EDITORIAL: The internet brings out the worst in some of us

Last week, a local man commented some truly horrific things on one of the stories on our website.

Rumours have been circulating online that the man, who the News is choosing not to name in order to prevent providing a platform for hate speech, was a current or former freelancer for the News.

That is false.

The man in question has — to the knowledge of current staff — never written for the News and most certainly never will in the future.

The News is not and will not be a platform for racism, bigotry or discrimination.

We’ve received your messages this week and we are listening. In that spirit, it is time to pull back the curtain and give our readers some insight into just how prevalent these types of comments are.

How common are these comments?

Racism is alive and well in the Yukon.

There is no way to sugar coat it — in a typical week, the Yukon News receives around a dozen messages and comments that are of a similar vein, attacking, belittling and dehumanizing others.

Most of these comments are caught by automatic filters and never gain public exposure.

Some are from fake accounts set up to spread a message, but many are from real Yukoners. Occasionally, posts like the ones that have been making the rounds on social media since last Friday get past the filters and are manually removed by one of our editorial staff.

In many cases, we are able to remove those comments mere moments after they appear.

Sometimes though, we’re at the grocery store; we spend time with our families; we have to sleep.

A big part of why we use a Facebook plugin for our comments is the simple fact that it forces users to attach their name to their statements. Removing that first layer of anonymity has done a tremendous amount to limit hate, but some choose to wear their hate proudly.

We’re doing our best and we appreciate how invested our readers are in having a productive, healthy dialogue free from trolls, hate and discrimination.

Why did you close the comments section?

We made the decision to close the comments section because of a bug within the Facebook-serviced commenting system that created problems with moderation.

When we saw the comments made on our story last Friday, we acted immediately to both delete the comments and ban the user. It was only when people began replying to deleted comments that it became clear there was an underlying technical issue.

It is a possibility the comments section could return to our website once the bug in question is fixed, but that remains to be determined.

What is certain is that the News will continue to post stories to our Facebook page and continue to moderate the comments on each post.

Why did you delete the comments?

A number of readers have reached out to the News, questioning the decision to delete the comments and close the comments section. To those readers, it appears that we are trying to sweep the underlying racism out of sight. To delete them, the messages said, is to pretend it didn’t happen.

As stated earlier, the News will not be a platform for hate, and will not be complicit in spreading a message of hate in our comments section.

We’re hopeful that by giving some context on the scope of the problem, readers will understand where we’re coming from.

For similar reasons, we generally do not allow links to be posted in our comments. We cannot be certain of the accuracy or relevance of the information.

A common theme is for accounts to post the same link of dubious accuracy on multiple stories, in the hopes that one will be missed.

What about free speech?

The News is a stout proponent of free speech, but racism and hate speech are intolerable.

We’re a news organization and, like any news organization, are liable for comments posted to our website and social media pages, as are the individuals who post them. We have both an ethical and legal obligation to remove hate speech or calls for violence, as we become aware of them.

Comments are handled on an individual basis, but foul language, threats and hate speech are simply not allowed.

Moreover, comments are moderated by our staff, who do not deserve to be exposed to such content.

So what’s next?

To the best of our ability, we will continue our work to provide Yukoners with the news they need and the context to understand it, particularly as it concerns issues of discrimination, inequality and racism.

If you’ve got questions, concerns or any other issues, we’re here and we’re listening.

(JHH)

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