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As the saying goes — don’t say anything at all. Or at least be courteous about it. It’s OK to be direct and blunt, but be respectful on social media, just as if you were speaking to other users in the flesh.

During the recent livestream of the Sedona Fire District bond, due to issues beyond our control, we were not permitted to livestream the opening state­ments by the moderator and the two factions. But we did go live with the Q&A, which lasted about an hour. We posted a notice to our readers on Facebook of the delay.

 

On the delay post, I deleted one comment from a user who called another a “moron,” and warned the user that personal attacks would not be tolerated. Another user alleged “conspiracy!” then dropped several F-bombs, which were deleted. A third user began bashing other users in the thread. Once the livestream activated, the notification post about the delay became a moot point, and it was deleted.

 
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The comment hosting service Disqus uses a networked platform to verify a user’s identity and makes it difficult for the same person to use a dozen fake names to attack other users, as is the case on a few vitriolic blog sites in Sedona.

None of the offending comments were about the substance of the bond discussion or the merits of the speakers’ arguments; they were just 20 minutes of unusually intense nastiness while we all waited for the livestream to begin.

As a newspaper, it is our duty to serve as a forum of civil public discourse. However, that implicitly requires users adhere to the same policy on our social media pages as they would for letters to the editor.

Our policy for letters to the editor is fairly easy to follow. We do not permit libel nor personal attacks. We require people use their full name and, so we can verify they’re a real person, include their phone number and street address. Social media is a little different, but most platforms have means to verify that users are legitimate people.We manage comments on stories posted to our website through Disqus. The comment hosting service uses a networked platform to verify a user’s identity and makes it difficult for the same person to use a dozen fake names to attack other users, as is the case on a few vitriolic blog sites in Sedona. Disqus allows media outlets to check the user’s comment history and, if “trolls” constantly post libel or relentlessly and pointlessly attack other users, administrators can simply block the troll’s IP address.

Despite claims from these abusers, banning trolls is not a violation of their “free speech.”

As a refresher, the First Amendment to the Constitution reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohib­iting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

The First Amendment means the government cannot prevent you from speaking your ideas. By extension, it also means that others who choose to can give you a forum to share those ideas without facing government prosecution for the content themselves.

However, it does not mean anyone is obligated to give you their forum, especially if users violate the guidelines for how to use them.

The First Amendment also means the government cannot dictate what “the press” can, cannot, must or mustn’t publish. The protection has also been extended in court cases to internet platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and blogs.

The companies that run those platforms have their own rules of conduct and if a user violates them and is banned, it is not a “violation of free speech.” Users can still post comments on other forums, shout them from the street corner or print them on flyers — of course, at the risk of a libel or defamation lawsuit. But from the platforms from which they have been banned, they lost the privilege and courtesy offered by those online publishers.

Free speech is the foundation of a free society, but use that right responsibly and truthfully. The government can’t prosecute you, but no one else has to share their platform if you choose to abuse it.

Christopher Fox Graham

Managing Editor

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