RELet’s Face It
It’s time to elevate the discourse at theind.com.
By: Walter Pierce

The end is nigh. On Friday, Dec. 16 — that’s two days following the publication of this column — The Ind will begin phasing in a new policy for posting comments to our stories. We’re turning to Facebook, the social media juggernaut that virtually anyone under 35 uses to connect to an ever-widening web of relationships. Indeed, Facebook can be a wasteland of inanity — note to friends: I don’t care where you ate lunch — but it has simultaneously become an essential means of communication. For me it has largely supplanted email as my principal means of getting in touch with friends and planning social engagements.

The utility will allow you to post a comment to a story using your Facebook login. If you’re already logged in to Facebook, your profile picture and name will be waiting for your comment, or you can log in to Facebook at theind.com. 

Comments by registered users of our website will still be allowed — currently only a small minority of readers use this method — but we will require that a name, your real name, accompany your comments. For those without a Facebook account and no intention of getting one, you can register at theind.com and provide an email address for verification. We won’t share that email address, but we will send you our daily email, The INDsider, from which you can unsubscribe if for some reason you take leave of your senses.

But the most common means heretofore of making one’s thoughts known on the web site — posting a comment using an anonymous user name and waiting for a member of the edit staff to approve the comment — will end with the anonymity. We hope this measure of transparency will help elevate the level of commentary at theind.com, because that’s what this is all about.

We believe in having a conversation with readers about our community, about our politics, news and culture, even when our prosaic voices are raised a few pitches. But we want it to be civil and respectful.

The vitriol, name-calling, baiting, snark and personal attacks have continued to spiral into a black hole of incivility. It’s a manifestation of anonymity, and it’s not exclusive to this website. It’s endemic in the digital town square of the Internet. Online comments virtually killed the traditional letter to the editor, and the anonymity of those comments made bile commonplace. The Daily Advertiser cited the same phenomenon when it moved to Facebook comments last month.

Much of the commentary posted to theind.com never makes it onto the site — it’s blocked before it’s ever posted. But this comment moderating — reading everything that is posted by readers and deciding whether it rises to some subjective and, frankly, capricious standard for civility and pertinence is burdensome and — honestly — wearisome. My hide thickened long ago, but reading on a near-daily basis what a jerk/commie/propagandist/idiot/stuff-shirt/sorry-ass excuse for a journalist I am does get old. I am not a commie, by the way.

But seriously, Facebook, in theory anyway, requires us to put our name and face where our mouth is. The idea is that if it’s really you, with your identity attached to the comment, you’ll be more mindful of manners and others’ feelings. We can have a civil discussion, even when we disagree. Think of it as moving from the House to the Senate.

It’s not lost on us that creating a fake Facebook identity is quick and easy, and we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. The goal is to elevate the conversation, although admittedly in the short term we may be hampering it. But we will ban from our website readers who violate our subjective rules of decorum after we’re forced to delete three inappropriate comments. Three strikes and you’re out.

I confess I’ve long resisted this move, arguing instead for a Wild West-type system in which anyone can post anything as anonymously as they like and allowing readers to police themselves by flagging objectionable comments, which our staff can then delete from the site. So I face this policy change with a nagging, nostalgic sentimentality because I know the eviscerating effect it will have on dialogue, at least in the near term.

While many of the readers who routinely post comments to our site are gadflies quick to pick nits and lambast our coverage, many of these same readers have also become like family, in some cases the unhinged uncle who makes embarrassing remarks at the dinner table. But I’ll miss my repartee with ragin_cajun, and the thrust and parry between ragin_cajun, Resident and Unempirical Observer. Those three really went at it over a recent blog about Gov. Bobby Jindal and Occupy Wall Street. I don’t know who these people are, but I’d like to.

Most of all I will miss the midnight ramblings of NORTHSIDIAN SHOTGUN, who apparently has a hit-and-miss relationship with psychiatric medication but has long been one of our most ardent albeit odd boosters. He began posting comments to theind.com nearly three years ago, initially in all caps, consistently delivering a “what the hell?” stream of obscure references, antique colloquialisms and completely off-point ramblings — sounding his barbaric yawp over the roofs of our world. He was our crazy uncle.

THE POETICS OF NORTHSIDIAN SHOTGUN

It was a wild ride for an anonymous reader who used the handle NORTHSIDIAN SHOTGUN to post comments at theind.com — and man did he post some comments, many of which showed a flair for poetry and all of which were marked by helter-skelter punctuation. Nearly half his commentary never made it onto the site, but we saved some of it for our own amusement. And now yours. To wit:

It “ WAS NOT A BAD DECISION “, It brought much gold into the fold.
It was a bit careless but as planned, really so bold 
The Administration was led blindly, by durel, tis I was told
Joey and cronys rode Brandon hard, and left him out wet, out in the cold...
— Posted to the Oct. 19 cover story,“Odds & Ins” handicapping the Oct. 22 primaries

Cravins tried to crook moi, but he was too slow
It seems he can only get by, like Whale poo by slithering low
He’s buoyant as poo-poo and always goes with the flow
Mon Ami’s, Heahs somethin too, ya should know
He Shuffles, and yassuh’s, Lafayette’s thievin Jodo
And thats another tag synonymous with poo-poo
I’m not being be facetious, and if I told you the rest
You may begin laffin and honest this is not meant in jest    
You and I educate his boys and watch one boot scoot to Texas
One in a cadillac coupe, and one with Landrieu in a Lexus
IF ya ain’t learnt yet, this cat be out for ya dollah
The Sting be closin in, and yeah, I be the first one to hollah
So either way, before terms end, he’ll be busted, he’ll be out
So upgrade ya choice and Let everyone know, ya finally learnt “ WHAT ITS ALL ABOUT
St.Landrians, Ya been the laughing stock of the state long enough
Its time you get this crook led away in some 318 SS cuffs

Dedicated to His Dishonorable Cravins - How “YA name fits..........
Yah,Yeah, I’ll pay for the ink !
— Posted to the Nov. 8 blog, “Sparks flying in District 24 Senate race”

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