Cornwall to pull ads off sites with 'offensive' content

The city of Cornwall has voted to limit its online advertising money to media outlets that keep a close eye on what councillors consider 'offensive or inflammatory' content.

Restricts advertising to media outlets that monitor web comments

The City of Cornwall has voted to limit its online advertising money to media outlets that keep a close eye on what councillors consider "offensive or inflammatory" content.

City councillors voted six to three on Monday night in favour of a policy that would ban ad money from going towards websites that don't strictly monitor anonymous internet discussions. However, the motion doesn't define what "offensive of inflammatory" means.

Coun. Andre Rivette said it's clear that too many Cornwall residents take advantage of the anonymity of the internet to attack others.

"You can comment all you want, but be respectful," Rivette said, offering some examples.

"Personal attacks are comments that use the term 'sleazy' or 'crooked' to refer to people or groups of people, to refer to people in city politics," he said.

Terry Tinkess, the co-ordinator of the journalism program at St. Lawrence College, said online commentators often feel emboldened to post hurtful statements due to their anonymity on the internet.

"There's no doubt that some people do get a little bit out of control. When you can sit in front of the keyboard, you tend to say things you wouldn't say face-to-face," he said.

Still, Tinkess said, councillors may have to learn to deal with that and develop thicker skins.

'What is and what's not inflammatory'

"I think they need to get some better parameters to determine what is and what's not inflammatory," he said. "Anybody that goes into the public sector, they have to accept that there's going to be a certain amount of criticism that they're going to experience."

The council vote came after councillors objected to defamatory comments posted to some media organizations that the city advertised with.

Rivette acknowledged that the policy is partly directed at the website Cornwall Free News, an internet newspaper where commenters are sometimes critical of city leaders.

In a heated debate, councillors argued over whether the policy meant the city was taking on too large a role in acting as a watchdog for public postings on web forums. 

Objecting to the motion were councillors Glen Grant, Bernadette Clement and Maurice Dupelle.

Tinkess said that although the councillors may be railing against unwanted attention on the internet, the public forums are still useful for garnering uncensored opinion about how they're performing their duties. 

"At the same time they should also be grateful for the feedback that they're getting from there. Internet chat sites, news media, boards where people can post comments — what better way to hear from the people you don't meet face to face?" he said.