Recently, in a New York Times Magazine article about online commenting, writer Michael Erard suggested comments might be “the most obnoxious development of the Web, the wild back alleys where people sound their acid yawps.”
Last month, YouTube took decisive action to clean up its much maligned comments section with an overhaul that uses several factors to determine which posts float to the top of the conversation.
Three weeks ago, Popular Science took what many saw as the drastic step of shutting down its Comment section altogether, explaining that comments can be “bad for science.”
Starting next week, the Sacramento Bee will temporarily drop commenting from its website. “Too many so-called trolls are using the comments to be mean, obscene or just plain rude. Too many readers are turned off by the tone and skipping comments altogether,” wrote Executive Editor Joyce Terhaar. The newspaper is using the hiatus to encourage readers to give them feedback about commenting while they review their system.
What this tells us is that many online media operations are wrestling with how to handle comments sections and the problems they can trigger.
Berkeleyside is not going to shut down its comments section. Far from it. We believe, as does Popular Science ironically, that our commenters play an essential role — offering valuable insights, fostering constructive debate, creating a vibrant forum for civic discourse. The comments are a vital part of Berkeleyside.
However, we, like many news sites, have found that a small minority of commenters are abusing the system, often turning on each other, and marring the experience for others.
We have tried various ways of tackling what can be a very off-putting part of Berkeleyside.
Today, after much deliberation and discussion — both among the Berkeleyside editors and with readers — we are introducing a new Comments Policy. We took great inspiration from the thoughtful folks over at Boing Boing, and have taken up many of their policies verbatim. We’ve pared down and adapted some of the material, but otherwise have drawn from Boing Boing with permission. Briefly put, the policy asks that commenters are courteous, stick to the point, and argue with issues, not with people.
In addition, we recently introduced pre-moderation. This means that an editor needs to approve every comment that comes into Berkeleyside. Since we began doing this we have seen a distinct improvement in the tone and quality of the comments section. Screening comments is not censorship. It will simply, we hope, eliminate the sort of off-topic, offensive, or just plain idiotic comments that add nothing to the conversation and often only have the effect of prompting more of the same.
We hope you support us in our endeavor to let lively, entertaining, educational commenting thrive.
As always, we welcome your comments here. In the future, we will handle all comments on the comments policy and on comment moderation via email (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Would you like a digest of the day’s Berkeley news in your inbox at the end of your working day? Click here to subscribe to Berkeleyside’s free Daily Briefing.