Dimon Kendrick-Holmes: Web comments go from bad to better

September 20, 2013 

It was Sunday morning -- hours before ledger-enquirer.com switched to Facebook commenting -- and I already knew we'd made the right decision.

At the time, the featured story on our website was about Judge John Allen asking the governor to consider race and gender when filling two vacant judge seats.

Quite a few people disagreed with Allen's viewpoint, as you can imagine.

One of them called African Americans "unevolved apes… walking around here wearing human clothes pretending to be human beings."

It went on and on.

Around 11 a.m., Facebook commenting officially replaced our old system, and all the old comments vanished. People started making new ones.

But these comments were different. While quite a few people still disagreed with Allen, this time they were trying to persuade, not to shock.

"How is it okay for him to make this request and it not be considered discrimination?" asked "Melanie Thomas." "Double standards?"

"William Cnossen" chimed in: "You have no chance of getting to a color blind society when people in government make decisions based on race. The decision should be made based on knowledge of the law, temperament, experience, and personal ethics."

"Andrew Zimmerman" took Allen's side: "I think he's trying to prevent biased racism by having judges of varying demographic factors."

"Dorian Mode" wrote, "I find absolutely nothing wrong with the Judge request. We only have the past 50 years to see what the Judge is basing his request on."

Dorian Mode, by the way, was a frequent contributor to our old commenting system but we knew little about him or her. Facebook has allowed this person to keep Dorian as an alias, but we now know from profile information that he or she attended Troy University, is currently in "a complicated relationship," and holds the job title of "Emperor of Earth and Part time Flamingo Dancer at Mushroom Enlightenment Foundation."

And you thought Facebook commenting would eliminate colorful characters.

But what it's done is raise the bar on comments to our site and create a forum for civil discourse.

Some people don't like it. I've received emails saying that we're just trying to "grow our customer base" and that we've "sold out."

As I said last week, we're not making a penny by switching to Facebook, and we don't expect the move to boost our web traffic.

So why did we do it? Simply, we want to better serve our current readers.

In the past year, the No. 1 complaint I've gotten -- be it from neighbors or subscribers or public officials -- has been about our online comments.

More than a year ago, we received this message:

"Please, please, please remove the message boards from your website altogether. They do not serve a positive purpose anymore. The bad far outweighs the good. They have become a safe haven for people to post highly racist, insensitive comments. It really is disgusting. How can we move forward as a society if we enable this crap to continue?"

Good question.

We wanted to do something about it, and that's the reason we made the switch.

Honest.

Dimon Kendrick-Holmes, executive editor, at dkholmes@ledger-enquirer.com

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