WESTERHOLD: Hate in a bottle

Beware the bloggers. The Register's online producer, the person primarily responsible for reviewing the reader commen
Matt Westerhold
May 24, 2010


Beware the bloggers.

The Register's online producer, the person primarily responsible for reviewing the reader comments posted at sanduskyregister.com, took a well-earned, two-week vacation this month. While she was gone, I had the opportunity to review the challenge she faces every day in looking at this community dialogue.

Whew. Now that's a challenge.

There are so many thoughtful readers who express themselves with wit, concern or any of a host of other high-minded qualities. These "bloggers" serve the community by offering comments that serve the greater good.

Then there are the angry bloggers. These readers hate me, or hate Kevin Baxter, or hate police Chief Kim Nuesse, or really, really hate the likes of Perkins police Chief Tim McClung. Even Sandusky law director Don Icsman has come under heavy fire recently. Some also hate city commissioner Dennis Murray Jr. and have serious hate issues with regards to the way commissioner Julie Farrar dresses.

Give me a break. There was nothing wrong in Farrar's fashion selections when she spoke at a press conference on Tuesday. She looked like someone from Sandusky, and to me that's an endearing quality.

We run into some serious problems with the hate bloggers and monitoring them in the comments section is an evolving effort. I believe the haters are a tiny minority in the community, and the venom they spew must be something inside them that just needs to come out. Life must be so shallow, so uninspired, so sad for them.

Last fall, when the marina district was the hot-hot-hot ballot issue in the general election, we discovered one reader was posting and reacting to his own comments with additional posts. We surmised he was attempting create the illusion there were many folks in the community who agreed with his position on the waterfront development project.

Now there's a dilemma. He certainly was within his rights to offer his opinion. There was nothing obscene or hateful about his comments. But his method of using numerous names in the blog was deceptive to readers. We decided to publish his comments in the print edition in an attempt to show how one person -- not seven or eight -- was expressing the same opinion and agreeing with himself on the earlier opinions he had posted.

It's been more than a year since we launched the comments section, and we've learned a lot about how to monitor it and what a healthy dialogue could mean to readers and to the region. There's so much potential for good, and we cannot be cowed by the tiny minority's need to spit.

One thing we discovered was the haters learned our schedules. They picked up on the fact that on Saturday mornings there are fewer people in the newsroom, and they hammered the blog hard. By Saturday afternoon there would be dozens of comments from racists, sexists and all-around idiots. We've gotten a better handle on that, and we've also gotten a better understanding of the types of stories that set these people off. We're now better able to target our reviews of the postings to specific stories that get them going.

In the past two weeks I've learned the haters on the blog have picked up on the practice of multiple postings. So not only does the tiny minority get to spew hate in the community, but they get to do it over and over again by disguising themselves behind different names. I wonder, sometimes, if this may not be therapeutic for them, in some way. Maybe there's a finite level of hate inside, like Pepsi in a bottle. When it's gone, it's gone, and a hater becomes something else when he's emptied his gut of the hate inside.

But we're not here on the couch with a therapist.

We are sitting atop a brave new world, however, where every member of our collective communities has a voice. And that provides a huge opportunity to know more about ourselves, and learn more about our governments, our friends and our foes, than ever before. The reader comment section has the potential to spread some bright sunshine on the choices ahead and make selections from among those options with our eyes wide open.

In the past few days I've been beginning to ponder whether it would be appropriate to simply delete multiple posts made over a short time period by a single individual using multiple names. But what a thorny path that will be.

Everybody has a right to their opinion, but do they have a right to express it over and over again? It strikes me the intention to create an illusion of wide support for a position is deceptive, and the last thing this newspaper wants to be is a co-conspirator in deception. It might be a reasonable practice to simply block these posters from this path.

We'll see. Like I said, it's an evolving process. If you have any suggestions or observations on this topic you'd like to share don't hesitate to call or e-mail me. I'm out of town until Friday but will be checking my e-mail periodically through the week.