A new year: Time for a reset on Berkeleyside comments

Our team is committed to a variety of new efforts in 2021 to improve the quality of comments on our site. We’re excited to share them with you now.

We've updated the Berkeleyside comments section to make it better
At their best, comments allow readers to respond to our reporting and provide their own insights and expertise. This happens often, but we’d like to see it happen more. Photo: THOR

A new year offers the chance to take a fresh look at how things work at Berkeleyside and to bring readers up to speed on our current thinking. That includes our comments section.

The Berkeleyside comments section is one of the most active parts of the site. In 2020, we averaged roughly 300 comments a day. At their best, comments allow readers to respond to our reporting and provide their own insights and expertise. This happens often, but we’d like to see it happen more.

We welcome a cross-section of views from readers who want to participate in inclusive, spirited, thoughtful discussion that helps strengthen our journalism and create a more informed, engaged community. But there are some comments we will not tolerate, such as hate speech, bullying, insults aimed at other commenters, or remarks that are racist, sexist or homophobic. This includes comments denigrating people experiencing homelessness, for example, or telling commenters to move elsewhere. In the interest of free speech, we allow more latitude when it comes to the criticism of public figures, story subjects and community institutions, including Berkeleyside itself.

A fresh take on Berkeleyside comments in 2021

All comments on Berkeleyside are reviewed by an editor, which means approval may be delayed outside normal business hours. In addition to this close review, our team is committed to a variety of new efforts in 2021 to improve the quality of conversation on our site. We’re excited to share them with you now.

A CLOSER REVIEW OF ALL COMMENTS The Berkeleyside team will assess all comments to ensure they are relevant to the stories they follow. Comments that are repetitious, including broad generalizations we have seen time and again for years, may be deleted. We have no automated way to limit the number of comments readers make, but we will take a firmer stance on deleting “hammer” posts from users who dominate the discussion or drown out other voices.

A SMALLER COMMENTING WINDOW Comments on most stories will now be turned off automatically after several workdays. We have found the quality of the discourse, and the number of engaged participants, declines significantly over time. There may be exceptions for stories generating robust productive debate. Please note, as stated above, the bulk of our commenting moderation will take place during normal business hours. Weeknight and weekend comments may be delayed due to the capacity of our team.

A STREAMLINED COMMENTING POLICY Berkeleyside published a lengthy comments policy in 2013 in an effort to lay the groundwork for productive discussion. We’ve now reviewed the policy and distilled it down to the basics in an effort to make it clearer what we’ll tolerate and what we hope to see. The new policy appears below and is also posted on our website.

OTHER STEPS WE HAVE TAKEN In response to reader concerns as well as our own observations, the Berkeleyside team has deleted many comments from our pending queue before they ever see the light of day. We have banned problematic commenters, either permanently or on a temporary basis, depending on the violation. We have also had many email exchanges with people who have questioned our decisions.

We’ll be the first to admit that our team is not perfect. We’re humans just like you and we are doing our best to juggle a long list of duties. Several members of our staff are responsible for comment moderation, and we don’t always see eye to eye ourselves. Please alert us about any comment you believe violates our policy: We are always happy to take another look. Just email us at comments@berkeleyside.com and direct us to the material you’d like us to review. Our team is committing to a continuing internal and external dialogue about how to improve the comments section so more people feel empowered to participate.

YOU CAN CONTROL WHICH COMMENTS YOU SEE Disqus, the third-party system we and many other websites across the nation use to host comments, can be tricky at times to navigate. Our capacity to provide support is limited because we don’t run the system. One useful tool we wanted to point out to readers, however, is the ability to block users whose comments you don’t want to see. Hover over the top right corner of any comment and click the small triangle for the option to block any user.

BECOME A TRUSTED USER As noted above, all Berkeleyside comments go through a moderation queue before they are published. But our team will be building up the roster this year of users who have a consistent history of civil, constructive comments so as to let them post directly without delay. We hope this fosters the kind of input and exchange we’d like to see and lowers barriers for those who put a premium on a productive exchange of ideas without flooding the feed.

A FINAL NOTE ABOUT CIVILITY We ask readers who may be feeling riled up about a story or a comment to remember that the other folks in the comments section, on the Berkeleyside team, or who may be the focus of a story itself are community members just like you: people who care about Berkeley and want to see it thrive the way you do. If you’re upset, please take a moment — maybe make a cup of tea or walk around the block — before posting a comment that could have a negative impact.


Berkeleyside Comments Policy

The goal of the Berkeleyside comments policy is to help ensure that our comments section is a vibrant and civil space for conversation. Every comment is reviewed by an editor. Berkeleyside has the right to delete comments at any time.

Share your knowledge, add to the conversation.

Make sure your comment relates directly to the story. Strive to improve the conversation. Comments are useful when they add a new perspective, nuance, expertise or even a proposed solution. If you’ve made your point, or many others have made it, don’t feel the need to repeat it. If you’re not sure your comment adds value, don’t post it. Use the Disqus voting tools below each comment to express your support or disagreement with a single click.

Be agreeable, even when you disagree.

  • Criticize ideas, not people. Provide reasoned counter-arguments that improve the conversation.
  • Avoid name-calling, ad hominem attacks or responding to a comment’s tone instead of its actual content.
  • Be civil. Meanness and intolerance are not tolerated.
  • Don’t post remarks that a reasonable person would consider offensive, abusive or hate speech. Don’t post anything obscene or sexually explicit.
  • Don’t harass anyone, impersonate people, or expose their private information.
  • Don’t post spam or otherwise vandalize the forum.

Let us know who you are.

If you can, we ask that you register using your real name. It makes for a more transparent forum if people know who is making a comment and who they are responding to. However, if you have good reasons for needing to stay anonymous, we ask that you pick a single user account and stick with it. Berkeleyside will block users found to be making comments under multiple Disqus handles.

Let us know what you think.

We need your help if we want to see change happen. We welcome feedback about our comments policy. If you believe a comment violates our policy, please email us at comments@berkeleyside.com. We do not allow moderation questions in the comments section itself, so as to keep the discussion on topic, but we respond to all email inquiries about the comments section.

We would like to thank Jeanne Carstensen for her work on reviewing and improving our comments policy.