In the five years since we launched Berkeleyside, our stories have drawn more than 100,000 comments (109,310 at time of writing), and the vast majority have been a compelling part of the conversation we want to encourage in Berkeley about critical issues. Comments often offer thoughtful opinions and can provide valuable new information that deepens other readers’ understanding of a story.
The new year seems a good time to remind readers of our comments policy, particularly as we’re only a few months past the 50th anniversary of the Free Speech Movement. We truly want to keep our comments section as open and free as we can manage, while balancing that desire with our hope for this to be a civil forum where differing voices feel they can be heard.
For the most part, we are very proud of the level of discussion among Berkeleyside readers, and thank all of you for your efforts, insights and participation. We do, however, still get comments on the site that challenge our attempts at moderation. Most comments require an editor’s approval before they appear online, though it’s worth noting that readers who take the time to create an account, and establish a track record of respectful behavior, may be granted immediate, automated approval.
If you prefer not to read the entire comments policy, please note three key points:
- Stay on topic. Don’t hijack threads, repeat yourself or post generic talking points.
- If you disagree with a comment, address the issue, don’t attack the person.
- Be cool. Don’t post insulting, bullying, victim-blaming, racist, sexist or homophobic remarks.
What constitutes a personal attack is often a gray area, and one we struggle with on the moderation front regularly. We often discuss questionable comments as a team, and do our best to allow for the broad expression of opinions, while trying also to limit — as gently as possible — rude remarks that add nothing to the discussion. Readers are free to criticize stories, subjects of stories, public figures and the like, as well as Berkeleyside itself, but we ask those who join the discussion to take care, and use respect, while addressing each other.
If commenters can aim to adhere to basic courtesies, and remember that there are actual humans on the receiving end of questions or observations that address other readers, it will help the comments section remain a valuable part of Berkeleyside — and a place that encourages discussion rather than one that is a turn-off or can be intimidating for some. We know that there are varying levels of tolerance for disagreement, and that meaning can be ambiguous online, but we’re just asking for an intention of civility.
Staff at many other news sites have thrown up their hands and closed their comments sections altogether, due to the unfortunate, ugly depths online posters sometimes sink. We have taken the opposite tack: Berkeleyside editors will continue to read and manually approve, or reject, the comments posted to our site, but the volume of engagement here means we really need your help.
A handful of readers have asked us to require real names with comments. So far, we’ve rejected that idea, believing that anonymous or pseudonymous comments play a valuable role in the discussion. There’s also the sticky issue of verification and enforcement of a real-name policy, which would likely prove impossible for our small team to manage. We are, however, constantly reviewing our comment policy and watching what other online news providers do to strive for best practice.
While we do not require it, we do believe that users who pick a single moniker and avatar, and stick with them, can help raise the level of discourse on Berkeleyside. We’d like to take this opportunity to encourage readers who are open to it to set up a unique user name and image, rather than posting as “guest” or other generic terms. Even if it’s not a real name, having an identifiable online handle gives others a better sense of who you are and where you stand, and is likely to make for more coherent, organized discussions.
A few other notes, in closing: Some readers have expressed frustration about what they believe to be inconsistencies in our approach to moderation. The unfortunate truth is that there are four of us who handle moderation, as well as many other duties. We don’t always see eye to eye, and sometimes have different interpretations for what we believe comments to mean, or whether they are appropriate. We simply cannot consult as a group about each comment, and there is bound to be variation, given the subjective nature of human judgment. Please know that we are doing our best, and that this is a work in progress.
As always, we hope you’ll let us know what you think about our approach to online comments either below or by email, to firstname.lastname@example.org. As per our policy, we do not address specific instances of moderation in the comments section, but readers can always write to us with questions, and we will do our best to respond.
Commenting on Berkeleyside: Introducing a new approach (10.10.13)
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