Online commenting seems to constantly be a problem for news organizations, with NPR deciding to drop the feature on its website. Last week, readers representatives from two publications discussed the battle for civility in the comments sections.
Brett Oppegaard, the readers representative for Honolulu Civil Beat, whose position iMediaEthics highlighted recently, wrote Aug. 8 that the newspaper stopped using Facebook for its online comments section. In a May 18 article, the Civil Beat‘s Editor and General Manager Patti Epler announced the news.
Civil Beat is now using a start-up named Civil to run its comments, which he noted is not related to Civil Beat. Why? because the Hawaiian news site has seen a variety of “inappropriate commenters — people who spammed unrelated stories with their marketing pitches, drove discussions drastically off topic and viciously attacked those with the courage to speak about anything, usually directing their vitriol not at ideas but toward the commenter’s delivery style or personal attributes,” he wrote.
Even though using Facebook for commenting helped cut down on some nasty comments, Facebook left “loopholes” like cyber-stalking of Facebook accounts, he said.
Civil Comments’ website says its comment systems are “self-moderating” via “a patent-pending peer review system.” According to the Civil Beat‘s May article, readers can have pseudonyms again under the new commenting system. However, “We hope you will use your name, especially those of you who have been commenting so long and so prolifically that we feel like we know you,” Civil Beat‘s Epler wrote.
In Canada, the Globe & Mail‘s public editor Sylvia Stead wrote in late July asking “Should The Globe fix or ban online comments?”
Like Oppegaard, Stead pointed to the problem of sometimes angry, racist or hateful comments.
“The problem is that those doing the expressing seem to think everything should be up for debate – and that anything goes,” she wrote. “Then, if a media outlet feels things have gone too far and decides to delete a comment, they are quick to rail against ‘political correctness’ and ‘ideological bias.'” Stead noted that fellow Canadian publications the Toronto Star banned comments and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation requires real name registration to comment.
Stead argued that “In reality, most comments are just fine: They can be heated, sarcastic and political, and still be perceptive, even uplifting, as well as add to the debate by challenging accepted wisdom.” However, the Globe does have to do something about the comments that are problematic, she wrote.
Currently, the Globe & Mail bans “personal attacks, offensive language and unsubstantiated allegations,” hires comment moderators, and blocks some stories from even allowing comments. (Stories that are blocked can include crime, legal, immigration, and diversity issues, she wrote.)
For her part, Stead wrote, “if comments are to be kept, I would advocate tighter rules for certain topics, such as race, immigration, religion, sexual identity, women’s rights, indigenous people – and that extra effort be made to protect minority groups (and women) from abuse. That would mean more screening and, as necessary, closing comments more often.”
Stead told iMediaEthics by e-mail, “While it’s not my decision I am hopeful that there will be some improvements in the coming months.”