Editor's Notes

There are many valid reasons to criticize Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration over how it has handled various aspects of the pandemic.

There was a lack of transparency over how it was decided which businesses had to shut down and which could remain open as the pandemic surged.

There were the added risks of exposure to COVID-19 for nursing home residents when state inspections were temporarily halted.

Most recently, there’s been the painfully slow and often confusing distribution of the vaccines.

Pennsylvania Health Secretary Rachel Levine was the face of the state’s response to the pandemic during most of 2020. She led regular press briefings that, at times, failed to satisfactorily answer legitimate public concerns.

If the point of this column was to simply list the mistakes Wolf and she made, it wouldn’t be hard to come up with more.

It’s not.

You see, when the U.S. Senate last month confirmed Levine as the nation’s assistant secretary of health, the comments on our Facebook page did not focus on the job she did in Pennsylvania or question President Joe Biden’s appointment.

Instead, a large number targeted Levine becoming the first openly transgender federal official to win Senate confirmation.

In case you missed them — and I sincerely hope that you did — the majority were not supportive.

Managing Editor Bill Bowman spent much of the day monitoring those Facebook comments and eliminating the ugly and hateful ones. He said about 50 percent of the comments were bad enough to warrant removal — the highest percentage he remembers ever having to handle. I was sorry we posted it.

Unfortunately, it’s come to this. When we post a story apt to draw hateful comments, it’s better to not post it to social media than to let the vitriol flow.

Let me be clear. This is not a First Amendment issue. The First Amendment protects Americans from government censorship and retribution. It does not give them the right to post vile, bigoted comments on private company social media pages.

The last thing we usually want to do is interfere with the exchange of ideas. We post stories on social media to give them a wider audience and to encourage varying viewpoints.

I really don’t want to stifle that because of a vile, vocal minority, but I have to admit I’ve thought about it.

In February, the Philadelphia Inquirer announced it was limiting comments on its website for many of its stories.

Their announcement said, in part: “Commenting on Inquirer.com was long ago hijacked by a small group of trolls who traffic in racism, misogyny, and homophobia. This group comprises a tiny fraction of the Inquirer.com audience. But its impact is disproportionate and enduring.”

I’m not there yet. While we have a comment format on our website, few use it. Most of our comments are on Facebook. We will definitely be more careful about which stories we post there.

Last week, we did not post to social media a story about the troubling, often hurtful way some Valley Asian Americans have been treated during the pandemic, due in large part to our former president routinely blaming China for the virus.

That story would have evoked some positive, sympathetic comments. But it also likely would have brought a myriad of hateful responses.

I hope you read that story and watched the video on our website. It was an important story for us to do.

It was also important to limit one opportunity for hateful comments.

Email comments to dlyons@dailyitem.com.

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