March 25, 2019
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What’s next in our quest to improve the comments

Yuganov Konstantin | Adobe Stock
Yuganov Konstantin | Adobe Stock

Our goal is to make BDN comments a space where readers of all sorts feel comfortable participating, where you come to expect journalists will answer questions about reporting, where BDN reporters discover new sources and learn new things, where people can debate ideas, disagree with and inquire of each other, and where no one feels chased away.

Maybe that’s a lot to ask, but we’re giving it a go.

Earlier this month, we began a conversation with readers and observers about the BDN comments section, asking for your ideas for improvement. You’ve shared ideas on social media, in the comments section itself, on an online draft of our new policy and by email.

Some themes are clear. These are the things you’d like us to address most. Some of these are raised by current commenters, and others by potential commenters, who hold back for various reasons. Here’s what we’re taking action on and what we’re doing next. This update is just that — an update. It’s not the last word. It’s the next word. Let’s keep talking. (You know where.)

Should real names be required?

We hear a request for real names most often from non- or former commenters, and more from women than from men. We want to listen closely to your thoughts on this because BDN comments skew heavily male, and we want to do what we can to welcome more perspectives.

Requiring real names may prevent abusive commenters from hiding behind screen names, but it also may have a chilling effect, as some people who would like to share their perspective do not feel safe to do so under their name, for professional or personal reasons. City or town, combined with a screen name, could be another way to make commenting less anonymous while also protecting identities.

Next step: We have not made a decision yet, and welcome your input. How would a real name requirement affect your participation?

Bring all comments into the main commenting pages; don’t offer Facebook-only comments on some posts.

The current setup: BDN blogs offer Facebook commenting, and articles from BDN staff or our partners offer Disqus commenting. Comments are not enabled at all on community news, community events, and some articles on a case-by-case basis. This setup fractures the discussion, and introduces different standards for moderation, privacy and community standards on different types of BDN content.

Our next step: We’ll look into the merits of keeping Facebook comments on the blogs versus consolidating all commenting onto a single platform.

Make an FAQ for comments

A number of current commenters enthusiastically endorsed this idea, and we think it would also be useful for reminding ourselves.

Our next step: We will do this.

Be more consistent and fair in moderation

This is a big one for many commenters who feel that our moderation is not handled consistently or fairly.

Here’s how it works right now: In most cases, comments are hidden because someone in the community flags them. It happens automatically. They stay hidden from view until we review them. Once we do so, we either restore them if they don’t violate our terms or delete them if they do.

Our commenting policy aims to be clear and comprehensive, but there are gray areas that require a great deal of personal judgment. Our comment moderation team strives to be as consistent as possible, but there will naturally be some variability. Different team members read the comments during light and heavy news days, with unique senses of humor (and with varying levels of caffeine). The context of the article also comes into play — stories of a more sensitive nature may be moderated more heavily, for instance. They don’t care if they agree with the comment. They do consider whether the comment contributes to the conversation or merely stirs conflict in an unwinnable argument.

Our next step: Taking your feedback and our conversations into account, we will update the draft policy and post it officially. We will continue to work to make this space as inviting as possible to people with different points of view and be transparent about our process. We will also consider changes to the commenting platform itself, to support insightful conversations, civility, and efficient and consistent moderation.

Participate more in the comments, ourselves

We couldn’t agree more. You may have already noticed that some of our reporters are responding to questions and soliciting input in the comments.

Our next step: We’ll be doing more of this. We may also step in, either in the comments or in a backchannel, if you’ve overstepped the bounds of civility, and ask you to tone it down or rephrase.

Allow links

We stopped allowing links to publish without review in late 2018 after we were hit with a flood of spam and pornographic links. After addressing that, we only occasionally see these problematic links. But we are wary!

Our next step: As of today we are re-allowing links, but if the problem returns we may revoke that. We just don’t have the resources to manage an ongoing flood of spam.

Address rampant “brigading,” or piling on the downvotes

Downvoting, which is a core feature of Disqus, is a useful tool when used respectfully. It is often abused by commenters or lurkers who wish to silence a voice or an opinion. Neither the left nor the right is alone in this complaint.

Our next step: We are researching our options for removing or changing this feature.

BDN IRL?

More than one commenter expressed interest in getting commenters together in real life, potluck-style. What do you think: Would you come?



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