditor

Reader Comments

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Comment Policy

JoHn MuRtAgH from oak park  

Posted: August 1st, 2014 11:50 AM

Who is MS Swisher? She (?) had a named post on this thread. That is very unusual. She usually has written posts that never appear with her name. Think I am crazy? Type MS Swisher into WJ Search. Lots of Swisher found, but when you look they are not on the string. Is Swisher a Zombie?

john MURTAGH  

Posted: August 1st, 2014 11:23 AM

I wish the WJ would spend less time verbally attacking the Zombies of the Comments and more time fixing the poorly designed, technically weak, and chronically "not working properly." site. There is one thing I would like added. Less Whining.

David Hammond from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: August 1st, 2014 10:33 AM

Thank you, Dan, for the continued plea to elevate the level of discourse in the Comments section. I find the comments very valuable, even though I have sometimes been the object of attack by anonymous posters using (I believe) different names. I am surprised to hear that some feel they "recognize" who the multiple posters are, and not responding to them is perhaps a good idea, but simply having huge numbers of negative posts sets a tone that is detrimental to productive conversation. Is there a way to post the IP address (not the name, just the address) so that at least we can determine that some posts are originating from the same source?

Robert Zeh from River Forest, Illinois  

Posted: July 30th, 2014 10:03 PM

While not a solved problem, creating a healthy environment for an online comments is something with prior art, and there is a more that the Wednesday Journal could do. For example, you could display the source IP address for comments (or better, a unique identifier for each IP address). This would have avoided the problem you had with your 156 comments without any manual intervention. You could make Facebook Verified posts more prominent to encourage more people to post with their real names. Or you could use something like Discourse (http://www.discourse.org) to handle your comments. But above all, you could experiment. Figure out how to measure what you want, and then try something different for a month, or on some class of articles, and see if things get better or worse.

Ray Simpson from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: July 30th, 2014 3:27 PM

I have been a frequent commenter, and yes I do use my real name. There are times when both sides of any issue needs to be expressed. If one view is excluded it will lose in the arena of public opinion. What was the old expression - I disagree with your opinion with all of my heart but, will defend your right to hold it to the very death.

MS Swisher from Oak Park  

Posted: July 30th, 2014 5:20 AM

Thank you, Dan for exposing this issue. It was disappointing to see how the comments took on such a nasty tone while you and the publication have been so open to opposing views. I too, felt that enough was enough.

JR murtagh from Oak Park  

Posted: July 29th, 2014 10:44 PM

What a shock to find the WJ is shocked with the going on at WJ Comments. Comments has been running downhill for more than a year with WJ's rules being ignored, and false names being allowed to run through the blog like rats. We who post regularly know who the multi-URL posters are. We police them by not replying to their posts. There are a lot of things WJ could do to improve the blog, but first they need to see Comments as an asset. If it is not an asset, close up the shop.

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