The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

November 13, 2008

Forum shut down after users go too far

Online forum won't tolerate swearing, disrespect

MANKATO — A virtual coffee shop, which allowed Free Press Web site visitors to weigh in on topics ranging from daily devotions to Democrats owning firearms, was shut down Thursday.

Some who were regulars on Hey Martha, The Free Press online community forum, say she went down a victim of a contentious election season.

Readers are still able to comment on individual stories posted on The Free Press Web site, but those comments are reviewed before being added.

For those who aren’t familiar with the forum, it was a place where readers were able to debate issues in live time. Comments were posted immediately and responses could follow just as quickly. As of 1 a.m. Thursday, there were 3,396 live topics on the forum that had gathered 67,313 comments.

Almost everyone who used the forum did so anonymously and, in the end, a few went too far, said Jim Santori, Free Press publisher.

In a written statement, Santori said he has always seen the forum as an experiment that allowed individuals to educate each other by discussing opinions.

“In particular, I was hopeful we would have a civil discourse on matters where we disagreed,” he said. “Unfortunately, allowing anonymous posts on the forum opened up the opportunity for people to attack others with impunity. It got so bad that, in some cases, I found people fearful to engage in dialogue because of the actions of others.”

People were warned several times and a few were kicked off the forum, which seemed to go downhill rapidly the past three months, Santori said. They were able to return, likely by using different computers. So Santori is looking for an online application that will allow the newspaper to require authentic registrations and block users who violate the forum’s rules.

The decision will cost the newspaper revenue from online advertisements, Santori said. He ultimately decided what the forum had become was not a service he wanted to provide to the community.

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