SC Online posting policies -- Was The truth and ...

Sussex County Online User Forums: Fenwick Island Discussion Forum: SC Online posting policies -- Was The truth and ...
By Eric Magill on Monday, March 17, 2003 - 08:18 am:

Legion of Honor:
Because your post is in violation of our posting policies, I have removed it. I have saved it, however, and will re-post it if you provide your real name or call me at 537-4198 to inform me why you can't provide your real name.

Eric Magill
Publisher, Sussex County Online

By Sussex Cop on Monday, March 17, 2003 - 02:50 pm:

Wow. Sorry I missed that post.

By Legion of Honor on Saturday, March 22, 2003 - 08:52 am:

Eric Magill,

There was nothing in my posting that nobody on this message board has expressed in there thoughts, however I did probably make the mistake of telling actual facts of what really happened. Is that the policy I broke?

In addition why am I the one person you want to give my real name out of all the users?

By Sussex Cop on Saturday, March 22, 2003 - 01:30 pm:

Eric,

Could you please post the policies in whole or direct us to the area that we can review them? Thanks.

Sussex Cop

By Sussex Cop on Saturday, March 22, 2003 - 01:43 pm:

REMINDER!

In regards to posting on online public forums such as these:

The U.S. Constitution, First Amendment exceptions(free speech, in case anyone forgot):

The five kinds of communication NOT protected by the First Amendment:

1. Obscenity
2. Child pornography
3. Fighting words
4. Incitement to riot
5. Threats

There has been NOTHING related to these five areas posted on these forums in violation of the First Amendment. Hence, suppression of the right to free speech here IS a violation of Constitutional rights.

Some real food for thought.

By Eric Magill on Saturday, March 22, 2003 - 05:59 pm:

Sussex Cop:

Give me a break. The First Amendment guarantees that "Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech," the key word there being "Congress". It doesn't apply to editing decisions by privately owned companies like Sussex County Online.

You also conveniently left out libel, defamation and slander as forms of speech that are not Constitutionally protected, as the many lawsuits against media organizations attest to.

We have done our best to provide a forum that allows for a free-flowing discussion and exchange of ideas, but we must draw the line at posts that could be interpreted as libelous.

If you feel that we are unreasonable in our policy of not allowing anonymous posts of specific charges against specific individuals that we do not know to be true, you'll either have to live with that, move to another forum that you believe will allow such posts, or start your own forum to allow such posts.

In regards to our posting guidelines on these issues:

1. Specific accusations or accounts of events involving specific individuals that we do not know to be true will only be allowed if the poster uses their real name or if an anonymous poster contacts us to discuss how they know their specific accusations, charges or account of specific events are true.

2. We do allow anonymous posts on specific events that we know to be true (i.e., FOIA violations, missed audits, Haon's letter to Carmean, etc.) and do allow anonymous posts of opinions and commentary on such incidents.

As an example, we would allow the Legion of Honor to express his/her opinion that certain individuals have done a lousy job. We will not allow the Legion of Honor to allege that specific events occurred, events that we do not have knowledge of, unless he/she is willing to post their real name or contact us to inform us how they know these events occurred.

We have posted our posting guidelines on the front page of our forums at http://www.sussexcountyonline.com/discus/. They read as follows:

"... The other forums are open to all, but all who post must follow our posting policies: 1. No vulgar or obscene language; 2. No posts on someone's personal life rather than their public performance 3. We may or may not allow anonymous posts for specific accusations of wrong-doing. If we know the post is true, we will let it stand. If we don't know if it's true or not, we will remove it and ask for proof before re-posting it."

As I've said before, these guidelines are a work in progress, but I am comfortable that in their current form, they adequately protect Sussex County Online while not silencing the ability of Sussex Countians to voice their opinions.

By Sussex Cop on Sunday, March 23, 2003 - 12:22 am:

It's disturbing to see any media outlet try to suppress public information that is printed or posted in any public forum. It is ironic that the media claims such information is Constitutionally protected when the MEDIA tries to obtain the same type of information and make it public! For example, the News Journal files motion after motion in court in attempts to obtain public records or information to release. Yet, when that information if freely distributed to the media, it is suppressed in order to "protect" the media outlet. Quite hypocritical I believe.

On a related note, isn't the media supposed to investigate claims that are in the public's best interest and welfare? I would think that the fact Fenwick Island is/was considering hiring alleged "problem officers" is of great public concern, and not just to Fenwick Islanders. There are several posts on here from different officers making the same claims regarding these "problem officers". Isn't that a big hint that the posts are true and accurate? How about following up on these posts and not just monitoring them?

Or is this going to be a typical serious Sussex County issue that dies out for lack of action and concern?

Sussex County Online provides an excellent news source and public forum. It would be nice to see some follow-up on the allegations made and information posted on here.

By Harry Sachs on Sunday, March 23, 2003 - 10:31 pm:

Sussex Cop,

Are you not able to understand that Mr Magill HAS complied with everyone of your complaints? For example:
Q= "On a related note, isn't the media supposed to investigate claims that are in the public's best interest and welfare?"
A= "1. Specific accusations or accounts of events involving specific individuals that we do not know to be true will only be allowed if the poster uses their real name or if an anonymous poster contacts us to discuss how they know their specific accusations, charges or account of specific events are true."

Q= "There are several posts on here from different officers making the same claims regarding these "problem officers". Isn't that a big hint that the posts are true and accurate? How about following up on these posts and not just monitoring them?"
A= "If we know the post is true, we will let it stand. If we don't know if it's true or not, we will remove it and ask for proof before re-posting it."

Q= "Sussex County Online provides an excellent news source and public forum. It would be nice to see some follow-up on the allegations made and information posted on here."
A= "We may or may not allow anonymous posts for specific accusations of wrong-doing. If we know the post is true, we will let it stand. If we don't know if it's true or not, we will remove it and ask for proof before re-posting it."

Which part of your allegations and information questions does that not answer without a shadow of a doubt? Is not seeking the truth and doing their best to assure users of unbiased reaction to any slanderous or libelous material "Following up" on it?. Anything not of public record or substantiated will not be published without authentication. Fairly simple dont you think? Oh, and by the way, I DID read the posting, and I thought it contained a lot of "facts" that were suspicious in origin. I am not saying they were not true, but I too would like to know either where the info came from or how I can get it. I just think that people are confusing "Evidence" and "Opinion". What someone tells you about someone is nothing more than rumor without supporting facts. Authenticated facts.
I think Mr Magill was perfectly within his own guidelines on his decision to pull the posting.

By Sussex Cop on Tuesday, March 25, 2003 - 12:52 am:

Harry Sachs

As every police officer is well aware, we cannot publicly post opinions OR facts without fear of reproach from both police administrators or general public alike.

While SussexCountyOnline is a local source of information and exchange, its public forums are turning out to be a biased personal project of bogus media.

Mr. Magill continues to interject personal opinion, view points and objection when he is supposed to be providing a source of news and information. Generally, editors and alike are taught to publish thought-provoking ideas and comments that will generate an equal response. In more than one instance, we have seen those responses stricken from public record based only upon personal objection of Mr. Magill. While I understand that he may be in fear of retribution by parties standing in bad light on these forums, it is no different than any other media outlet publishing newsworthy stories and information. How often are news reporters speculative or biased in their reporting? Always; they rarely provide physical or documented evidence or reliable sources for their information inclusive in their respective publications.

How often do you read about a source that "wishes to remain anonymous" or "unidentified"? It's a hypocritic method that is being abused on these public forums.

Bottom line, reporters and editors have not been held accountable in the same manner as John Doe citizen. While Mr. Magill claims slander, libel and defamation as legitimate reasons to quash public opinion, he fails to acknowledge that these local issues have already been reported and found true. For instance, he KNOWS that his office has spoken with AT LEAST one former Fenwick Island officer regarding the problems in Fenwick. He KNOWS that problems STILL exist in Fenwick Island PD and town government. Yet there have been no follow-up or investigative reports done by SussexCountyOnline.

Instead of quashing statements made by knowledgable people, they should be followed-up and investigated as such a responsible reporter or investigator should do with such critical issues of public interest and welfare.

You ask/state "Are you not able to understand that Mr Magill HAS complied with everyone of your complaints?"

No, he has absolutely not ... in any way shape or form. Neither has any other local media outlet.
Where are the investigative reports? THERE HASN'T BEEN ANY! Has there been ANY attempt by SussexCountyOnline or any other local media outlet to verify or eliminate allegations or charges made by local officers and citizens? NO!
The only way they are going to "verify" those accusations and statements is to actually investigate them!

My God, what happened to accountability for journalism?

On a related note, Mr. Magill needs to take refresher courses on the U.S. Constitution. Law is ever-changing in this country. Case law that may have been relevant in his college years has changed today.

"Is not seeking the truth and doing their best to assure users of unbiased reaction to any slanderous or libelous material "Following up" on it?. Anything not of public record or substantiated will not be published without authentication."

You answered your own question. It's his repsonsibility as a journalist to follow up on such critical issues. Selling ads to pay for his business does not justify a failure to review, investigate and report. If that's the case, maybe journalism isn't the right career choice.

As for your statement "I am not saying they were not true, but I too would like to know either where the info came from or how I can get it" you stated and implied on earlier posts that you have first-hand knowledge of the ongoings in FIPD. So, if you're so involved and knowledgable as you claim, then you would not need further evidence, claims or statements. You would already know they were true.

"What someone tells you about someone is nothing more than rumor without supporting facts."

That's irrelevant pertaining to officers and citizens that are directly involved and familiar with the ongoing problems with Fenwick Island and FIPD ...the same officers that are posting on these public forums and providing information to the public. Some of these people are using their true names when posting on here. What's the excuse for verification there? There is no excuse.

"I think Mr Magill was perfectly within his own guidelines on his decision to pull the posting."

Right. PERSONAL guidelines that he created and enforces.

By twilliams on Tuesday, March 25, 2003 - 07:49 am:

I think that we are forgetting one very important fact here.

This is not a public forum, it is a privately owned forum open to the public. Which basically means the board owners/moderators are allowed to allow any post, or no post as may be in their interest. The owners can require registration, or not. They can allow anonymous posts, or not. They can do whatever they please. Fortunately this board lets you post in darn near any fashion or any topic you wish, they have to be cognizant that as a private entity, they could be held responsible for any slander or libel that may appear on their pages.

I completely understand the pitfalls you speak of regarding the need for anonymity when disclosing some of this info. But remember, the press still uses anonymous sources, in fact, I believe the sources the broke the Watergate scandal are still secret. So, I encourage you or any other concerned party that may have information that would make a news story, contact Mr. MAgill, ask him to keep your identity a secret and let him run with the story, legitimately.

By Eric Magill on Tuesday, March 25, 2003 - 10:44 am:

Sussex Cop,

On one hand you accuse me of not being accountable. On another, you complain about me insisting on accountability. Which is it?

Every publication I've seen in 20 years in newspapers and online news has policies regarding the use of anonymous sources and anonymous letters to the editor. As has become obvious on these forums, some anonymous "sources" would like to hide behind their anonymity, and behind Sussex County Online, to do harm to others. That's why news organizations develop these policies.

The vast majority of newspapers in this country will not allow the publication of information from an anonymous source without knowing the identity of the source or without being able to verify the anonymous source's information through other channels. That goes for their letters to the editor section, as well as their own stories.

Many newspapers now require contact information with letters to the editor to verify that the name on the letter is actually the person who wrote the letter.

In stories, the general rule has been that besides the reporter, at least one editor must also know the identity of the anonymous source. Even then, most newspapers will make every attempt to verify the information on the record through other channels or through documentation.

You say that some of the anonymous posters are directly involved with the incidents they are writing about, yet how do I know that? How do I know that the anonymous posters don't just have a personal axe to grind against someone they felt slighted by and are now attempting to exact revenge? I don't, and that's why I insist that specific accusations that I do not know to be true be posted with the poster's real name, or that the poster contact me so I know who they are or how they know the accusations they are making are accurate. As has been pointed out, if the information is accurate, the poster's identity will be protected.

As for the two or three posts I have removed since instituting the guidelines, NONE have been in compliance with the guidelines. We haven't removed a single post that contained the poster's real name, unless you're saying their real names are Legion of Honor, or Bethany Beach Concerned Citizen.

You continue to confuse information that is in the public domain with information that is not in the public domain. Personnel information, for instance, is not in the public domain and is exempted from disclosure under FOIA. The information in Legion of Honor's post has not been reported anywhere that I am aware of and probably won't be because it falls under the personnel exemption, meaning media organizations will not be able to view it.

As far as following up on it, it's somewhat difficult to contact "knowledgeable" anonymous sources for guidance when we don't know who they are.

Be that as it may, if you go through the stories that Kerin and I have written for Sussex County Online at http://www.sussexcountyonline.com/news/localnews/fenwickisland/index.html, you will find that we have followed up on the information we have been provided and have been able to verify.

In the case of the Fenwick PD, we have written several stories when departing officers have been willing to talk to us about their dealings with OIC Hudson. We reported, for instance, that former officer Pete Brennan accused Hudson of attempting to sabotage his job search. We have printed letters from Manning and Sherry Jordan blasting town council. Since last August, we have published 40 stories of our own or opinion pieces from Fenwick residents regarding the problems in council and the Fenwick PD.

You accuse me of bias, yet how am I biased when I enforce the posting guidelines equally with all forum users? The forums are here for people to express their opinions -- myself included -- not make unverifiable, unaccountable accusations. There has been nothing thought-provoking in the two or three posts I have taken down -- just unverified, unaccountable accusations.

By gumshoe on Thursday, March 27, 2003 - 08:39 pm:

SUSSEX COP, I understand what you are saying now! I've just experienced unnecessary censorship, which was not slanderous, which did not violate the Suusex Forum guidelines. What's up McGill? How did my post at 506 PM post violate your forum?
I asked the writer before me if Smitty McGees was located at the Bayville Shopping Center. Then I gave my personal opinion of how I felt about the current OIC at FI being involved in the chief selection. Please tell me how that violated your rules. It seem as though your rules keep changing. Please tell me which one of your rules I've violated? If you erased mine due to the writer's post before me, fine, I understand that my post would not have been complete. I read the one before mine. It seemed informative. What was wrong with their message? What rule did they violate? I'm confused, please clear your position here.

By Eric Magill on Thursday, March 27, 2003 - 09:16 pm:

Gumshoe:
Your post did not violate the guidelines. The post that started the thread did, and I erased the whole thread because your post wouldn't have made much sense without the offending post.

I should have let you know that so you could have re-posted your message (without the reference to the offending post). I apologize for not doing so. You are welcome to post your opinion again on the chief selection issue.

As for the post that started the thread, it made a specific accusation against the OIC without any corraboration, without a real name, without any way for me to know if it was actually true.

The interesting thing is that these handful of posts that have violated the posting guidelines are coming from the same place, albeit under different pseudonyms.

I won't defend the OIC, but I can't tolerate what appears to be a smear campaign by people, or a person, the OIC has angered.

By gumshoe on Thursday, March 27, 2003 - 10:40 pm:

Eric, allow me to start out by apologizing for misspelling your last name in my previous post. Thank you for responding with an answer. I assure you though, that the original thread was not mine. I hope you were not inferring that it was. I did notice, however, that the times that had elapsed between the original thread and mine were close. I am on here quite a bit, because I enjoy debating. Let me assure you, that if I have something to post, it will be under "gumshoe" and it will be by your rules. If I had seen what the original poster saw, I would not hesitate calling you. I am still a little hazy about the original thread's violation according to your rules. If that poster saw that person, where they claimed and it is the town and taxpayers of FI's business, how is that a smear? I am not trying to be difficult, I would just like a little more clarification.
I am well aware of the OIC's doings and he really doesn't need any help with a smear campaign.
As far as my original post, in reference to the chief selection, I will re-post it under "new chief".

By Eric Magill on Friday, March 28, 2003 - 07:56 am:

Gumshoe:
No, I didn't mean to infer you were the poster who started the thread. I can see the servers posts are made from, and you do not post from the server that the handful of violations have come from.

As for the reason the original post violated the guidelines, it made a specific accusation about something the OIC had allegedly done, but without any accountability, such as a real name, and because the alleged incident is not known in the public domain, there is no way to know if the account is true or just an attempt by someone who doesn't like the OIC to cause trouble for him.

Believe me, I realize the OIC has many detractors, but with a specific accusation, I need to have some proof or at least know who is making the accusation. I'm sure anyone, including those who post here, would appreciate that we would prefer some sort of verification before allowing such posts.

It's a weird situation, because I find myself having to treat posters who make such accusations like sources now. In a story, we wouldn't use any information from an anonymous source that we hadn't corraborated or confirmed elsewhere and we wouldn't use information from an anonymous source whose name we didn't know.

By Harry Sachs on Saturday, March 29, 2003 - 02:22 am:

Sussex Cop,
As to your statement after my quote:
(As for your statement "I am not saying they were not true, but I too would like to know either where the info came from or how I can get it" you stated and implied on earlier posts that you have first-hand knowledge of the ongoings in FIPD. So, if you're so involved and knowledgable as you claim, then you would not need further evidence, claims or statements. You would already know they were true.)
For starters, yes I do have firsthand knowledge and no, I do not have ALL KNOWLEDGE. Please do not accuse me of knowing everything that happens, I will be the first to deny that. Did the thought cross your mind that perhaps I did not have eyes on knowledge of the incident?
I am sorry if you feel as though you are somehow being slighted by the processes and guidelines you so vehemently banter about. The awful truth is, in order to investigate these claims you think so aggregious, there has to be FOIA access or corroberating evidence. Thats not mentioning the fact that you need a name or number for a contact.No ID, no access.. its as simple as that. I guess we cant all be SuperCops and solve the mystery without facts and information.. just hunches. Have a nice day.

By gumshoe on Saturday, March 29, 2003 - 02:52 am:

Eric, Thank you for your explanation.

By Sussex Cop on Saturday, March 29, 2003 - 01:52 pm:

I'm not going to argue with cops or former cops in good standing (The bad ones inevitably suffer publicly under the keyboard and by word-of-mouth by those that know them). Nor will I debate with media representatives no matter if their personal beliefs are introduced into legitimate reporting. NOBODY wins there. I stand by the constitutional facts that I previously posted which are the ones being taught today.

The Internet is a publicly accessible venue that is still having its boundaries defined for limiting, posting and exchanging information (note: we're not talking about posting or exchanging FILES here). At this point, forums such as this are mostly governed by personal policy. Laws are ever-changing and so is the need for officers and the media to be fully aware of the changes and applicable law. One cannot directly apply EVERY criminal and civil statute to the World Wide Web. I would suggest that officers and media reps take courses in computer crimes to expand their knowledge of the Internet and related activities. One point of reference to this topic is here: http://216.239.57.100/search?q=cache:C1wrUj6ZzwwC:www.eff.org/Legal/Cases/ACLU_v_Reno/19970626_eff_cda.announce+%22online+forums%22+%2B+%22freedom+of+speech%22&hl=en&ie=UTF-8.

(I hope that link works on here)

As Mr. Magill points out, "... I find myself having to treat posters who make such accusations like sources now." That same theory applies online as well as in other media outlets. How often are reports published that are unverified or don't include all the facts. The media is certainly well reknowned for that fact. Ever heard of The News Journal? CNN?

The fact that this forum is posted and maintained in the Internet makes it public. Being created by a private entity has no bearing on the contents of and from public postings. That is the issue regarding free speech. Look at the bottom right of your screen when you post on this public forum:

"This is a public posting area. If you do not have an account, enter your full name into the "Username" box and leave the "Password" box empty. Your e-mail address is optional."

The Constitution is recognized in that paragraph.

--------

Harry Sachs,

My implications were meant in a positive manner regarding YOUR personal knowledge of FIPD, not accusingly. I know that you are aware of some issues there simply be reading your posts and my personal knowledge of what's true. OUR claims of knowledge should not be suppressed from public information.
------

Mr. Magill,

While I understand your desire to maintain free of civil litigation, I am hoping that you continue to recognize the importance of the INFORMATION that is posted here. Not just as a reporter, but as a Sussex County resident and local councilman.

I would also like to address two particular statements you made. Not in a confrontational manner, but simply an informational one ...

"The interesting thing is that these handful of posts that have violated the posting guidelines are coming from the same place, albeit under different pseudonyms."
"I can see the servers posts are made from, and you do not post from the server that the handful of violations have come from."

As you already know, many local officers are posting on this forum. Many of us are posting from both work and home. At work, our computers are on a LAN linked to the statewide WAN. As such, different posters will have the same IP address from a specific desktop PC or from within the LAN as they are constantly connected and running - we don't shut down our terminals. One particular pitfall; if an agency is running several PC's on the LAN/WAN, posters using different PC's will have different IP's coming from the same place. I'm sure one or two officers may be using different screen names on these forums. However, officers don't normally use real names for fear of being harassed or accused of violating personnel policies.
-----

All that being said, who here is going to run for Fenwick Island council, or maybe apply for the Chief's job???

By Harry Sachs on Friday, April 04, 2003 - 01:39 am:

Sussex Cop,

I would like to apologize for my tone. I took what you said the wrong way, and I am sorry again for the tone.

By Sussex Cop on Monday, April 07, 2003 - 07:17 pm:

No problem. Best wishes to you.

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