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Be careful with your words

Whoever first said, “Sticks and stone may break my bones but words will never hurt me,” did not anticipate the age of the internet and social media.

Words can, and do, hurt. In fact, they can do harm to entire communities.

I enjoy social media as much as anyone, Facebook in particular. Connecting with childhood and high school friends has been great, and who doesn’t love a good cat video?

With the good also often comes a downside. Social media and websites like ours at The Democrat also have proven to be a new playground for those among us who are frustrated or think they are funny or just like to spew poison.

You know those people. They tear down others because in some twisted way, it makes them feel better about themselves.

We in the newspaper business depend on feedback on our stories and issues in the community. A crucial role of ours in the community is to provide a public forum for readers to express their opinions and comment on important issues.

Newspapers have different policies, but every newspaper for which I’ve ever worked has required writers of letters to the editor to identify themselves, and we at the newspaper work to verify those letters before they publish.

I like that policy. It’s fair to all concerned. It has integrity and the letter writer, when identified, has the courage of his conviction and assumes responsibility for his words.

We have lost so much of the civility in our society. People feel free to make comments on social media and the like, which they would never make to someone’s face. If they did say it to someone’s face, they would get — and deserve — a punch in the mouth.

Choosing to comment only when you can be anonymous or hide behind a fictitious username is cowardly. Worse than that, the constant negativity and purveying of vicious, hurtful lies is something that is harmful to our entire community. It’s just not fair. It’s not who we are as a community.

Someone who is close to me, upon learning I was moving back home, began reading stories on The Natchez Democrat’s website. They contacted me soon after to say they’ve never read such negative comments and wondered if that’s the attitude of our entire community.

I explained, no, it isn’t. That negativity and unkindness comes from a half dozen folks who think they are funny or are against just about everything. That handful of frequent commenters finds something to criticize about everything in our community. That isn’t the attitude of our community. But those who don’t know us don’t understand that.

We have ended comments on all except opinion pieces on our website, and whether we allow those to continue long term is undecided. We want and welcome feedback, but we want it in a responsible way. We will publish letters in our print edition and online when they are signed by the writer and verified.

When you are on social media and other places, please think about the words you use when you make posts, particularly those about our community. Those words you use can influence others in ways we may not realize.

Jan Griffey is general manager of The Natchez Democrat. You may reach her at 601-445-3566 or jan.griffey@natchezdemocrat.com.

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