A Victory for Civility


On Friday, Patrick Pexton signed off after two years as Washington Post’s ombudsman.

Let me answer your first question. An ombudsman?  What?

Put simply, an ombudsman is an independent complaint investigator.  For more details on ombudsman, hop over to Wikipedia .   In this case, Patrick Pexton was “it” for the complaints that came to the Post from her readers. He represented the readers but worked for the Post.

On Friday, when Mr. Pexton signed off in the Opinions section of the Post, he shared this:

The No. 1 topic of complaint to the ombudsman during my term: The Post’s online comment system. About 10 percent of those complaints were about its functionality, which The Post has improved. Another 10 percent were from people who feel they were unfairly censored. But the rest were from readers who like the idea of online comments but abhor the hatefulness, name-calling, racism and ideological warfare that are constant features of The Post’s commenting stream.

Early on, I was a fan of the give-and-take and anonymous nature of this electronic Hyde Park corner. Now I’m not.

What turned me were the truly ugly comments on a Feb. 4 article by Krissah Thompson on the high school football coach who criticized first lady Michelle Obama’s derriere. I was watching the online comment stream the night the story was published, and the moderators could barely delete fast enough the racist, sexist and crude comments. I don’t think comments like those should be within 10 miles of The Washington Post’s masthead. And readers agree; those who wrote in said it hurts the publication’s brand and reputation.

I think The Post should move, as the Miami Herald did recently, away from anonymous responses to a system that requires commenters to use their real names and to sign in via Facebook. It would reduce the volume of comments but raise the level of discussion and help preserve The Post’s brand.

I applaud Mr. Pexton for suggesting that on-line publications move towards requiring those who wish to comment do so with their real names.

Here’s why:

“Anonymity is the Great Offender to civility.” – P.M. Forni, author of Choosing Civility and The Civility Solution.

When we have no accountability for our actions, we feel greater freedom to express ourselves in a way that we most likely would never dream of in a face to face situation or where someone knows our name.

Our society has moved further away from real, personal connections.  We feel safe screaming and ranting via our key boards, anonymously, because we are not accountable for our words.

Have you read the comments section of any on-line article or editorial lately? It’s a disgrace to civility and how we treat each other.

Written personal attacks on strangers is the norm. Nothing is off limits when another person decides they don’t appreciate your thoughts, ideas or beliefs.  Let’s attack! And I’ll get my fellow on-line bully friends to do the same! Because they don’t know you either. And you will never know us. Because we don’t have to share our names. We can zip off our comments and feel better for venting and bashing you over the verbal head.

Would you flip off some random stranger when they cut you off in traffic? Maybe. Would you do the same if that person was your neighbor? Your child’s principal? I didn’t think so.

And  don’t mistake diplomatically and tactful disagreement with what I’m talking about here. Disagree to your heart’s desire! Just make sure that your comments reflect what you want to share with the entire on-line world. With your name attached. Available to Google users everywhere. For a really long time.

Thank you Mr. Pexton. Thank you Miami Herald. You are helping to bring civility back in style through accountability of our words.

Mind Your Manners,


  1. I really like your “Civility” blog and would like to share it with some other folks. Do you mind if I post your link?

    • Kelly

      I’m so glad you liked it Emily! I love it when people share my blog, so please feel free to post the link. Thank you!

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