Sometimes you just need to step back and re-examine some things. In this case, we’re taking a closer look at what reader responses we approve for posting on the Farm Equipment website.

We’ve always closely scrutinized “letters to the editor” for the print version of Farm Equipment. As the publisher, we reserve the right to publish those that we believe contribute to the discussion at hand, or bring value to the industry, even if it goes against the grain of conventional wisdom or what some may not agree with. This, of course, also means we reserve the right to not publish reader letters to the editor or responses to news we post on the Farm Equipment website.

Quite frankly, we weren’t applying the same principles to reader comments on our website that we have to our print edition. So we’ve stepped back and reviewed the original guiding principles we adopted when we got into social media. The one that jumped out upon reexamination is “Argue over ideas, not personalities.”

What prompted us to revisit our approach is the spate of negative comments we were receiving to news posts about John Deere employee layoffs and Titan Machinery store closings and layoffs. Most of the comments had nothing to do with the business downturn that resulted in the cutbacks, but were from individuals who are clearly delighted to see the big guys going through difficult times.

The fact of the matter is, very few farm equipment manufacturers or dealers haven’t felt the negative effects of the slowdown in ag machinery sales this past year. But because Deere and Titan are publicly held — and are the biggest players in the industry — everything they say and do is subject to public scrutiny and criticism.

Constructive criticism is good as long as it has some basis in fact or points to a solution or other ideas. But, in these cases, many of the comments were clearly lashing out at the companies themselves. In other words, they weren’t arguing ideas, but personalities. Comments of this nature will be more closely examined in the future to determine what value they add to the conversation.

More recently, we did not approve a comment that was a personal attack on someone who responded to a post. Comments of that nature have no chance of approval.

In another case, a blog post entitled “Majors Led By Home-Run Seeking MBAs is Problem” (April 2) generated a fair amount of commentary. One response was not approved. It was obviously written in anger and after reviewing it three times myself and not being able to figure out what point the writer was trying to make, I decided not to approve it.

We heard from that person again. This time they wrote: “Are dissenting comments allowed? My earlier comment was removed. The writer can criticize MBAs, but MBAs cannot defend with as much passion? All comments posted are ‘stroking’ the writer's ego. How nice.”

Dissenting comments, in fact, are allowed. All I could read into the comment was an angry MBA who didn’t like the message that was conveyed. Nowhere was an argument made about the value of MBAs to business and why MBAs are not a problem but part of the solution.

If the writer reads this and wants to give it another shot, please send it along. We’ll be happy to reconsider.

I understand my comments here might logically lead to the question, “How do you define what’s acceptable and what is not?”

It’s a good question. To answer it, I’ll fall back on what Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said when he agreed with the court’s decision that all speech is protected except for hard core pornography. He wrote: “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description, and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it …”