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Last week I read an article on CNN.com about anger on the Internet. The primary topic of the article was how anonymity on the Internet provides an outlet for angry people.

I've only been moderating the blogs and discussion forums here at the Advocate for a couple of weeks now, but I've seen some anger online. It's not as bad as other online communities, but it exists.

I understand some of the reasons for strong emotions on certain topics. Just like in real life, people are going to feel strongly about certain issues or subjects we cover, and will feel the need to express those feelings online through blogs or discussion forums.

But does that mean it's acceptable to verbally attack a person or group of people just because you don't agree with and do not interact with them in real life?

One reason for the vitriol that emerges on the Web, experts say, is the anonymity the Internet provides. Commenters seldom use their real names, and even if they do, the chance for retaliation is slim.

"In the [pre-Internet era], you had to take ownership [of your remarks]. Now there's a perception of anonymity," said Lesley Withers, a professor of communication at Central Michigan University. "People think what they say won't have repercussions, and they don't think they have to soften their comments."

Contrast that with a face-to-face conversation, or even a phone conversation, where you can judge people's moods from facial movements or vocal inflections, observes University of Texas psychology professor Art Markman. [Via CNN.com]
While we can discuss the reason for hatred and hostility on the Web, I'd like to focus primarily on what we can do to improve our online community. Many of you are familiar with our current online policies, seen right before you submit a comment on an article or blog post.  For those of you not familiar with our online policies, here they are:

Policy for commenting on articles:
Dear poster, This is just a friendly reminder to follow Advocate policy when posting:
  • No personal attacks, including name-calling.
  • No bad language.
  • No stating of unsubstantiated information as fact.
Staying on topic is the best way to avoid deletion. Thanks for your cooperation.

Policy for commenting on blogs:
Ground Rules for posting comments:
  • No profanity or personal attacks.
  • Please comment on the subject of the blog post itself.
If you do not follow these rules we will remove your comment. Please keep it civil.
I know we can't make this a fantasy land where everyone agrees with each other and we all hold hands, sing lullabies to each other and live in cupcake houses and float on cotton candy clouds (can you tell I skipped my afternoon snack?), but we can at least attempt to enhance our community and online policies.

I've had many ask me why I delete some comments and not others. I've also had others suggest we are protecting some posters, while leaving others to run rampant.  As I've explained to them, although we do our best to moderate all comments and blogs, we also rely on our online community to help us flag inappropriate comments or blogs.

Now I'm not here to name names or call out people, but I do want to hear from you and listen to your suggestions for improving our online community.

In my next post I will share with you some of the online policies of other newspaper sites and would like to hear your feedback. In the meantime, share your thoughts and let me know if you think. Would it help if we clarified our own online policies?