Blogs » Your Advocate: an editor's blog » When is it ever appropriate to restrict online comments?

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If you're one of my many Facebook friends, you know I'm regularly using that social-networking site as another way to reach out to the community.

For whatever reason, I've found the conversation on Facebook to be much more pleasant than what generally occurs on any news site. Oh, we have lots of exceptions, particularly some of our best bloggers who bring wonderful wit and wisdom to VictoriaAdvocate.com.

But we have plenty of challenges, too, particularly when we publish a volatile story. Sunday's investigative story on the county judge candidates is one of those. I share below my Facebook conversation to help explain our thinking and a reader's opposing view.

Here's my first Facebook post, which contained a link to the story:

This is an important story we took months to research. We consider it part of our First Amendment duty to help inform the public about their candidates for public office. We hope you'll take the time to read the full story and go to our website, where we have supporting documentation and an audio clip posted. You also may vote via our online poll about your choice for county judge. We appreciate, as always, hearing what you think of this special report.

(Facebook names removed because I didn't get permission to post them here): it might have been a good story, but our paper didn't show up this morning. At least it was not there when i went to work at 0630

(Facebook friend): Chris, why was the "comment" button removed from these two stories on Ocker?

Chris Cobler (First friend), so sorry. Did you call our customer service department to report the problem? (Second friend), one candidate is a banned user on our site. We didn't think it would be fair for others to comment on the story if others could not. A tough call, but we try to promote a civil conversation on our website. Any suggestions?

Chris Cobler Of course, we encourage everyone to write a letter to the editor at letters@vicad.com. I don't think people fully appreciate how important it is for their voices to be heard in a democracy. A letter to the editor is a great way to make a difference.

(First friend): guess i gotta call on monday the customer service people are closed already

Chris Cobler If you send me your address, I'll see what I can do to get you a special Sunday delivery. It's a great edition. You don't want to wait until Monday to read it.

Chris Cobler Another option if you're out and about is to buy a copy from one of our many single-copy locations. When you call the customer service department on Monday, they'll credit your account for the missed delivery. Our apologies again. I hate to hear about any reader missing out on the results of all of our hard work. We have a lot of moving parts from start to your doorstep. That's why newspapers are called the daily miracle.

(Second Facebook friend): Chris...that answer makes no sense..."one candidate is a banned user on our site. We didn't think it would be fair for others to comment on the story if others could not."

(Second Facebook friend): VA bans people or removes their comments...so why punish the rest of us? It's censorship...

Chris Cobler You and others are still free to create a blog and comment on this story that way. We are concerned about the unsubstantiated and personal attacks the this story will prompt. Moderating an online forum is challenging. I wouldn't call this censorship, however. You have many ways to still express your opinion. We've chosen to limit one option for anonymous comments, which we know from experience leads to problems on volatile subjects.

Chris Cobler We hope this story also will prompt many people to write letters to the editor on the subject. We want to hear what people think about such an important story.

(First Facebook friend): it's xx street in yoakum. i appreciate anything you could do. reading it online just isn't the same

(Third Facebook friend): I was WONDERING why Matt Ocker has been so quiet these past few months on Victoria Advocate Online! Didn't know he was a banned user.......

Chris Cobler (To first Facebook friend), I'll see what we can do yet this afternoon. I agree the online experience isn't the same as the printed paper.


I hope this gives our readers some understanding of our thinking on this subject and some sense of the conversation that goes on about your Advocate in so many places and in so many ways. If you have a Facebook account, I hope you'll send me a friend request so that we might continue the conversation there, too. I'm intrigued by the idea of how we might incorporate Facebook into VictoriaAdvocate.com.

For those wanting to level accusations either way about Sunday's lead story, please be warned that we won't allow much leeway on this blog either. Please keep your comments to the question at hand: When is it ever appropriate to not allow online comments?