TODAY'S QUESTION: Should news organizations let users delete their comments as social media sites do?

Friday, February 26, 2010 | 5:12 p.m. CST; updated 9:26 a.m. CST, Monday, March 1, 2010

Tracy Greever-Rice, a Fourth Ward candidate, asked her neighbor, a Columbia Daily Tribune employee, to remove Greever-Rice's online account with the publication before she announced her candidacy. The employee did not contact any editors before removing the account, even though the Tribune's “Terms of Use” states it will not remove content from its Web site.

Greever-Rice has said that she was unaware of a policy restricting the deletion of her account and did not think there was anything wrong with her request.

Greever-Rice was commenting under the handle “Tracy," and it is still unclear what her comments on the site regarded. Greever-Rice has made comments on the Missourian Web site under her full name and has not contacted the paper at this time about deleting her account with the publication.

This action by Greever-Rice sparks debate because one of the main components of her campaign is to strive for a “responsive, inclusive, transparent government.”

Unlike the Tribune and the Missourian, social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook allow users to delete content. These sites, however, warn users that the comments can still be found in searches.

Should news organizations allow users to delete their comments as social media sites do?

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Thomas Dillingham February 27, 2010 | 10:00 a.m.

People who make public comments in public locations should expect to be held accountable for their comments. That means they should be expected to use their own names and that the comments become part of a permanent record. The level of discourse on the internet has been appallingly degraded, with vast numbers of vituperative, abusive, and unsubstantiated attacks combined with the repetition of false and grossly distorted "information" used to advance opinions. People hide behind pseudonyms to protect themselves from the consequences of their sometimes dishonest or abusive messages. If people have strong views and want their opinions known, they should be prepared to identify themselves and should expect to be challenged. Politicians, in particular, should NEVER be allowed to delete or cover up comments they have made in the past. Voters have the right to know every position politicians have taken. If they want to change their positions, they can post a recantation--but they should not be allowed (as so many in the Bush administration made a common practice) to try to cover their tracks by deleting their statements.
Tom Dillingham

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Mike Martin February 27, 2010 | 11:07 a.m.

Several things bother me about this controversy that have emerged as I have watched OTHER news organizations cover it, and as I've compared coverage of the Gary Kespohl email flap between the Trib (no coverage) and the Missourian (lots of coverage).

For one, the Trib spun this story as "Tracy Greever-Rice HAD a Trib employee" remove her profile. The entire Trib story implies that Greever-Rice exercised some special influence over the Trib employee, who was neither named nor interviewed in the article.

But the idea that Greever-Rice has any influence over the Trib is patently absurd, and the story shouldn't have been written to imply that she did.

Subsequent coverage of this story by the Poynter Institute and the Missourian Watchword bears this out. Trib managing editor Jim Robertson finally speaks substantively, admitting that numerous internal problems at the Trib had as much to do with the profile removal as Greever-Rice's request.

And the name of the Trib employee who removed the profile -- Chris Allen -- also emerges.

That these substantive facts had to emerge in non-Trib stories sheds a dim light on the original coverage, leading one to wonder if a second "cover up" wasn't afoot: Fear on the part of Trib editors that condemnations of the newspaper's culpability would also emerge, which indeed happens in the other stories.

Finally, there seems a terrific double standard regarding the dual controversies of Tracy Greever-Rice and Gary Kespohl. Comments critical of Kespohl's criminal tenants have been scrubbed from the Trib's comment section (and I thought comments were forever), and the Trib has leveled not a peep about the apparent email whopper Kespohl delivered at the public Chamber of Commerce forum.

On the other hand, the Missourian has been all over the Kespohl email story.

Not that this should surprise.

Sources close to the situation told me that in 2007, Trib editors killed stories about then Third Ward city council candidate Gary Kespohl's criminal tenants.

Finally, the Trib's own publisher and pontificator-in-chief, Hank Waters, routinely dismisses himself from any ethical breaches he may have incurred, from machining eminent domain downtown, to plagiarizing his annual Christmas column.

Given the gross double standards at work here, and the Tribune's own culpability in the deletion, I have trouble buying into this controversy as worth anything more than a double harrumph.


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