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Posted on Thu, Apr 8, 2010 : 5:30 a.m. makes some internal changes to moderation policies

By Stefanie Murray

Moderating comments is a challenging daily responsibility for the moderating team at Our goal is to provide a forum for lively and interesting conversation - minus the insults, personal attacks, false information and plain venom you can find elsewhere on the Web.

We have certainly learned a lot over the past several months. We try to follow our conversation guidelines as consistently as possible and at least once, we've made changes to our policies. And we try to listen to what our community has to say about the way we moderate comments.

Recently, we've made a few additional changes to the way we moderate comments that I wanted to share. In the coming months, we hope to institute a few other changes, and I'd like to get your feedback on some of those ideas as well.

One internal change we've made recently is moving to pre-moderation for comments with links. As the number of comments - and commenters - on our site has increased, so have the number of links that folks are sharing. That's great. We want to encourage that. However, we've had some issues with people sharing inappropriate links. Pre-moderation allows us to check the links before the comment goes live.

We haven't done pre-moderation anywhere else on the site because we think it will impede the natural flow of quick back-and-forth debate. This pre-moderation of links is an experiment, and we'll closely watch to see how it works.

A few other moderation notes to share:

  • Elected officials. I'm not sure if we've publicly said this before, but to be sure, we do not allow elected officials or candidates running for public office to comment on the site using a fake name.
  • Invalid e-mail addresses. We ask that all of our commenters use valid e-mail addresses when registering for We will disable accounts using e-mail domains that aren't widely considered to be valid, such as
  • Shutting down comment threads. A few times over the past month, we've shut down comments on a handful of stories. Each time this happened, it's because the thread devolved very quickly and from the start was filled with comments that violated our guidelines. It's not something we anticipate doing very often at all.
  • Something else we're trying to do is reach out and engage some of our most frequent commenters, and those who use their real names on the site. Over the course of the next few months, we plan to host get togethers at for our most frequent and best commenters on the site - best meaning those folks who contribute civil, engaging thoughts to the discussion and many who use their real names.

    Last, I wanted to share a couple things we're considering as changes to commenting on

    We know there are groups of people with opinions on each extreme when it comes to comments: those who hate them and those who think we should allow all comments without moderation. In the middle, there are many readers who think comments add valuable information - but they don't like reading through dozens of ones that add little to the conversation in the hopes of coming across the few that add really useful insight.

    Working to find a balance between these different viewpoints, and struggling with how to moderate in general, is a fluid issue for news organizations across the country. The Washington Post recently posted a great article about how it is changing its approach to comments.

    We think our readers ought to be able to choose what experience they want to have when they visit One change we are considering is making it possible for readers to hide comments entirely. We are also looking at creating a system for selecting preferred comments. Such comments would be pushed to the top of the comment thread, with the rest of the comment thread appearing in sequential order below.

    Let us know what you think by leaving a comment below or emailing

    (This post was updated to include information that candidates for public office also must use their real name when commenting on


    Paul the Malcontent

    Sun, Apr 11, 2010 : 11:26 p.m.

    RE: "Such comments would be pushed to the top of the comment thread, with the rest of the comment thread appearing in sequential order below." Moving comments out of their original spot in the timeline of comments may result in a loss of context, both for the original comment and subsequent responses to it. It would be better perhaps to just highlight those comments in their original location. Or, as has been suggested previously by others in the ongoing moderation commentary, a ranking system for comments would allow YOUR READERSHIP to choose which comments it considers worthy of highlighting and those that are worthy of being hidden, but still available for those who choose to read them.


    Sat, Apr 10, 2010 : 9:24 p.m.

    "Our goal is to provide a forum for lively and interesting conversation - minus the insults, personal attacks, false information and plain venom you can find elsewhere on the Web." All the news that's fit to print. Or is it "all the news that fits" (... with your particular view of what's appropriate}. Same applies to commentary. Everyday, since the days of the founding fathers, politicians have insulted, attacked, and purveyed all manner of false information and venom about each other. It's as American as apple pie. Why should this be any different? Let the chips fall where they may.


    Sat, Apr 10, 2010 : 8 a.m.

    Moderation is a good thing, and a tough job. I appreciate efforts to keep the comments worthwhile and sane. That said, a useful tool would be the ability for your users to hide/block other individual's comments. It really isn't difficult to quickly determine whose comments are not worth your time....hit the "hide" button...problem solved...


    Fri, Apr 9, 2010 : 7:45 a.m.

    I have to agree with others who say the moderation has gone too far in the past. If, for example, a discussion of the Hutaree includes comments as to how divided the country has become, contributing to the rise of such extremeist groups, why would the moderator consider that to be "off-topic" and by what right does s/he delete that thread? This may be his/her opinion, but why does that opinion trump ours? I appreciate the effort to keep the comments civil and devoid of name-calling and foul language. But, "removed for redundancy?" Unless the poster sent the same comment more than once, I can't see how that is a valid reason for removal. I have not experienced many problems with my comments being deleted, but I have certainly observed an overzealousness on the part of some moderators. An effort to control that power to delete would be most appreciated.


    Fri, Apr 9, 2010 : 7:27 a.m.

    Also I don't believe making your real name the same as your user name make one self moderate. I hate when the many who foolow the rules are penalized and restricted due to the actions of a few. For the record I have used my handle for well over a decade and a half and have built up quite a good reputation under it. It more than my real name gives my opinions a provenance should anyone choose to look into it. Not to mention my views on the the right to keep and bear arms is no secret. I do not wish for the more literate criminals thinking they can make a score for weapons at my home.


    Fri, Apr 9, 2010 : 6:51 a.m.

    Having been a moderator/admin on several forums mostly populated by teenagers, I have a lot of respect for the job it takes to keep a place civil and on topic. As I've said in those places, "Your house, your rules." That being said when you change the rules, act capriciously and/or make up rules to justify moderation on comments that do follow your rules but find distasteful? Then well as you can see, many others agree, aadotdelete. "Redundancy" was given as a reason for moderation...not kidding.

    David Briegel

    Fri, Apr 9, 2010 : 3:26 a.m.

    What is "free" about pretending that the lie is equal to the truth? Why don't you "moderate" the truth and the lie? Why did you change from requiring a verified name to anonymous? Anonymous tips may be ok but why anon opinions? I agree with moose, the silently and completely part makes no sense. Delete the part you don't like. Edit! Don't just delete without an explanation.


    Thu, Apr 8, 2010 : 9:27 p.m.

    I'm also in the camp of having a comment deleted for no apparent reason. If this site is going to allow comments, allow them. Unless the comment clearly violates the rules it should not be silently and completely removed by someone with a grudge. If someone doesn't want to risk people disagreeing with what they say, why are they publishing it publicly? Is this a newspaper's website or someone's whiny blog?


    Thu, Apr 8, 2010 : 4:11 p.m.

    What constitutes swearing, scooterdog? Using the Lord's name in vain? Comments that use any kind of bad language or refer to certain body parts don't belong here.

    The Picker

    Thu, Apr 8, 2010 : 4:08 p.m.

    Newspeak! Only the comments that fit. Sincerely yours, Big Brother

    scooter dog

    Thu, Apr 8, 2010 : 2:18 p.m.

    People rip me up one side and down the other on this forum,but let me say anything bad about anybody and its in the trash can for me,there aa dot delete.Talk about playing favorites.I feel mr v has a personel grudge against me.

    Fred Schaible

    Thu, Apr 8, 2010 : 9:41 a.m.

    I agree with @scooter dog. I don't see how deleting comments and limiting debate advances any form of free speech and expression. Also maybe should consider requiring people to list their actual name when posting. It is very easy to make a disparaging and critical comment when using a username that masks your true identity.

    scooter dog

    Thu, Apr 8, 2010 : 9:20 a.m.

    Your the ONLY reader forum in any on line paper that deletes as much as you do. free press,det news, usa today,you can say ANYTHING against anybody as long as you do not swear. At the local coffee shop your known as aadot delete


    Thu, Apr 8, 2010 : 8:57 a.m.

    It's important to keep up with today's slanguage. I had read some comments from another paper who didn't screen and it took me a minute but I recognized a rude word that was spelled differently, making it seem innocent. I found this word in a comment a few days ago and flagged it. I really appreciate how you staffers keep it clean. Thanks!


    Thu, Apr 8, 2010 : 8:37 a.m.

    don't know how well the real name thing will work,as it seems the most nasty,venom spewing and name callers use their own name their proud of it


    Thu, Apr 8, 2010 : 8:27 a.m.

    Add a twitt filter. People can add a twitt to their list and not see any comments from that person. I'd say the twit that is filtered the most wins, but that would probably get blocked. :)


    Thu, Apr 8, 2010 : 7:52 a.m.

    These are all good suggestions. Pre-moderating links is a good idea, not only to check for appropriateness, but it also serves to increase web security for the readers of the site. Also, providing the option for people to disable comments all together is another good idea that is widely used on other sites. Thank you for the local forum you provide.