I hope I’m wrong.
I hope hundreds of readers can send me letters saying:
“Tracy Hughes, you doofus, you didn’t know what you were talking about.”
I wouldn’t mind a bit. (Well, except maybe the doofus part.) I’ve taken some heat over the past few weeks about a column I wrote on Oct. 5 entitled “Exposing the great divide.”
In it, I predicted a divisive municipal election campaign, dominated by heated discussion about the SmartCentres shopping centre proposal. I warned candidates to put on some rain gear because there could be some serious mud-slinging.
I based this opinion, in part, on the abundance of time I spent deleting online reader posts off the Observer’s online commenting feature.
As part of the great new computer media age, the Observer offers a relatively new service to encourage community interaction. Anyone reading our stories online can also share their views, which are posted online for the world to read, once they register with our commenting service. Unlike our letters to the editor policy, this feature does not require the public disclosure of names, so people can choose whether to post with their name attached or anonymously.
The deleting happens because we have a set of standards for our site, that says, “personal attacks, offensive language and unsubstantiated allegations are not allowed.”
The election has sparked plenty of violations of this policy, keeping me anxiously checking the site for posts that could get the newspaper (and also the person posting those comments) into hot water.
I want to encourage people to make use of this new feature, as I think it is a powerful new tool for community discourse about important issues. I have suggested that candidates, with their names attached, respond to queries on the site so there could be some interactive discussion. That is up to them, but I hope the discussions could be constructive and respectful.
This brings me back to my previous column. I certainly hope the whole campaign can be constructive and respectful. I have been accused of writing that column to try and incite bad behaviour.
Not my intention at all, it was simply my observation on some nastiness which had already transpired. Indeed, I hope the column has the opposite effect. I hope people will say to themselves, “I don’t want to be one of those mud-slingers Hughes was writing about.”
My reverse-psychology approach was buoyed the other day when I read a study that concluded people were actually less likely to support a political party if a newspaper endorses them. Maybe the same will apply in this case.
So for now, I will sit back and continue to keep my eye on the campaign, our website and my delete key. And I will await the arrival of the doofus letters after Nov. 19.