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In the comments of a Post magazine story about a woman who divorced her husband after he had a debilitating stroke, columnist Robert McCartney notes things got very nasty, very quickly:
Writers didn’t stop at condemning Ivie for divorcing her first husband, an act that they said violated her marriage vows. They went on (and on), in one sanctimonious posting after another, to paint her as a selfish, promiscuous publicity hound.
“Talk about immoral and sleazy. This woman covers all the bases,” one posting said.
“Nothing like a disability to get in the way of your dating,” another said.
Or how about my personal favorite: “This woman has absolutely no right to any happiness whatsoever.”
These writers have every right to voice their disapproval of Ivie’s actions on the grounds that their view of the marriage covenant is different from hers – and, given the national divorce rate, different from that of most Americans.
But if they’re too cowardly to write under their own names and accept some accountability, then they ought to try to be constructive rather than just cruel. The Post and other media companies open these forums to all comers with little censorship, but that doesn’t relieve the writers of the obligation to exercise some self-restraint.
I’m sorry—-maybe McCartney is new to the world of Internet comments, but if one thing is true, it’s that very few commenters feel an obligation to do anything but express their opinions. Anonymity helps them go further than they would normally. While we allow anonymous comments at City Desk, we also moderate them based on a few rules. The Post, however, expects to have a civil discourse without any moderation, and that’s not how it works in the real world.
A friend who contributes to the Post told me last year that editors have asked regular contributors to start participating in the comment sections of their columns. My friend refused because the comments are essentially going unmoderated and getting in there means becoming a punching bag for really angry people. I’m not sure why the Post expects it can have good discussion without actively moderating. As City Paper alum Ta-Nehisi Coates (known for having one of the most thoughtful comment sections around) told On The Media, “I spend at least as much time in curating and hosting as I do writing.” And that’s hard to do—-especially on a site as large as the Post’s—-but it’s effective. If the Post is going to let its comments section run free, they shouldn’t complain that commenters are rude.