For the last six weeks, I have been managing a feature on the Post-Gazette's Web site and in the newspaper called Picking Sides.
This challenge was posed to readers:
"If you've made up your mind for the upcoming presidential election, tell us why you favor the Republican McCain-Palin ticket or the Democratic Obama-Biden ticket."
There were two ways to participate - writing for inclusion in the newspaper and participating in an online forum.
Submissions to be considered for the newspaper had to be 100 words or less and include the writer's name and place of residence. John Smith of Brentwood, for example. Sundays through Fridays beginning Oct. 12, we published two per day, one in favor of the Republican ticket and one for the Democratic candidates. The last of those will be in the Sunday, Nov. 2, editions. We have 16 left over, which will be included in our online-only letters package Sunday. We received more comments than those but weeded out the ones that were too long or that went beyond the realm of opinion to state as fact information that was flat out wrong.
The online forum was much more free form. Some writers went very long, and many of the participants filed multiple times. Some people wrote numerous posts each day, and a few spent most of their time sniping at each other. By the time the traffic started winding down this week, very few people still were responding to the initial request for statements of support for the candidates.
All of that is the nature of the Internet, which encourages more of a free-form discussion, but the conversation sometimes became petty and mean-spirited. I think that probably is due largely to one factor: the anonymity of the Web. Even the kindest of humans can be pushed to say things anonymously that they never would dream of uttering if their names were attached to the comments.