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The *uck stops here

By Doug Thompson
June 13, 2007

In recent weeks, we’ve seen a dramatic increase in the use of abusive language, expressions of hate and obscenities in comments by readers to stories appearing in Capitol Hill Blue.

The discourse has turned from meaningful debate to a free-for-all where readers hurl insults at each other, scream obscenities in capital letters and strive to see how many nasty adjectives they can use in a single post.

I’ve reset the spam filters several times to try and catch these comments but too much hyperbole still gets through. I spend several hours each day going through the moderation queue because readers continue to ignore our stated policies on discussion.

I waded through more than 200 such comments last night before going to bed. I got up at 5 a.m. this morning and found more than 300 awaiting action.

My column Monday on Sen. Joseph Lieberman brought the anti-Semites out in force. Phil Hoskins’ column over the weekend about gay pride brought a hoard of gay bashers. If we publish a story about Barack Obama, the racists weigh in. At times the cycle seems endless and repetitive.

The Internet has the potential to become a worthwhile public forum on issues of the day but it also is a breeding ground for hate, intolerance and anger and we see far too much of that in political discussions. Reasonable discussion is impossible when a majority of those who post comments do nothing but throw word bombs at each other while hiding behind anonymous screen names.

A few weeks ago, I discontinued comments directly to news stories and directed those who wanted to discuss stories and topics to our successful and long running forum, ReaderRant. A number of readers asked me to reconsider and I decided to give open comments one more chance.

I was wrong to change my original decision. Despite increased anti-spamming settings, the nastiness escalated and the level of discourse devolved into too many shouting matches. We do not have the time or the resources to spend hours each day dealing with the increasing number of posts that require moderation and attention.

ReaderRant is a moderated discussion board that encourages open, but civil, discussion on a broad range of topics. It is, and should be, the place where readers express their views. In the coming days, we will be moving to a new software system on ReaderRant that enhances and improves the forum as well as its role as the premier political discussion board on the ‘Net.

But as a moderated discussion board, ReaderRant has rules about civility and use of language. It does not tolerate obscenity, nor should it. It does not allow members to “flame” or insult each other, nor should it. It requires that elected officials be addressed by proper names not insulting nicknames or obscenity-laced references, and it should.

So the *uck stops here. I had hoped we could have an open and freewheeling discussion of topics on Capitol Hill Blue without it turning into the hate-filled tirades that dominate so many other political web sites.

I was wrong.

Capitol Hill Blue is a news site.

We are not a barroom brawl.

I apologize to readers for allowing it to become one.