Apr 25, 2012

Editor threatens on-line contributor for reporting abusive comments

By now we have all witnessed malicious comments on news articles and editorials by on-line readers. Most on-line communities have guidelines encouraging proper and civil conduct in posting comments along with a method to report improper comments to the on-line community moderator.

I seldom use this method because I have felt that by allowing inappropriate comments to remain on articles readers get a better insight towards the character of the agency publishing the content article. However, I have communicated concern with comments on several occasions to our local newspaper, the Casper Star Tribune. My most recent encounter was interesting to say the least.

The editorial board ran an editorial suggesting that Wyoming begin considering charter schools in an attempt to help improve graduation rate and overall academic improvement. I posted a comment supporting the idea and gave examples of how the local school district wastes money and is “top heavy”.

Moments after I commented another reader, screen name embarcadero, commented, personally attacking me and with completely off topic remarks. I reported the distasteful comment through the “report to moderator” process. I then posted another comment referring back to the editorial article in an attempt to keep any further discussion on topic. Again, moments after posting, embarcadero fired another round of similarly distasteful remarks towards me and others; also mentioning them by name. These people were not mentioned in the editorial or commenting on the article. This was especially troubling to me so I reported that comment to be removed also. My second request read as follows:

Report number two: Continued personal attacks - "Hate Group". Also in violation of the following "Rules for Commenting":
  • Be truthful. Don't lie about anyone or anything. Value
  • Be nice. No racism, sexism or any other sort of -ism that degrades another person.
  • Stay focused, and ask questions. Keep on the story's topic.
If embarcadero's (Sean Patrick Larvie) slanderous comments are not removed immediately I will follow-up in person on Monday April 23rd. by 9:00 A.M.

Thanks you,
 This happened in the late evening hours on Sunday so I knew that moderation would not be immediate. Consequently, with my second “report of abuse” I added that if the slanderous comments were not removed by 9:00 am Monday morning I would be following up in person.

The comments were removed as requested but later in the day I received an e-mail from the Editor, Darrell Ehrlick . It is posted here in its entirety:

Dear Mr. Smith,

William Zeiders, our online editor, forwarded a concern written by you regarding another online comment. When comments escalate or cause us concern, we review them.

Your comment is particularly concerning to me. One of the challenges anyone has is reading tone and intent into email. In this instance, I have opted to handle your comment internally, rather than follow another protocol that we could have employed. We have reviewed the comment you found offensive, like we do with all that are reported to us. However, in the future if you make similar reports that include a specific threat, then I will have to take the following action. You will be banned from online commenting on our site. Secondly, I will report it to law enforcement.

Again, I don’t believe this was your intent. However, I cannot intuit intention in email. If you have questions about our policies or have concerns, you can contact me. We must take all threats seriously, though. We have to believe you meant what you said. We will continue to take you at your word. 

Thanks for your understanding,


Editor Ehrlick apparently felt that by me saying that I would follow-up if the comments were not removed was some kind of a personal threat.

It is amazing to me that the chief editor of a statewide newspaper doesn’t know what follow-up means and would take it as a threat that would warrant banning me from their on-line community and secondly report it to law enforcement before consulting his dictionary. After all, Mr. Ehrlick is working in the field of journalism. The response by this newspaper and their chief editor is unfounded, absolutely absurd and completely beyond reason.

I can assure you that the comments directed towards me and others by embarcadero and then the threat by editor Ehrlick were far more concerning than me letting the Casper Star Tribune know that I would follow-up to make sure that action was taken to remove the comments as their policy outlines.

The obvious over reaction by Mr. Ehrlick suggests a number of things, not the least of which is that they truly don’t want to be bothered by well meaning readers who assume that the Casper Star Tribune is actually serious about maintaining civility within their on-line community comments area. Of greater concern should be; what is the motive behind someone who believes that reporting abuse and following-up on the report is in any way a threat which would justify banning the person reporting abuse and then threatening to notify law enforcement? Something else is obviously at play here, bubbling under the surface. When someone in Mr. Ehrlick’s position can’t correctly identify a threat in a situation as simple as this, one must ask; what is the real issue? Could it be something as simple as insecurity or is it something larger, like a clash of worldviews and an editor with an agenda?

Check out embarcadero, who is Sean Patrick Larvie, and Darrell Ehrlick’s agenda should become a little more clear as you gain perspective. Any and all who disagree with either one of these gentleman are simply labeled as bigots. I have discovered that Mr Ehrlick believes these "bigots" must be banned from commenting and reported to law enforcement. Should the head editor of Wyoming's only statewide newspaper be so prejudiced?        



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