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As far as user comments go, I’m firmly in the registration-required camp.

My position on this goes back years to when the newspaper where I used to work launched a “vent” phone line so callers could leave messages about stories, community issues and whatnot. A selection of vents was published regularly in print (and later online). While there was an occasional nugget of wisdom, most vents fell into one of these categories: mean-spirited, bigoted, just plain stupid or outer space. Readers, of course, loved it.

The vent line bothered me for two reasons: one, the hate-filled tone the comments all too often took; and two, the lack of accountability. Callers could leave messages in comfortable anonymity, yet authors of letters to the editor had to submit their names and contact information.

For the same reasons, I deplore systems that allow readers to leave comments without registering. Unlike vent lines, online comments can appear almost instantaneously – and are often unfiltered. Sure, comments can be deleted, but once out there, the damage is done. Just ask Lara Logan.

To those who cry “censorship” at any attempt to regulate comments, I respectfully remind you that the First Amendment does not allow journalists to publish anything they damn well please. Ever heard of libel? Obscenity? Fighting words?

Read upon those before you leave your next comment.

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