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Guest view Online comments? Great. But remember who's reading

  • Jim Slusher

    Jim Slusher

Posted on 1/30/2019, 1:00 AM

Imagine a family in mourning. A beloved 12-year-old child -- their daughter, granddaughter, sister, cousin -- has just died in a tragic accident.

What kind of person would walk up to one of them and belittle their religious faith or condemn their circumstances?

The answer: A certain kind of person who comments on social media and on online news stories.

Such people are, let's acknowledge from the outset, a small fraction compared to those who react online with thoughtful compassion. But they are substantial enough in numbers that they need to be watched out for, and, it's a sad commentary on the medium that whenever certain types of stories break, our online editors know they have to be especially vigilant to watch out for them.

It may be a family tragedy like that of the little girl who died when her snow fort collapsed. It may be a fatal car crash under unusual circumstances. It may be a domestic situation gone sour enough to reach the newspaper.

Whatever the tragedy, it seems someone out there will be moved to show off his or her wit with a display of rank sarcasm. Our digital editors watch for these, and remove them when they find them.

Their mission is not just a matter of decorum. They aren't simply striving to protect the general public from society's boors, who, we acknowledge, have a constitutional right to be boors. But they also have an objective that is void of dogma or social consideration. It is merely humane, the awareness that family, friends and loved ones who are left to make sense of the incomprehensible at a time of unspeakable loss may see or learn of someone callously making light of their suffering or using it to advance some personal agenda.

This is what we wish more online commenters would consider. Your words online don't go out to some faceless and impersonal void. They touch real people, your friends and neighbors, even people you don't know but otherwise would treat fondly and generously without ever caring about their political, social or religious beliefs.

Raymond Lee is an elder in the Korean Christian church whose pastor's daughter died in the snow fort collapse. He said that the outpouring for the pastor's family has been "overwhelming," The story, he said, "strikes a chord with people."

Most people, anyway.

We hope that anytime you are moved to comment on a news story online, you will consider the impact your remarks will have on every person reading them, especially the people most directly involved. Ask yourself, 'Would I say this to a person's face?' If the answer is no, stop and reconsider.

Comment. Engage. Express yourself. But remember who may be reading.

• Jim Slusher is the Opinion page editor at the Daily Herald.

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