Technology doesn’t have to deter civil debate

Published 7:13 pm Friday, March 29, 2019

Social media continues to change how communities discuss hot topics, essentially becoming a megaphone for the 21st century versions of water-cooler conversations.

Recent stories on and our social media platforms have sparked lots of discussion — internally and within the community — about how public comments should be handled, the boundaries of heated debate and whether traditional newspaper rules for commentary should change when it comes to social media.

We are sometimes accused of violating people’s freedom of speech, silencing discussion and in some ways owing apologies to those whose comments were removed.

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Each of those claims is way off base.

We do not take decisions like this lightly, but we also firmly believe that important issues can be discussed as rational adults without resorting to personal attacks, name-calling and profanity.

Our full Terms of Use, which apply to commenting on any of our digital platforms, can be found here:

The key points are that we believe it is absolutely possible for people with a variety of points of view to discuss issues in a civil manner. We will remove comments that foster incivility.

By contributing to our website, users “agree not to upload, post, distribute, e-mail or otherwise publish or make available on this website any content that you do not have a right to make available under any law or under contractual or fiduciary relationships (such as inside information, proprietary and confidential information learned or disclosed as part of employment relationships or under non-disclosure agreements).”

We certainly take steps to remove comments that we feel violate our terms and review them quickly if someone raises a concern about a comment they believe is a violation.

It is important to point out that we do not review every contribution made on the website and social media sites. More than likely, you will see user contributions before anyone on staff here does. This may include information and opinions from a variety of individuals and organizations other than official content from the IJ and its staff.

We do not endorse or guarantee the accuracy of any user-posted contribution, regardless of whether it comes from a user, celebrity, “expert” or other source.

Do we believe in freedom of speech? Of course. The First Amendment is fundamental to newspapers but, let’s be clear, that relates to government censorship, which has no bearing on this conversation.

And no freedoms are absolute.

The First Amendment does not protect libelous or slanderous statements, nor is it an all-protective shield for personal attacks.

Online forums are great platforms for facilitating important conversations, but they must be monitored to ensure that they do not go too far and diminish the integrity of the forum itself.

Ultimately, this is our sandbox. Just because you may have to play by some basic rules doesn’t make the conversation any less powerful.

Michael Caldwell is publisher of The Advocate-Messenger and Danville Living Magazine. He can be reached at (859) 759-0095 or by email at