My first experience with forums was when we (Spirit Lake Consulting) started a forum on our website. If I remember correctly, our first forum was about developmental disabilities. I admit I wasn't too impressed with it. After all, who really cares what a person who you will never meet and who is not using their real name writes?
What I didn't realize at the time was a person's interest in a forum depends on what the topic is. Annmaria was interested in the area of developmental disabilities, and I wasn't. Therefore, Annmaria had to consistently remind me and our other employees to post comments on our forum.
This changed somewhat when our new project, Tribal Leaders With Character, was funded, and we started a forum on "Ethics in Indian Country." I created two fictional characters, Joe - The Tribal Worker, and Susie Sainte. Joe was a composite of all those unethical tribal workers who weary us on a daily basis because of their unethical behavior, and Susie was a composite of all those behaviors ethical tribal workers exhibit, workers who many people believe do not exist. There were many interesting comments about these fictional characters, although Joe, The Tribal Worker, received more attention than Susie did.
When our Tribal Leaders Institute began, we started a new forum titled, Tanyan Wowunkdakapi, which means "good conversation" in Dakota. It was interesting at first, and most of the comments did not cross over the line to bad taste. But it soon became monotonous, especially when no one would respond for long periods of time. My interest soon waned, and now I very seldom read the forum or post comments on it. I realize that I am going to have to put more effort into posting on Tanyan Wowunkdakapi if I want it to be effective in helping to address ethical issues in Indian Country.
My interest in comments on news articles began when I read what people wrote in response to the Fighting Sioux nickname articles. At first, I eagerly read the comments; however, I soon became disgusted with most of the them. Because people do not have to use their real name when they post, they post the most vile, mean spirited, racist comments toward Native Americans, an action I consider most cowardly.
A few times I posted a comment, and I had to endure a barrage of insults directed back to me. One reason I posted a comment was Dorreen Yellowbird, a respected elder in Indian Country, wrote an article, and commentators just wrote very mean and evil things towards her and about her. I was taught to respect elders. Therefore, I could not sit by and let an elder be disrespected in such an awful way -- so I responded, and again had to endure insults.
A few weeks ago, while viewing a reporter's blog for the Grand Forks Herald, I read a comment about me, and it wasn't good. I responded in kind, and because I signed my real name, as opposed to a fictional name, I felt it gave me the upper hand, so to speak. After a couple of exchanges, the person soon quit commenting, but others were glad to take "his" place. I did not hesitate to answer all sensible questions or comments, and I ignored all the right wing ones. I actually began to enjoy myself, and I tried to keep my comments as respectful as I could, which was hard to do considering the mean spirited replies in return. Again, I felt I had the upper hand because I signed my real name.
The Grand Forks Herald has since shut down its comment section on articles about the UND Sioux nickname due to the poisonous nature of the comments. So my questions are, do the comment sections on newspaper articles do more harm than good? Are forums effective in addressing serious issues? Should persons be required to use their real names when commenting about other persons? I could ask more questions, but I think you get the point.