Viewpoint: Civility online or in person

We live in a great part of the world; there’s no doubt about that. Being an American is a great honor and privilege. Our ancestors were given protected rights at an early age in the global stage of governments allowing certain unalienable rights. One of those rights we are able to enjoy freely is that of speech.

As a news organization, The Signpost is grateful to an extreme for being able to print articles that recognize newsworthy events and issues facing Weber State University and its staff and students.

Since the advent of the Internet, and especially since the social media wave, news organizations have encouraged their readers to post their views and opinions online. Previously, letters to the editor were the conduit readers took to proclaim their outlooks. As part of their letters, readers included their names; only under special circumstances would editors omit writers’ names.

Nowadays, readers can safely retain their anonymity by using an alias (or avatar, if we get dirty-nerdy). In this unprecedented flood of online engagement, readers can respond to others’ posts in real time.

Many of these posts spark intelligent and thought-provoking debate. However, more and more frequently, individuals are behaving more and more inappropriately through posts and responses.

Just as it becomes easier to be vocal in larger groups, it is easier to make strongly tainted remarks behind a facade when there are no real-life consequences.

Many news companies, including a handful here in Utah, have taken it upon themselves to moderate these threads and forums. This is, sadly, necessary to keep publicly available conversations both sound and germane.

In a recent front-page article of The New York Times, a couple from a small town is highlighted. In the town of Mountain Grove, Mo., which touts a population of less than 5,000, gossip has moved from the local diner to online. An online forum called the Mountain Grove Forum, hosted by social media website Topix, has been home to more than its fair share of degrading remarks pointed toward fellow members of the small community.

The cook at Dee’s Place (the local diner) and his wife have felt the real-world consequences that have arisen from slanderous remarks appearing on the site.

According to the cook, Shane James, fellow townsfolk have posted untrue comments about his wife — that she is a “freak” and “a methed-out, doped-out whore with AIDS.”

James claims that since that remark was posted, people have treated them differently.

The New York Times wrote, “Friends and relatives stopped speaking to them. Trips to the grocery store brought a crushing barrage of knowing glances. She wept constantly and even considered suicide. Now, the couple has resolved to move.”

Again, no one wants his or her freedoms limited. Our own liveliness as a newspaper would be nonexistent if it weren’t for protected freedoms. We just hope that, as we engage in online or personal communications, we will all be civil about it.

We, of course, are all too happy to print letters to the editor and publish them online here at The Signpost. We love to hear from the students and staff of WSU. We encourage geniality and respect in such conversations that are guarded by the confines of the Internet and hope, as our readers engage in not only The Signpost online comments, but on any forum or thread, that we all adhere to common practices of proper and prudent speech.