A note about War Room's reader comments

We're working on improving the discourse in the letters section, but we need your help.

Published February 15, 2008 4:54PM (EST)

I've been thinking, over the past couple of days, about my time in fourth grade. That was the age at which my school determined students were old enough to start changing into uniforms for gym. In my class, though, there was a brief period during which there would inevitably be fights in the boys' locker room every time we changed. And what I've been remembering lately is that when our teachers would lecture us about the problem, they would inevitably say how disappointed they were to even have to give the lecture. What really upset them, they said, was that we weren't as mature as we should have been, and so they had to give these lectures they really wanted to avoid. At the time, I was mad at them -- a self-righteous so-and-so even in fourth grade, I thought they weren't being sincere, that they were just trying to lay a guilt trip on us. Suddenly, though, I understand how they felt.

This week, I've already had to go into letters threads twice to beg for some measure of civility, and last night I spent more time than I care to think about deleting several dozen letters from threads that had gotten out of control. Each time my primary thought was disbelief at the fact that I had to do this. Additionally, we're getting distressed notes from readers who are being driven away by some of the chaos going on in the letters. I know where they're coming from.

I know this issue is not restricted to War Room. I've seen several posts by other bloggers discussing the problem recently. And I completely understand that in a tight presidential race, emotions are running high.

But we're all adults here -- or at least, we're most of us adults, I presume, and if there are letter writers who haven't yet reached the age of majority, they're at least intelligent and mature enough to have found their way here. I hope we can all start acting like adults, or at least attempt to.

I don't mean to blame everyone for what I know stems from the actions of a few. But when I was going through letters last night, I noticed some of our regular, reasonable readers making calls for Salon to more aggressively moderate the letters, then turning around and engaging in some of the same behavior they were decrying. We will do our best to make the situation better, but we need your cooperation as well. To borrow that old Internet adage: Don't feed the trolls. If those of you who are typically civil, who make the letters section here the worthwhile read it usually is, will do your part by ignoring the worst offenders and refraining from retaliation in kind, I think that will go a long way to solving this.

That said, obviously most of the responsibility for keeping the letters section orderly rests on our shoulders, and we will be cracking down to the best of our abilities. (Note that there isn't an army of us available to moderate letters, and all of us have other responsibilities, not just in our jobs but also in life -- we, too, need to eat and sleep occasionally.)

As a reminder, our letters policy says, "Salon reserves the right to delete any letter at its discretion; we may remove letters that are off- topic, crude or vulgar, are of low quality or that violate the law or common decency ... We will not tolerate link spam, links to phishing sites, sites promoting illegal activity, etc ... Letter writers who consistently have their letters removed for the reasons cited above, or have otherwise proven to be a general nuisance, will have their accounts blocked, and will be unable to post letters."

Starting now, we will be more aggressive about enforcing that policy here, and we will ban violators if necessary.

If you have any questions, suggestions or comments, feel free, as always, to e-mail me at alex@salon.com.

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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