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Vindy.com’s new registration rules aim to raise the level of discourse

Published: Sun, March 29, 2009 @ 12:00 a.m.

By Todd Franko (Contact)

By Todd Franko

I still shudder when I recall a story we ran almost two years ago.

The Home Builders/Remodelers Association of Mahoning Valley had an awards ceremony for top construction projects, and they honored one company in a category for condos that cost more than $1 million.

An alert editor here thought it would be cool to get a look around a $1 million condo.

The builders and the condo owners obliged. It was a great story — with photos — of how the other half lives: a shower that cost more than my car, a driveway more pampered than my kitchen floor, etc.

I was jealous, innocently though. He was self-made and community-minded. God bless him.

Our message board crowd on Vindy.com was less tolerant.

For three weeks, the guy was blistered. It was out of hand and uncalled for. We pulled the plug on the thread.

Contrast that discussion with exchanges the last few weeks regarding two high-profile events — the selection of a hockey team and Cardinal Mooney students ganging up on a Canfield teen.

I did not agree with all of the viewpoints. So what?

Not all of the posts were coherent. No big deal.

But the vile exchanges or accusations were minimal. Bingo.

That’s when a newspaper’s online message board works. Good, educated, tempered debates.

Too often, the message board doesn’t work that way.

On Friday, we took steps to tighten our message board.

We are now requiring a registration process. Now, you’ll have to offer up some personal info to post your views.

It’s an important step, somewhat akin to what we require to get a letter to the editor published in the paper, i.e., a real name.

The hatchets who troll the “Talk of the Valley” message boards have had a field day with the change.

Example: “When the revolution starts you can be certain of one thing....the Vindicator will not be there to cover it. They’ll be too busy acting as censors and agents for the Thought Police. Good bye to all. This is my last post.”

The reality is “Bobo” is not going anywhere. Same with “DirkDigler” and the rest of the lot. Our change is a good one, but it’s not foolproof, and such ilk will work their way back onto the message boards.

Every business has that customer who is more or less just tolerated. A hard-core few on the message board are just that — tolerated. They add no sustained value to community dialogue, unless you consider ill-informed gossip, racist comments or flat-out stupidity “value.”

But for every misguided soul eager to share his — and these are normally guys — inanity, there are folks on the message boards who seem to get it.

Take the not-so-subtly-named C.P.Indathrowne:

“... the negativity being thrown around was more than likely by the spineless and unaccountable. My bet is you will [now] see real people with real thoughts and real beliefs. If something is made up, it will be done for fun and/or to create laughter or provoke thought. What will no longer happen is the unaccountable attempts to defame, deface and slander without merit. I like the new rules.”

The message board madmen quickly and cheaply throw out First Amendment and “freedom of speech” arguments whenever their access to the message board is limited due to their invasive comments.

Given their tact, yelling fire in a packed theater would also be freedom of speech.

Most of us know better.

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