Social media doesn’t have to kill civil debate

Published 10:00 am Thursday, May 28, 2015

Social media continues to change how communities discuss hot topics, essentially becoming the megaphone for the 21st Century versions of water-cooler conversations.

Recent stories on and our Facebook page have sparked lots of discussion — internally and within the community — about how public comments should be handled, the boundaries of heated debate and whether traditional newspaper rules for commentary should change when it comes to social media.

As a staff, we were accused of violating people’s freedom of speech, silencing discussion and in some ways owing apologies to those whose comments were removed.

Each of those claims is way off base.

We do not take decisions like this lightly, but we also firmly believe that important issues can be discussed as rational adults without resorting to personal attacks, name-calling and profanity.

Our full Terms of Use, which apply to commenting on any of our digital platforms, can be found here:

The key points are that we believe it is absolutely possible for people with a variety of points of view to discuss issues in a civil manner. We will remove comments that foster incivility.

By contributing to our Web site, users “Agree not to upload, post, distribute, e-mail or otherwise publish or make available on this Web site any libelous, defamatory, obscene, harmful, vulgar, threatening, tortuous, harassing, abusive, invasive of another user’s privacy, hateful, racially or ethnically objectionable or otherwise illegal material.”

We certainly take steps to remove comments that we feel violate our terms and review them quickly if someone flags a comment they believe is a violation.

It is important to point out that we do not review every contribution made on the Web site and social media sites. More than likely, you will see user contributions before anyone on staff here does. This may include information and opinions from a variety of individuals and organizations other than official content from Leader and its staff.

We do not endorse or guarantee the accuracy of any user contribution, regardless of whether it comes from a user, celebrity, “expert” or other source.

Do we believe in freedom of speech? Of course. The First Amendment is fundamental to newspapers but, let’s be clear, this relates to government censorship, which has no bearing on this conversation.

And no freedoms are absolute.

The First Amendment does not protect libelous or slanderous statements, nor is it an all-protective shield for personal attacks.

I have often said that online forums are great platforms for facilitating important conversations but must be monitored to ensure that they do not go too far and diminish the integrity of the forum.

Ultimately, this is our sandbox. You have to play by our rules but that doesn’t make the conversation any less important for moving our communities forward.


Michael Caldwell is the publisher of Leader Publications LLC. He can be reached at (269) 687-7700 or by email at