Readers React to New Haven Register’s Online Comment Policy

Brandon T. Bisceglia

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Some call it censorship. Others say it will foster civil discussion. The New Haven Register announced Nov. 28 that all comments that readers post will be reviewed before appearing on the

A screen capture of the comments on The Register’s article about the new comment policy. Readers have varying opinions on the usefullness and purpose of the policy.

newspaper’s website. The Register’s explanation of the new policy said, “Our purpose is not to limit political viewpoints, but to keep the racist, sexist, vulgar, or otherwise abusive posts from seeing the light of day on this website.”

The article says it enacted the policy because of complaints from readers. There are several other mechanisms on the site for dealing with disputes about comments. Every comment has a “Report Abuse” below it that readers can use if they think that a comment violates the Register’s terms. If someone thinks his or her comment was wrongly removed or not approved, he or she can email for answers.

Regular users of the Register’s website reacted in a variety of ways to the news. “Vinny” pointed out that it would be impossible to know if the Register was censoring legitimate opinions, because they would never show up for anyone else to see. “For the record, I’m an adult and don’t need someone protecting me from racist, sexist, or abusive comments; [It] gives me greater insight to the type of person whose posts I’m reading, and I can decide that it’s garbage and need not be considered,” he said.

“Gordy” thanked the Register for the new policy. “I stopped reading the comments because they were too often dominated by name calling and non-constructive comments about individuals or groups (based on race, political affiliation and other criteria), or they were totally unrelated to the subject at hand,” he said. “Insofar at those who complain about censorship – hey, you’re a private company and you don’t “owe” a public forum to abusive individuals. Maybe they can create their own blog on which to rant and rave?”

Some individuals thought there were better ways to foster a more civil atmosphere. One commenter calling himself “simple fix really” suggested that the vulgar comments would go away if people were required to provide a valid email address in order to post. Currently, email addresses are optional.

Others suggested that commenters should have to link to an outside account, such as Facebook, so that they could not remain completely anonymous. “Jeff” objected to that policy, though, saying he did not want to be forced to sign up with a third-party website such as Facebook simply to be able to use the Register’s website.

A number of commenters pointed out that letters to the editor, the traditional public forum for a newspaper, require writers to include a name, town, and phone number.

Susan W. was one proponent of making the standards online match up to those in print. “This is the exact same issue,” she said. “No one can submit a story or comment about a person (personal attacks) without signing their name to the article. Why do you think that this site should be a wild-west deal? No accountability for the sometimes mean and often times slanderous comments? Why is not unacceptable behavior in print, but is anything goes in cyberspace?”

A few people said they would be leaving the New Haven Register for another newspaper, such as the Connecticut Post, because of the change. However, the Connecticut Post has even more stringent restrictions on its comments, including making users register with the site before they can post.

The new comment review policy does not conflict with the Journal Register Company’s terms and conditions, which governed the site long before November’s change. These terms include allowing comments to be deleted for such things as hateful language, false, unfair, or misleading information, sexually explicit material, or anything that encourages breaking a law. The Journal Register Company owns the New Haven Register.

The terms state that the company “reserves the right to delete any communications at any time, for any reason or in its discretion, but has no obligation to review or remove any such content. Journal Register Company also reserves the right to disclose any information as necessary to satisfy any law, regulation or governmental request, or to refuse to post or to remove any information or materials, in whole or in part, that in Journal Register Company’s sole discretion are objectionable or in violation of these Terms of Use.”

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Readers React to New Haven Register’s Online Comment Policy