I’m on the verge of turning off the comments on our college news website, as I’m becoming convinced they are more trouble than they are worth.
The website doesn’t draw many comments, but over the past week some things have happened:
1. One individual, over the course of three or four days, left more than 20 comments on a variety of articles. Not coincidentally, he was running for re-election in student elections.
2. Midweek, I received notification of about half-a-dozen new comments, each from a different reader. As I read through them, I was struck by some similarities. I sent “thank you” emails to the addresses of all of the commenters (some on hotmail, some on g-mail, etc.) and they all bounced back with reports the messages were either undeliverable or no such user existed.
3. I deleted those comments and ran an editors’ note, explaining that they had been rejected because the email addresses of the purported commenters were not valid. (Note: We allow anonymous comments, but require an email address. Email addresses are not published.)
4. Today, another comment showed up, taking me to task for deleting the emails. When I sent the commenter an email explaining our policy, it bounced back.
You can see my frustration here: one writer using the site as his campaign platform, a group of others (or perhaps one individual writing under a variety of names) hiding behind bogus email addresses.
As much as I believe in the power of conversation and the ability to newspapers to help bring together communities of interest, I can’t see how any of this is of any service to the readers.
I need to think this through a little, but at the moment, my finger really is poised above the button that will turn the ability to comment off.