The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Friday January 28th

Column: Constructive discourse shouldn't have to silence


Assistant opinion editor Emily Yue

Whenever I watch or read something online, I always feel strongly compelled to scroll down to the comments.

The comments section is a sounding board of the community, with the power to manifest as a chorus of devil’s advocates or a support system for whoever had the courage to post a part of their life on the internet.

Every print edition of the opinion page that we’ve published this year has a featured online comment, usually from serial commenters I don’t necessarily agree with, but appreciate all the same. I read through The Daily Tar Heel's recent comments regularly to find those featured quotes while satisfying the honest curiosity about what people think of what we think.

We recently received a letter to the editor that called for the disabling of the DTH’s online comments.

My first reaction was blatant incredulity.

The editorial board has discussed the merits and trade-offs of online comments before, but we dismissed the idea of completely disabling them as a joke at the time. After all, removing the audience’s outlet to respond to the media they have chosen to consume is, by definition, censorship. As a journalistic institution (and opinion section no less), it doesn’t make sense to limit anyone’s right to free speech.

We touched on this earlier in our editorial on the nonexistence of safe spaces.

The critical question then:

Should the safe space enable those with conservative voices the freedom to speak up, or should it protect the people who have been historically silenced by those voices?

The question now:

Should the DTH enable commenters the platform to voice their unfiltered thoughts or should we protect the writers who have been targeted with needless vitriol?

It might be too obvious an answer to call for both. It might be too much to want the DTH to facilitate a respectful, productive forum between writer and reader. But I can hope!

I don’t think we should disable comments. It’s certainly true that the potential anonymity that Disqus affords can encourage hurtful comments that otherwise might not exist. A possible solution could require commenters to have Facebook-verified profiles before posting.

One of the best parts of my job is reading and organizing the letters to the editor. We look at the factors of relevance, proximity and length — each letter is carefully fact-checked and archived. However, no matter how well-written or well-founded a letter is, it can’t be published if it can’t be traced to a real person.

If this requirement were to apply to online comments, it could help elevate the conversations that we have here. To me at least, curation isn’t the same thing as censorship, and we can all do better.

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