The following comments were sent to the Journalism That Matters list as the result of a query April 8, 2010 by Bill Densmore, who wrote: "Can I ask for you please to contribute a little crowdsourced wisdom for to share tomorrow? I'm going to be participating in a one-day event at the Berkman Institute at Harvard Law School on cyberlaw topics. See: http://www.omln.org/conference/agenda " The are edited and used by permission.
TWO CASES TO CONSIDER: The first involving the Cleveland Plain Dealer is elevating once again the challenge of managing anonymous comments:
ALSO: KY. NEWSPAPER COMMENTER TO REMAIN ANONYMOUS FOR NOWHowever, Madison Circuit Judge Jean Logue adopts multipart test that allows for Web poster to be identified if certain criteria are met.http://www.firstamendmentcenter.org/news.aspx?id=22822
1) On your site, do you allow anonymous comments? If so, do you pre-moderate? Do you remove comments? If so, why?
3) Is your comments management a manual process? If you use any automation can you say which vendor or software you use? How did you pick? Do you have any handy links to such services or software?
Jeff VanderClute (http://www.avanoo.com) (firstname.lastname@example.org) comments: 1. I would say step back from the question. A deeper question is how to create an environment that is respectful. Avanoo does this by stating an intention to be *helpful* to all. If you don't have something helpful to contribute, it's not the place for you. We can implement all sorts of functionality for flagging, burying, categorizing (as a gem, as civil, as opinionated, etc.). Then as you suggested we could allow the user to set the threshold for displaying comments. By default the threshold might be civil. This functionality isn't implemented on Avanoo because we haven't needed it. However, I could write such functionality very quickly. I'd be happy to explore creating a "Civil Discourse" site that serves the needs of newspapers. The way in which conversation flows on Avanoo might be better suited to discussion than the hierarchical threads offered just about everywhere else.
Michelle Ferrier, (Michelle@michelleferrier.com ) of Elon University, formerly of My Topia Cafe in Daytona Beach, and a blogger for Poynter: wrote "pool rules" that shouldbe posted near and *before* people post comments, read: http://www.poynter.org/column.asp?id=31&aid=137534
Martin Langeveld, (email@example.com), CircLabs Inc.: As Howard has said it's well-nigh impossible to require real-name commenting. That said, requiring registration with email verification, rather than allowing purely anonymous commenting probably helps improve the dialogue. Facebook ID log-in as well. But, most importantly, any comment forum is likely to degenerate without some form of moderation. News orgs should have engagement editors focused on this. They should encourage reporters and editors to interact in comment threads by rounding to questions, asking questions, correcting misinformation, etc., and to maintain their own Tweetstreams and blogs. And news orgs should use their Facebook Pages and Twitter accounts actively to encourage interaction, not just to post a stream of news blurbs. See this NiemanLab post for a good description of what an "engagement editor" can do: Quote: That person would also curate the web -- no information overload, only filter failure -- to add depth and breadth to those discussions. "I'm really sold on this idea of context as the future of news," Lewis told me. "For so long we had this idea, from newspapers, that you put a story up for 24 hours, and it did what it needed to do, and then you moved on. Now, though, we're engaging differently with our news -- and are more in need than ever of people to act as stewards of engagement. That's where this _________________________
"Imagine if there were an opinion editor who had never heard of what an opinion editor was in a newspaper," says Scott Lewis, Voice of San Diego's CEO. That person would aim to spark discussions. And expand discussions. And guide discussions. And frame discussions.
new editor will step in.
Martin Langeveld, (firstname.lastname@example.org), CircLabs Inc.:
As Howard has said it's well-nigh impossible to require real-name commenting.
That said, requiring registration with email verification, rather than allowing purely anonymous commenting probably helps improve the dialogue. Facebook ID log-in as well.
But, most importantly, any comment forum is likely to degenerate without some form of moderation. News orgs should have engagement editors focused on this. They should encourage reporters and editors to interact in comment threads by rounding to questions, asking questions, correcting misinformation, etc., and to maintain their own Tweetstreams and blogs. And news orgs should use their Facebook Pages and Twitter accounts actively to encourage interaction, not just to post a stream of news blurbs.
See this NiemanLab post for a good description of what an "engagement editor" can do: Quote:
That person would also curate the web -- no information overload, only filter failure -- to add depth and breadth to those discussions. "I'm really sold on this idea of context as the future of news," Lewis told me. "For so long we had this idea, from newspapers, that you put a story up for 24 hours, and it did what it needed to do, and then you moved on. Now, though, we're engaging differently with our news -- and are more in need than ever of people to act as stewards of engagement. That's where this
Rob Weir, (WeirR@missouri.edu) Columbia Missourian:
1. We do not use anonymous commenting, though it can be difficult to verify real names. We do remove comments that don't comply if the user does not respond to a request to verify his/her name within a reasonable amount of time (usually a day or two). Our editors think that our policy on commenting tracks with our reluctance, in most cases, to use anonymous sources. 2. No, we don't have anything about that because our default assumption is that their identity is public 3. Yep, it's manual.
Jeb Bladine, McMinville, Oregon, News Register Publishing email@example.com
1. Comments allowed by registered users -- we have only their user name and e-mail address, and can see an IP address. Wedon't pre-authorize, but we do eliminate those that violate published "Policies and Standards." 2. We explicitly go the other direction, warning posters that they are not protected from inquiry by law enforcement. We say we'll general protect identity, but not promised. We don't consider these anonymous posters to be "sources" in the sense of us trying to provide protection under our state shield law. 3. Comment function is built into our CMS, which comes from New Jersey-based DPC.
Howard Saltz, MediaNews Group (HSaltz@medianewsgroup.com) :
For whatever it’s worth, commenting is a huge issue for many of our editors. I probably get more questions or concerns about it than any other initiative. 1. In MediaNews Group the decisions about removing comments are made at the local level. Generally, our editors will remove posts that are racist, obscene, copyright violations, libelous, invade privacy, are spam, or are threatening. 2. I can’t answer because our sites are too different, and in too many different states. 3. The majority of our sites use the vendor Topix. Its automation includes: a. A filter for obscene words and spam. The database of obscene words can be adjusted for each site, because of regional slang. Of course, someone can create a unique spelling to communicate an obscenity and get past the word filter, but the filter helps somewhat. b. Every comment includes a link with which the public can report abuse. When abuse is reported, an email is automatically sent to a pre-determined set of editors at the local newsroom. The editor(s) then decide whether to remove or allow the post.
Art Campbell ( firstname.lastname@example.org ) :
1. No anonymous comments; people must register, but they are free to mask his or her name -- essentially the identity may be masked, but there's an email address that was at least valid at the time they registered as a user. What is "pre-moderate?" We only do one pass, which we call moderation. 3. We use WordPress with plug-ins for comment editing.
1. We don't allow anonymous comments. All users' identities are subject to verification. Until verification, users' posts are pre-moderated before release.
2. This doesn't apply to me directly, but for the record, it take an extreme case for me to ignore a valid subpoena. My attitude is that you shouldn't post anything online expecting to keep your identity secret, unless you take serious measures to do so yourself. If you're not protecting your IP address and/or email address, I don't see how you can expect me to do it for you. But I might go the extra yard to protect a clueless whistleblower from persecution. 3. I review all messages personally, but we're a small town and I know most of the posters personally.
Steve Hanson, CruisKeen Consulting (email@example.com ) :
1) He allows anonymous comments, he does pre-moderate and he removes comments if they contain "libelous statements, advertising, or total nonsense in the post. Most of the time it's because they're blatant advertising spam."
2) Yes, they do make privacy promise. What if you thought the legal process was SLAPP-like or chilling to a whistleblower? That would depend --- though we're not really in a position to take on major financial and legal issues. State shield law "almost certainly would not" protect. 3) Partly manual process. Registered users can comment without moderation until proven otherwise. Non-registered users get moderated by hand. However, there are 2 different layers of automated filtering ahead of that, which kicks out most of the spam etc. For technology, I use http://mollum.com a Drupal spam module. http://drupal.org/project/spam
Gail Robinson of the Gotham Gazette (firstname.lastname@example.org ) :
1. Yes. We don't premoderate but we do monitor comments and remove ones that are SPAM, would be libelous if those rules applied or blatantly racist, sexist or otherwise offensive. Our policy, though, is to err on the side of allowing comments. 2. WE should have a policy like this but don't and I;m not sure what NY's law is on this. I should probably find out. 3. We have two separate comment systems. On our articles in Gotham Gazette we use Disqus. Disqus automatically sends notification of all comments to me and I delete those that need to come down. In general, we have been happy with Disqus because it's user friendly (no registration required), and we want to encourage comments and discussion. It has greatly increased the number of comments on our side. Our Wonkster blog is on Wordpress. We do not get any notification of comments but I try to go to the dashboard regularly to check whether new comments have come in and read those that have. In general, we get more comments on our Gotham Gazette articles than on the Wonkster.
Robert Brown Swift Communications (email@example.com) :
Aldon Hynes, a Connecticut community blogger (Aldon.Hynes@Orient-Lodge.com) :
My general approach to comments is similar to that of comments at a town meeting. If you want to make a comment, you need to stand up and identify yourself. 1. I run a bunch of different sites, and the rules vary by site. For a more blog oriented site, I often do allow anoymous comments. I do not pre-moderate, but I do use various forms of software that filters out spam. Spam can be a real big problem. 2. I do not believe that I've ever promised to not to reveal the identity of anonymous commentators on my websites. Personally, I have little use for people who are not willing to put their name to their comments. In terms of whistleblowing, I provide opportunities for people contact me directly, without putting up a content. I don't think whistleblowers should use anonymous comments to raise an issue. That just seems too dangerous. It makes it both more difficult to check the source as well as more difficult to protect the source. 3. I've also used Mollum for Drupal sites and have been pleased with it. I also like to use Disqus, http://www.disqus.com for comments on more blog orient sites, since they handle spam fairlly well, and add a social networking component to the comments. I believe that this social networking component also helps increase the quality of comments.
Tammy Daniels, from iBerkshires.com / Boxcar Media, North Adams, Mass., comments (firstname.lastname@example.org) :
1. Yes, we allow anonymous comments and, yes, we premoderate. It wasn't much of a problem when I started but our profile has risen sharply, as has "toxic Topix." I delete out of hand comments that are obviously libelous, slanderous and just plain nasty: "Mary Smith can't do her job because she's too busy snorting coke." "Jim Bob is a fat slob." Sometimes I delete parts of comments, indicated where the editing took place and then explain why: "We don't use that language." I have left comments that are borderline and explained why I won't allow anymore. I have also shut down rants on such hot topics as immigration and abortion. They're usually trolls that are just repeating the same thing.
I have given greater latitude to criticism of higher officials. The reasoning is that 1) we don't want to become toxic Topix in which namecalling and bullying are the norm and 2) we want to encourage constructive, civil dialogue. If someone comments that a legislator is lousy, I'll immediate ask them why. We're trying to encourage not just opinions but facts. (And because it's our Web site; don't like it, get your own Web site. :)
2. No. We don't have a spelled out policy (though we should and it's on my to-do list) other than we give members who have to provide addresses the option to opt out of receiving e-mail from third parties affiliated with us, such as our advertisers. The comment section is in no way linked to our membership; members get to post events, class reunions, weddings, etc., all of which also must be approved.
No shield law in Massachusetts.
3. Pretty much everything at Boxcar is homegrown -- I can't imagine we would ever use a outside content manager. Everything is manual, although I have urged the use of memberships to allow instant posting with the threat of suspension or banishment for violating rules.
Joe Dwinell senior city desk editor and web editor, Boston Heraldjdwinell@heraldinteractive.com
From G. Patton (“Pat”) Hughes, Paulding.com email@example.com
From G. Patton (“Pat”) Hughes, Paulding.com firstname.lastname@example.org
1. As a practical matter, I don't know everyone who posts on the site and most have handle-type email addresses and member names that would establish anonymity. I don't pre-moderate but when things get out of hand, when comments are getting personal, when personal identities are disclosed in a manner that might be libelous for the member posting, I, or a group of moderator volunteers, do set those comments invisible. Obviously, one reason we set most comments invisible is because they have crossed the line that might, in general judgment subject themselves and by extension us, to litigation. (We set comments that are demeaning, racially over the top and or personal attacks on others invisible. We've also been known to set legitimate news invisible as when a next door neighbor identifies a teen-ager who died in an automobile accident by name before the authorities have had a chance to notify next of kin.)
I have set up a forum where guests were informed how to use an anonymizer for their IP and were allowed to post as a guest but the comments would be reviewed before publication. I think the forum may yet be there but it was never really used by the public.
The only instance in which I invoked that was when a person in an adjoining county was publicly threatening suicide in which case I informed authorities in that county of that threat and the information I had that would identify the individual.
Regarding a SLAPP like inquiry, I would resist the subpoena. I have indeed resisted a subpoena for news data that is detailed on the Citizen Media Law Project site. I did not disclose the information claiming coverage under Georgia's shield law. The subpoena became moot when the civil suit was dropped before the judge rendered an order either confirming my coverage under the shield law or compelling the production of the information sought. (Basically the edited out-takes of video shot at a public meeting.)
3. Comments management is a manual process with some automation for reporting. A central moderator panel lists all posts/topics that are reported by any member from a button appearing adjacent to every post. A handful of volunteer moderators review these reports. Typically, I act as the person to which a moderated member can appeal. I have occasionally overridden moderation that I felt was too high handed. Most moderation is done by moving topics and posts from a widely public forum to one where a member has to be registered to enter a password - typically these less public forums are optional and can be turned "ON" with "ON" being the password.