Perhaps I should wait until tomorrow for this post, because I have something positive to say about the Lowell Sun and a day when the temperature might not rise above 0 degrees would be somehow appropriate for that. But this news is too important to wait.
The Sun is discontinuing Topix, its online comment feature where comments often rivaled those found on the stall of a public restroom in their crudity. The newspaper itself acknowledges this in today’s article:
The Sun’s previous comment board was not moderated, and some commenters were posting remarks that ranged from abusive to racist. The cloak of anonymity enabled too many to make the kind of remarks they would never make if they were required to identify themselves.
The Sun seeks a civil debate on the issues of the day, and there is no lack of those issues locally, statewide, nationally and internationally. Views that are counter to those of The Sun’s editorial page are welcomed and encouraged, but the vile statements that too often marred the online comments section in the past are not.
In place of Topix, the Sun will launch Disqus, an application already in use by many other media websites. People wishing to comment are invited to create a verified Disqus account. Once that’s done, your comments will go up on the site immediately (along with your identity). You may also use Facebook, Twitter, OpenID or Yahoo accounts to comment in this way. If you want to remain anonymous, you can, but comments submitted that way will go into a moderation queue and, even if they make it onto the site, their appearance will be delayed.
Topix was a bit like a car wreck: it was tempting to look at because it provided a cheap, irrational thrill at someone else’s expense. Any kind of meaningful community discussion was snuffed out on Topix by the bullies who flourished in its anonymity. The various blogs in Lowell have demonstrated that reader comments can greatly enrich the discussion of a topic while retaining civility. The local newspaper – and by extension the entire community – could only benefit from transitioning to a similar environment. So congratulations to the Sun on making this switch.