A few days back, we took down an online post alleging that the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Newtown, Conn., were a hoax.
Was that the right call? We’d like your feedback.
Starting on June 27, commenter Andrew Liebich began a string of posts alleging the Sandy Hook shootings didn’t happen. On July 3, he posted that, “Sandy Hook was a hoax. Intelligent people investigate; morons castigate.”
Simon Birch, our internet services manager, who monitors the posts very carefully, removed the post and wrote a note stating that, “suggesting the murder of 20 children and 6 adults either didn’t happen or was some sort of conspiracy is disturbing, and any comments suggesting it was have been deleted and won’t be allowed in the future.”
That drew a strong online response, including a note from Jerome Kinderman, a frequent online commenter who has also written guest columns for us.
“Talk about the proverbial slippery slope! I find many comments made here along with articles, columns, opinions, letters, etc. published and printed in the News-Sentinel to be offensive,” Jerome wrote. “Yet I have never once complained about what the publishers permitted to be published and never have I asked that a comment be removed ... .”
Kinderman felt the Sandy Hook post was “compelling,” and did not in fact violate any of our stated rules for posting. Those rules are generally aimed at preventing personal and racial insults and keeping the posts on topic.
This is a challenging call.
We want to encourage an open and inviting forum reflecting the ‘marketplace of ideas’ as touted by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes. Yet we are a private media company. We have the right to decide what goes on the comments boards and what doesn’t.
Do we also have a responsibility to purge the boards of rumors, allegations and theories we know to be unsubstantiated? A responsibility, moreover, to set a tone of informed civility?
Simon and I have discussed this at length. We decided to seek the counsel of you, our readers.
Should we restore the post? Should we change our rules?
We’re eager to hear your thoughts.