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Live from the studio

John Batchelor

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Rantz: My turn to address the MyNorthwest comments section

(File, Associated Press)

I did something uncomfortable. I asked our web team to keep the comments section active for the blogs I write.

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It made me uncomfortable because I don’t like talking to our deeply unpleasant web team. And, in this case, they looked at me confused because they’re on by default.

Last week, my colleague at KIRO Radio, Ron Upshaw, published his daily column to opine the worth of the MyNorthwest comments section. Please read the whole thing. His general message: The comments are useless because they all too often devolve into a space to malign people unnecessarily; rather than offer constructive criticism, they offer personal attacks of little to no value.

While I agree with Ron’s general take on many of our commenters, I disagree with his request to shut down the comments section on his or anyone else’s blog. I tend to err on the side of more speech and expression, not less, and if I don’t like the comments because they’re too mean-spirited, I ignore them (or call them out).

We’re all better off when we’re open to being called out for our views. My opinions are informed, not just by my experiences and research, but how other people think. When I take a position that isn’t well researched, I rely on commenters to call me out. That sometimes informs my positions in the future. This feedback is why I frequently respond and engage in the conversation.

Is the feedback always presented in the nicest way possible? Not usually. But I’m an adult and I can take the abuse — it’s the same biting criticism (albeit mine doesn’t traffic in personal attacks) that I dish out on my morning show (weekday mornings KTTH 6-9 a.m.). But I do think it’s generally worth wading through the nastiness for the challenging opposition because sometimes I am wrong. Though, I do wish some of the legitimate commenters would do a better job of self-policing and ignoring the trolls.

Ron wrote:

I’m tired of being a punching bag for a small group of mean and unhappy people. I want the abuse to stop. […] I know I’m frequently wrong in my opinion, or that you might disagree. If you really need to reach me, you can still email the station or find me on all the social media platforms.

Boy am I sympathetic to his first point, particularly some of the trolling. I sure get tired of the same trolls who use the same lame talking points after literally every blog I write. So, I share Ron’s reasonable reaction to some of the trash.

But there is something fundamentally wrong with shutting off a comments section on a website where you acknowledge you’re “frequently wrong.” If you’re wrong, you should be told so. We shouldn’t shy away from people who call us out for thinking about things too naively.

I’m also not certain I understand Ron’s position that states the comments — that you can easily ignore — are nasty, so rather than leave them where you can choose to ignore them, you’re inviting the comments onto your Twitter feed or email inbox. As someone who has been victimized by scarily frequent anti-Semitic and homophobic trolling, let me tell ya, I’d rather them on a comments section where people can police them and we can track them, rather than waiting for me in my inbox or Twitter reply wall.

Are you the victim of some kind of malicious harassment? Then report it and it gets deleted. That’s how the current comments section works. Down-vote the dumb comments, reports the ones that break the rules; that’s what I do. But more importantly, read and learn from the ones that explain why they disagree with you.

What we all gain from the “right” kind of comments far outweighs the damage from reading the nasty stuff.

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