Tightening up the CHL comments policy and some thoughts about civility

Mar 30, 2019

I like to think of my column in CuencaHighLife a weekly love letter to Cuenca. Although I spend endless hours fretting and obsessing over what to say, I am always most content while sitting at my desk writing.

In fact, writing for CHL changed the trajectory of my life in ways that were heretofore unimagined. Not only do I have a platform to wax rhapsodic every weekend, I now serve as the managing editor (read willing accomplice) for David Morrill, founding editor of CuencaHighLife. This opportunity to report on the texture and detail of the day is one I am thankful for — and is a responsibility that I take seriously.

If we lived in a community in which people were identified by, or given names to match  their attributes, Morrill might be called “Almost Anything Goes.” In his early newspaper days at such far-flung posts as the [Tallahassee] Capital Canon, the Ashland Daily Tidings, the Miami Herald,  and the San Francisco Chronicle, he was a tireless advocate of laissez-faire journalism, occasionally amenable to a little creative mischief.

I would not be mistaken for him.

Some feel my  attribution would be more accurately derived from “Quicksilver,” or perhaps the less mercurial, “Enthusiasm.”

Now, I will readily admit that enthusiasm is a word I love. It is the sound of curling whitewater frisking over stone, the configuration of letters, a leap, a scramble to the top, and then a long sweet ride. But, “Enthusiasm” is not my name.

Prophetically, I was named, “Deix keet kuligaaw eil,” by a Tlingit hít s’aati when I was a young man living in Alaska: “Two orcas fighting in the open sea.”

And so, at last, it has come to pass.

Opposing forces at battle in a war in which there will be no victor.

Within the community of humans, we are witnessing the coarsening of society: common decency ignored, the hubris of the privilege celebrated, wailing hunger succored by platitudes, lamenting soldiers bearing festering wounds, nations in decline.

The smallest gestures of acknowledgment and accommodation towards others are dwindling.  Something as easy and common as opening a door for a stranger, although it is always well received, is becoming old fashioned, even quaint.

Of particular concern to me is the decline of civil discourse, much of it the result of the internet.

Sinister tribalism is worming its way into our hearts in ways that are certain to cause major eruptions, much of it fostered by the anonymity of the internet. The landscape is changing. Channels of communication once worn smooth by steady use and refinement, are now barricaded with accusations and  innuendoes creating eddies of dangerous rhetoric. We are in jeopardy of being dragged under a riptide of our own tribal insistence from which there will be no release.

Unfortunately, we are not immune to this trend, even in the fresh air of Cuenca. Too often conversation strings in our website comment section become playgrounds polluted by bullies, smart alecks, and practitioners of Schadenfreude.

We are doing something about it.

I owe an apology to the many who have written to me to say they have been offended, either personally, or by means of association. They contend that the brutish language and behavior exposed in the Comments section do not reflect the values of CHL or the community as a whole, and I wholeheartedly agree. Although they are only a few, they are poisoning the well from which we all drink.

CHL is unequivocally committed to upholding the rights of a free and open press in which every voice deserves to be heard. But, we will not hold forth with churlish behavior. We plan to be more vigilant in eliminating offensive postings from our comments section.

CHL policy on posting comments is as follows.

The approval of all comments on the CuencaHighLife website is at the discretion of the moderators. We appreciate and encourage a vigorous debate in our article comments sections. To maintain a constructive and civil discourse, however, we have established rules of engagement. Comments should always be relevant to the article they are posted to, or to a legitimate tangent thereof. Disagreements between commenters are acceptable as long as they focus on issues in the article, not on the personalities of commenters. We do not allow racial or ethnic slurs or remarks questioning the sanity or intelligence of commenters (words and terms such as idiot, shit-head, dolt, moron, schmuck, and nit-wit aimed at fellow commenters are out of bounds). Comments that comprise a private discussion between commenters are never appropriate. Attacks on individuals and businesses, unless they are in reference to information cited in an article, are not appropriate. Profanity is discouraged although it is not banned if the comment in which it is contained conforms to the policy.

We must all shoulder our weight against the surging tsunami of digital tribalism and the waves of toxic debris washed ashore in its wake — it is essential to our survival that we do so. Protecting the planet, providing shelter for those who have none, taking a moment to assist another, compromise;  these are among the critical components required to turn the ship around, and it will only get done if we all lend a hand.

CHL has long maintained its pledge to provide up-to-date, balanced news, features, credible scientific reports, and varied opinions on a wide variety of issues of interest to our readers. As the most widely read English-language news and information source in Ecuador, with over 5,000 readers a day, we take our responsibility to the community very seriously.

It is the duty of each and every one of us to do what is required to support a free press, protect access to education, and most importantly, to defend access to all streams of information in a free and enriching environment.

It is the duty of the moderators of this site to maintain a platform where civility and respect for all people and all opinions are championed.

I encourage those with suggestions to write me at robert@cuencahighlife.com

Addendum: Several readers have asked about the relationship of CuencaHighLife and the newspaper, Cuenca Dispatch. Although they are in partnership and share articles, they operate independently. David Morrill is editor of CuencaHighLife and Michael Soares is editor of Cuenca Dispatch.

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