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When do readers' comments cross the line?

November 2, 2009 |  1:51 pm

The Times' Opinion Manufacturing Division moderates readers' comments on editorials, Op-Ed articles and blog posts to filter out anything that's not germane or that's inappropriate. The former is an easy standard to apply; the latter can be devilishly hard. Today we received several boundary-pushing responses to Gregory Rodriguez's column explaining why the federal census should count illegal immigrants (and not just because the Constitution compels it to). One by "BlackSaint" stood out for its withering description of illegal aliens. BlackSaint blamed illegals for a host of ills, including taking out subprime loans, lowering the standard of living, and affecting the country's balance of payments by using so much oil and other imports. Then he wrote:

One has to only look at Calif. which is basically mostly an Spanish speaking, Bankrupt state that cannot afford to provide Welfare, Schooling, Medical, Prison cells etc. for millions of MS-13 Gang bangers, Drug dealers, Rapist and other assorted Criminals and uneducated, Prolific breeding, third world rejects from Mexico!

In a very few years it will be impossible to see where Mexico ends and Calif. begins as both will be an third world cesspool!

Failure to secure our borders and reward the Invading horde for their invasion and their relatives in an never ending chain with American Citizenship is nothing less than committing National Suicide & will assure our future is an over populated Spanish speaking third world Nation that is an Cesspool of Corruption, Crime, Poverty and Misery modeled on Mexico!

This is nasty stuff. Yet those of us on staff who regularly moderate comments published it for a couple of reasons. First, we considered BlackSaint's views to be typical of the faction that's most strongly in favor of deporting illegal immigrants. That's not to say they're mainstream or representative of a significant number of people; it's just that we often see similar ideas expressed when we run a piece related to immigration policy. Second, we think it's better to let readers respond with their own comments when they're offended than to have us block anything that might offend someone.

Our site also lets people report comments they think should be taken down, which one reader did not long after BlackSaint's submission was published, calling it, "Another racist screed." After some internal debate, we decided to take the comment down because it violated The Times' policy against “abusive, hateful or objectionable language, threats, violence or inflammatory attacks.” 

How would you have handled this one? Should The Times have blocked BlackSaint's remarks from the get-go? Should it have ignored the objection and left his comment up? Would it be better to publish everything and let readers sort it all out? Or should we go the other direction and set a higher threshold for what gets published? What's the right standard?

-- Jon Healey

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