Editorial: We stand by our commenting policy

Posted by the Editorial Board

Prior to the publication of this past week's issue, members of the faculty and administration approached The Skidmore News with concerns regarding online comments on our website.

A specific complaint sent to editors in an e-mail was that the comments, which are predominantly anonymous, are "vicious" and "vitriolic."

While the editorial board of The Skidmore News agrees that many of these anonymous comments are neither civil nor constructive, we have definitively concluded that we will not change our website's policy regarding anonymous commenting.

This nation was founded on the principle of freedom of expression, and as an institution of the free press we are fundamentally obliged to uphold that principle.

Readers' commentary, whether anonymous or signed, is an important component of journalism, and as long as these comments do not evolve into hate speech, bigotry, threats or libel, they must be protected. The comment board is a venue for our readership to hold writers responsible for their articles.

Furthermore, by censoring readers' criticism, we delegitimize our position as the "campus authority". Readers' responses to articles and other comments on the website often hold as much importance as the articles themselves.

These hateful comments have sparked concern because they are written in response to issues that have been a source of contention on campus.

Requesting that The Skidmore News take down such comments ignores the larger issue, which is that there are people within our community who clearly hold these offensive and hateful opinions. We recognize that reading these comments is disconcerting and unnerving, but we cannot confront the issue by denying people a forum to express their opinions. It is better that these commenters express their opinions anonymously than not at all.

Beyond this, the Internet is inherently anonymous. Even a required registered username may still only be a pseudonym, and we cannot limit commenting to only Skidmore students. Our readership extends outside of the campus, and those readers deserve to be part of the discourse.

Ultimately, requiring users to sign names on their comments does not guarantee the authenticity of that name, and shutting out the Saratoga Springs community isolates Skidmore further than its wooded plot of land in the north of town.

The Skidmore News does not accept all readers' comments. We protect, and will continue to protect our writers. In instances of hate speech, or threats to our writers, we will continue to remove and report such comments. Similarly, if a comment does not pertain to the discussion at hand, we will exercise our right to remove it from the board, otherwise, it is not in our interest to censor these comments.

We recognize the legitimacy of the administration's concerns, and we feel obliged to respond to Acting President Susan Kress's March 31 e-mail to the Skidmore community.

In her e-mail Kress wrote, "Much of what is currently being transmitted in the online postings of The Skidmore News is neither respectful nor open. In some cases, the commentary has shifted from reasoned and passionate argument to personal attacks that have been received as indirect or direct threats."

The Skidmore News would like to clarify that the opinions expressed by online commenters are in no way related to those of the editorial board. We feel her e-mail unfairly links these comments to us.

We will not remove the right to comment anonymously, and we will continue to encourage signed comments that are both constructive and respectful to all parties involved.

As journalists in a dynamic industry, we are always revising our policies. We have extensively researched this specific policy in other publications and we feel we are making a well-informed decision by upholding it.

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