The editorial staff of the Notebook wants to offer an explanation of the decision Saturday to disable comments on the Sept. 28 article about Chief Academic Officer Penny Nixon’s leave from the School District. Some readers were upset by seeing comments taken down en masse. We have been accused of censorship.
We work hard to maintain a civil tone of conversation on our blog, one that welcomes different points of view and allows us to learn from each other. That is not an easy job when you have readers who are passionate and often legitimately angry. We do our best to moderate with our small staff. We do not have the funds to pay an evening or weekend shift to do this job. Even during the week we do not manage to respond to or remove every offensive comment. Our preference is to point out when someone is stepping out of line, but we do sometimes remove inappropriate comments.
By Saturday evening the comment thread on the Penny Nixon article was thoroughly riddled with inappropriate comments, and there was little apparent self-policing regarding acceptable language and statements. We felt the discussion had gotten out of control – not unlike an out-of-control classroom – and decided we had no choice but to shut down the thread. We have only taken that step a few times before and did not take it lightly.
We hope it is clear that there is no taboo against criticizing public officials on the Notebook’s site; there is no shortage of such comments. The commentary pieces that appear on our site make it obvious that the Notebook has never been shy about providing a forum to those who question authority.
We are also not interested in squelching discussion about Nixon or any other public figure, regardless of the commenters’ point of view, as long as they refrain from name-calling and unsubstantiated allegations.
Here are some examples of the types of comments that appeared on the Nixon post and that do not have a place at the Notebook:
Calling other commenters names ("You jerk") or making disparaging remarks about the intelligence of other commenters.
Comparing people to animals.
Disparaging an entire racial group or an entire neighborhood.
Accusing individuals by name of crimes or other wrongdoing without offering any evidence (for example, listing a series of names and asserting that they obtained their jobs inappropriately).
What we ask is that you, our commenters, practice being respectful of other points of view on the site and refrain from name-calling and unsubstantiated personal attacks. We hope that you will politely remind others who are not being respectful that it is important to maintain this space as a forum where a diverse group of people who are passionate about the need for good schools in Philadelphia can engage in dialogue.