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A screenshot from the Globe and Mail's commenting system. (Credit :Globe and Mail, screenshot)

The Globe and Mail’s new public editor, Sylvia Stead, asked “Why not screen all comments before posting?” in a column.

Stead wrote that sports and politics stories and sometimes certain business stories tend to “attract the most vitriolic comments.”  And, that “two recent examples focused on aboriginal Canadians” in which comments became “nasty.” See those stories here and here.

In response, readers have questioned why the newspaper doesn’t “moderate everything and control what is posted,” Stead wrote. But, The Globe and Mail’s online commenting policy, in place for seven years, is ” to keep them open by default, with a goal of fostering the broadest possible national debate.”

Stead explained that The Globe and Mail will only block comments “for legal reasons” or violate The Globe and Mail’s guidelines. See here.  She added that The Globe and Mail’s commenting feature enables readers to vote on comments, creating a hierarchy of “highest-rated comments,”  or report comments.

The Globe and Mail’s “Community Guidelines” read, in part,  “While we are committed to principles of openness and freedom of speech, however, we will not allow our site to become a haven for personal attacks and offensive behaviour.”

The guidelines also note that The Globe and Mail doesn’t “require the use of real names” because it “encourages readers who might not feel comfortable expressing themselves in a public forum — for personal or professional reasons — to engage in the discussion without fear of repercussions.”

New Haven Independent

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Meanwhile, Connecticut news website the New Haven Independent announced Feb. 7 it is currently not allowing comments on its website.  In a post by editor Paul Bass, the Independent explained that it’s “going to take a break” from comment publication because “the tone of commenting…seems to have skidded to the nasty edges and run off the rails.”

The Independent said that comments starting becoming questionable “during last fall’s mayoral campaign” and commenters started posting “personal attacks and relentless fury.”  The Independent noted that its block of comments came after a “sunrise to late-night stream of offensive remarks”  submitted earlier this month.

The Independent’s commenting policy, published here, prohibits comments that make personal attacks and notes that all comments are moderated prior to publication.

Calling commenting possibly “the most important feature of the new web journalism,” the guidelines explain that it won’t publish anything that violates its guidelines against bad language, “demeaning comments,” personal criticisms, or spam.

We wrote to the Independent’s Bass asking what reaction the site has had to its new commenting block.  Bass told iMediaEthics that “We’ve been inundanted with passionate and interesting reactions — but not on our site! On other websites (including a blog by the New Haven Register’s editor), emails, calls, etc.”

He said that the site’s staff plans to review those responses next week and in “perhaps several weeks,” make a decision on the future of commenting on the site. According to Bass, “some people are thanking us for taking a stand,” and some are asking for commenting back “with even stricter rules and moderation than before (which already ran to the strict end of the spectrum).”

UPDATE: 2/10/2012 12:09 PM EST: Added in more about the commenting issues at the Globe and Mail on the stories on aboriginal Canadians.

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Globe & Mail Doesn’t Moderate Comments before Publication, New Haven Independent Stops Publishing Comments Altogether

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