Originally published in The Commons issue #165 (Wednesday, August 15, 2012).
We don’t receive a huge number of comments on our website — 10 to 15 on a good week, maybe. By some news website standards, that volume would likely be perceived as a failure.
I say it’s working.
The comments that we get are overwhelmingly constructive and well thought out. They’ve jump-started our letters section considerably.
I attribute most of those good qualities to our pretty-darned-strict terms of service.
We ask for your real name and where you live — which is no different from what we ask from people who write letters to this section — and I consider every comment for publication in the print paper, which gives it a new and different audience.
We’ve been chugging along for some months now with these rules, so it came as somewhat of a shock when a reader going by the screen name “NoWayInVermont” submitted a response to a provocative, heartfelt piece that we published from Leslie Flanagan, who was saying goodbye — and, with some bitter candor, good riddance — to Bellows Falls.
The comment was not about the piece, but about our commenting policy.
“The demand for non-anonymity is quite an effective weapon against honest feedback regarding this piece,” the writer said. “If you have to still live here, how can you leave a sympathetic comment without serious repercussions? The Commons is clearly a journalistic endeavor and can afford anonymity; here it actively works against their interest.
“And yes, I created the username as well as the email account just for these two cents.”
The same writer followed up a day later:
“Cowards at the helm of The Commons:
“I can subscribe anonymously but not comment on a substantive issue without endangering life and limb.
I genuinely feel this reader’s anxiety. But if this person is the one who is afraid to leave a comment, however legitimately, how does that make us the cowards?
* * *
The fact of the matter is, online discussions can go wild without some reasonable ground rules.
Editor’s note: Our terms of service require you to use your real names. We will remove anonymous or pseudonymous comments that come to our attention. We rely on our readers’ personal integrity to stand behind what they say; please do not write anything to someone that you wouldn’t say to his or her face without your needing to wear a ski mask while saying it. Thanks for doing your part to make your responses forceful, thoughtful, provocative, and civil. We also consider your comments for the letters column in the print newspaper.