We turned our hosted comments off yesterday.
Was I nervous about that? Oh, yes. And how.
But shortly after 9 a.m., when the first emails started coming in, I knew we’d made the right call.
“I applaud you for taking a principled stand lon comments,” wrote Donna Shelton. “Those who decry political correctness are oftentimes using that as a deflection to mask incivility. Thoughtful discourse enriches us. Insults cheapen the argument put forth. Thank you for the difficult work you do, for all our benefit.”
Thank you, Donna. All credit goes to my team of advocates and writers, who make this possible. I’ll convey your gratitude to them.
The decision wasn’t met with universal approval — nothing we do on this site ever is — but this one came pretty close. I believe the reaction illuminates a path of harmony and helpfulness that our advocates and readers have always aspired to. Maybe, just maybe, we’re a step closer to that place today.
But let’s let the other side have its say first.
Here’s Hillary Israeli:
One of the things that has always excited me about the internet is the back and forth communication. I was an avid user of Usenet back in the day. When news sites began appearing with comment sections, I was over the moon. Of course, these days, most comment sections do rapidly become cesspools – full of the verbal diarrhea of the lowest common denominator. But, there are always hidden gems as well.
All of this is to say, BRING BACK THE COMMENTS OR I WILL NEVER READ YOUR SITE AGAIN!!
Ha ha. Just kidding.
Israeli goes on to say that she values a society that allows freedom of expression, even when she’s offended by what they say.
“I’m therefore writing to express my disappointment,” she added. “Better to risk offending the thin-skinned than to silence the entire public.”
Hillary, I hear you. And unfortunately, when you’re writing about someone’s consumer problem, few people have such an enlightened attitude toward freedom of expression. They do take the words of commenters personally and they hold us responsible. And it’s a responsibility I accept.
“I’m very concerned about your decision to drop the comments from your consumer website,” adds Lonnie Clar. “Over the years, I have learned a great deal about travel from the comments section, as well as the column itself. In many cases I learned what to not do, what to watch for, when to use a travel agent and when to deal directly with the provider, and so on.”
Clar says he’s waded through more than his share of “snarky or insensitive” comments. But the good outweighed the bad.
“Perhaps, rather than yielding to those few who can’t be civil, you should allow the rest to more freely express our opposition to the negativism they express. And perhaps you can be more ready to ban consistently negative commenters from the site. Please don’t lose all of the good because of the actions of a few,” she told me.
We’ve tried that and, unfortunately, it didn’t work. But I believe in second — and third — chances. This pause is just that: a pause. I don’t think the comments will be gone forever, and remember, you can still post something on our Facebook page.
Fellow journalist John Keahey was unhappy at that we blocked some comments and critical of the inconsistency in applying our rules. For example, he’d recently left a comment pointing out that Gibraltar wasn’t an island, as one of our posts had claimed it was. Indeed, it isn’t, which is something our editing team and I should have caught.
Why was his comment removed? Because our comments policy clearly states that the comments are not the appropriate place for a correction. Not that it matters. You can send corrections directly to us via a letter to the editor.)
“All I ask is that you continue to have columns closely vetted for factual errors and incomplete information,” he says.
Then there are those of you who took offense at my statement that we didn’t want to become like our president’s Twitter account, which I described as a “typo-riddled diatribe.”
Some of you took that very personally. In fact, a member of my own advocacy team was so offended that he penned a farewell message on our help forums, complaining that I was “actively” attacking his beliefs. Which made me wonder: beliefs in what, exactly? Your right to rant on social media without a filter?
I’m grateful for the advocate’s service and wish him all the best.
“My suggestion would be to avoid using your forum to make mean little jabs at our president,” wrote Tammy Schwartz, another reader. “There may be times when your political opinion actually matters to the site — such as, for example, your desire to see more regulation on the airlines. I may or may not agree with that, but it’s a valid opinion in the context of what you are speaking about. But it simply is below you, and insulting to a good many of your readers, when you choose to descend to unnecessary political jabs at the other side.”
Um, Tammy, I wasn’t making any “mean little jabs” at the president. My statement wasn’t even political. I was openly critical of the president’s manners — or more to the point, his lack of manners.
As I’ve noted in the past, if my kids tweeted like Donald Trump, I’d confiscate their phones and ground them. While it may be true that the president doesn’t represent any of my views (heck, none of the candidates represented my views) I think we can all agree that his manners leave a little something to be desired.
A majority of the emails I received were highly supportive, as I mentioned. Let’s open a few of them.
“I agree that a pause to the comments on your articles is best for now,” wrote Robert Stringer. “I have been walking this earth for 73 years now and I still marvel at some of the snarky comments some of your loyal contributors often direct to those who commit not-so-smart travel decisions.”
Yep, we like to call that “friendly fire.” It’s about time that ended.
“What a sad commentary on the general public that you have to suspend a great and innovative part of your helpful columns,” says Betsy McCallum. “Sometimes, I would literally cringe at some of the comments and wonder why some people are so mean-spirited. Perhaps the recent election has caused such contentiousness — although I am not of the same political persuasion as you — but it is totally unacceptable and I commend you for trying to contain it. Many thanks for all your help both personally and through your columns.”
Ah, there we go again with the politics.
I realize this is getting repetitive, but here’s my disclosure on politics. I’ll say no more.
“I am so tired of the negativity,” agreed Tricia Kalinowski. “This presidential election pretty much did me in. I don’t log on for days, including your travel forum. I am willing to bet that there is a significant part of the population that is very tired of being criticized — I’ll leave it to
you to figure which portion that is — especially after the election. I encourage you to keep up the good fight, but do it on your terms. You don’t have to sacrifice kindheartedness in the process.”
Thanks, Tricia. Maybe you’re onto something. Even though it appears our decision to end the comments was triggered by one complaint, it didn’t happen in a vacuum. We’re living in a time when basic decency and kindness are in short supply.
The loudest voices in the room have shouted everyone else down in so many other parts of our lives. I’m not going to allow that to happen here. You’re not going to let it happen here, either.
Thank you for standing up for what’s decent, polite — and right.