We’re pausing our comments section, starting now. Here’s why.

When it comes to the user-generated comments, Amy Hayden’s email looks as if it could be the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. But those of you who have been reading this site — and commenting on it — probably know better.

You’ve seen our struggles to find balance in the comments section. You know that our moderators have spent many years (yes, years) searching for meaning when they scrolled down. And you knew this day would eventually come.

Today, we are putting our comments on “pause” until further notice.

Hayden’s comment may help explain why.

“I don’t know how frequently you monitor the comments,” she told me. “But it’s increasingly frustrating to see the comments that are condescending toward and insult people who can’t get credit cards, can’t afford lots of money to travel, or who are inexperienced travelers. It’s a snobby and elitist attitude I expect to see more among the frequent-flier miles crowd than the commenters on the site.”

Specifically, she took aim at recent “vitriolic commentary” made about a woman who had problems with the cruise line and her parents’ room.

“I was surprised your moderators didn’t step in and handle that situation,” she says. “If someone had posted racist or sexist comments, I’m sure someone would have handled it. I’ve even seen posts on your site about how his sarcastic comments aren’t welcome. But when it’s about language that offends people with disabilities, it’s OK? I’m not sure I like that policy. In fact, I’m pretty sure I don’t.”

Nothing about that email makes me feel good about our comments section.

Like you, I had hoped our comments would blossom into a helpful, encouraging and empowering part of the site. And, to be sure, some of them have done that. I’m very grateful for those contributions — more grateful than you know.

But too many comments are the exact opposite. They are hurtful, discouraging and demoralizing. They seem to be written for the amusement of the commenter, at the expense of the letter writer or author.

Truth is, I get an email like Hayden’s almost every week.

Where does this all end? Perhaps Hayden said it best: Look to the loyalty program blogs for an example of poisonous comments. Or just read our president’s Twitter account for his latest typo-riddled diatribe.

Do we really want to become that?

So we’re pressing the “pause” button on comments. In fact, we’re going to remove all the comments for now and see what happens. Our moderation team hopes it will extract some of the toxins from the page and allow you to read the stories without distraction.

Don’t worry, there are still plenty of ways to voice your opinions.

  • You can send us a letter to the editor. We feature the best missives in our daily newsletter and we’ll also write about them in upcoming posts. But this feedback will be carefully curated and vetted by our editors.
  • Leave a message on one of our social networking channels. We have an active Facebook page, a LinkedIn page and a Twitter account. Every story on this site is posted on those channels. The conversation ranges from completely unmoderated (Twitter) to moderated (Facebook and LinkedIn).
  • Of course, you can also send me a personal email. I imagine some of you will want to do that right now. I try to respond to each note personally, although any note that contains the words, “I’ll never read your site again” is unlikely to get any response. (Why write back if you’re going to stop reading?)

On behalf of our entire team, I’d like to offer an apology to Hayden and all the other readers who were offended by something they read in the comments. While I’m proud of some of the comments left in our stories, many of them were unnecessarily harsh, judgmental and mean-spirited.

That is not the kind of advocacy site we aspire to be.

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