STL Today Online Comment Disclaimer Fails, Relies on Commenters’ Respect for Their Mothers

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(Please keep it civil. Don’t say anything you wouldn’t in front of your mother.)

So reads the barely legible disclaimer centered in the comment box on the St. Louis Post-Dispatch website STL Today. Now I’m not talking about anyone’s mother in particular, but clearly mothers are not holding up their end of the social bargain. Or it’s possible that mothers are doing their part, only to be disrespected by their children. Therefore, perhaps the Post-Dispatch would be well-served by dropping their reliance on mothers (or their misbehaving children) and instead actually moderate story comments. Sure, some comments are removed, but given those that are approved I’d venture a guess that to be deleted you must do two of the follow three online sins: directly call someone a profane name, use profanity that cannot be easily substituted with a series of dingbats or talk about someone’s mama.

On a more serious note, throughout journalism school we were taught that newspapers serve three general purposes. 1) a business set up to produce revenue by selling advertising. 2) a source of entrainment consumed by readers. 3) a source of honest and enlightening information that seeks to raise the public discourse. If I am to use these three purposes I have to conclude that allowing ridiculous comments to populate nearly every online story is either good for revenue, fun or purposeful. Yet I don’t believe it’s any of those.

I am not going to copy any STL Today online comments into this post as I do not wish to give them more exposure than they otherwise would receive, but I would invite you take a look yourself if you are interested in this issue. So if you believe, as I do, that the comments are often outrageous, what should be done? The Post-Dispatch should institute robust comment moderation. I call on the Post-Dispatch to self-subscribe to an online comment policy that extends beyond the “mother clause”.

May I suggest:
(Please keep it civil. Don’t allow any comment you wouldn’t print on the front page.)

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