Why we stopped allowing comments on stories and letters related to the Princeton High School principal

Comments and letters to the editor have always been an important part of Planet Princeton. We prefer when people use their real names to comment, but we also allow people to post anonymously if they choose. Often people don’t want to use a real name because they fear it might hurt their careers, particularly if they work at or do business with the largest employer in town.

Commenters often offer a new perspective or insight, advance a story, or correct inaccuracies. Comments sometimes also lift people up and build community.

Unfortunately, in the case of stories and letters regarding former Princeton High School Principal Frank Chmiel, the level of vitriol, trolling, sock puppeting (when one person writes numerous comments using multiple identities), false claims of knowing the identity of commenters, and uncivil discourse have reached new lows.

Many of the comments submitted are what we consider to be slander, with one side or the other calling a school district employee or former employee liars or worse based on people’s statements.

We review all comments to make sure they meet our community guidelines that promote civility. We began doing this a few years ago when people started sharing disinformation in comments and making more and more personal attacks. Previously our practice was to allow all comments to be posted. We removed comments if they were flagged by readers.

Unfortunately, we do not have the time and do not think it is a good use of our resources to spend all day monitoring and editing the torrent of comments from a small number of people that keep pouring in on the issue of the principal.

We hope to continue to allow comments on Planet Princeton and will continue to do so unless we feel that it is not worth it if the discourse continues to devolve.

Some readers have written to me chastising Planet Princeton for moderating comments, claiming I am violating their free speech and censoring them. I stand by our policy of moderating comments and promoting civility. If anything, we have been too lenient in allowing comments to be published that reach that line.

We can all make our points without mocking or demeaning others or ganging up on them in comments.

Even if you disagree, please make your point in a civil manner and try to be kind. It runs counter to the current climate in our country right now, but in Princeton we can and should do better.