A number of you have asked questions about the comment system and our management of it. Here is some general information. I will add to it as I have time. If you have specific questions about comments, post them here or email them to me directly at email@example.com. Do not post them on news stories or other blog posts (that would be off-topic.).
To state the obvious first, Pluck is not a perfect commenting system. We liked our old system, which we built here at the Daily News. We were required to switch over to Pluck when that became the standard throughout the McClatchy Co.
As long as we have had comments – and it has been years now -- they have been a mixed blessing and I’ve had mixed feelings about them. I discussed my ambivalence about comments in some of the earliest posts on this blog (check the archive).
To put it bluntly, experience has shown that a surprising number of people are unable to behave like socially-functional adults when given the freedom to comment anonymously in a public forum. That’s a shame for many reasons, but primarily because their immaturity tends to drive away those thoughtful people who have something to add to the conversation. Over time, as a result of the negative behavior by bad commenters, the good ones get disgusted and leave, and we are left with the dregs.
If we do not intervene, we end up with the commentary equivalent of Somalia.
Over the last several months, we made a deliberate effort to try to raise the level of the discussion. Julie Wright, as managing editor, asked commenters to improve their behavior and we began to weed the comments a bit more but still with a light hand. That did not accomplish as much improvement as we hoped.
I am now exercising a heavier hand in dealing with comments. I have posted a message throughout adn.com laying out the most basic rules for participating in the comments. I also have adopted a one-strike rule, meaning that it only takes one violation of one rule for someone to be blocked and every past or present comment to disappear.
I’ve blocked more than 100 accounts in the last 10 days. The most common reason is the simple inability or unwillingness of a commenter to stay on-topic. If the story is about the appointment of a senator to the vacant Juneau Senate seat, then comments should be about the process or people directly involved in making and confirming that appointment. Not Obama, McCain, Pelosi, Castro, etc.
If someone’s comment on that Senate story, for example, follows a track like this: Palin made the appointment, her opponents are Democrats who support Obama, so the post will point out that Obama still hasn’t shown his birth certificate, then that person will be blocked for being off-topic.
Similarly, if someone’s comment follows this track: Ross advised Palin on the appointment, Ross is standing for confirmation by the legislature, Ross called homosexuals degenerates, so the post will discuss anti-gay bigotry, then that person also will be blocked for being off-topic.
If the topic is Senate appointment, make your comment about the Senate appointment.
Don't let yourself get sucked into responding to the off-topic comments of another commenter; both of you are likely to be blocked.
My goal is to ensure that we have different discussions going on. We do not want every group of story comments to endlessly replay the same positions and arguments by the same commenters, regardless of the story subject. To the degree that the subject of the story or blog post is different, the comments should cover new territory.
I also block sloganeering that adds no substantive value. IMPEACH PALIN or I LUV SARAH do not contribute anything to the discussion. Posts of this ilk are routinely deleted and the users blocked.
Here's a question from user tewise:
Pat Dougherty why not change the feature (report abuse) all they want to do is hide what is being said. Fix it so that comments can be flagged for inappropriate content but not hidden. All they want is to have the comment section eliminated so we can not discuss the topics. They set campaigns to come here and other places to sabotage what is being said. If they can't hide the comments they will lose until they think of another way to sequester the opinions of others that don't agree with them. My comment was flagged in 5 minutes and all I did was give you praise and talk about WAR, unbelievable.
Some of our more adolescent readers, having been blocked for inappropriate commenting, have elected to engage in abusive “abuse reporting.” If abuse is reported by enough different people on a single comment, that comment is hidden pending review. A copy of it goes into a review queue for review by an “administrator” like me.
Because these vandals have been especially active lately, they have succeeded in temporarily hiding up to a couple dozen comments with which they disagree.
As soon as I check the queue, I can easily “approve” the original comments so they are visible again. It takes me about two minutes to reverse what the vandals took 45 minutes to accomplish. Still, the fact that comments are hidden is frustrating to readers.
We have asked that McClatchy/Pluck increase the number of abuse reports required to hide a comment. We also asked that someone who is blocked from commenting also be blocked from reporting abuse. With those capabilities, the abuse reporting vandalism will be over for good. Until then, vandals willing to invest a lot of their time will be able to hide comments for brief periods.
(Note to vandals: Because I know your names, I automatically release every comment you've flagged, in bulk, without taking the time to review them. That means even your legitimate abuse reports end up ignored.)
As a reminder, here is my note to commenters (and, fyi, those who report abuse on this Note to Readers get blocked):
You are welcome to comment here and we appreciate your participation, regardless of your point of view. This is a reminder that the opportunity to comment is a privilege and not a right. We want a civil discussion. To that end, we ask that you:
Make sure your comments are on topic, directly addressing the subject of the story or blog post;
Do not intentionally insult or attack other commenters (disagree but don't be disagreeable);
Avoid spamming (i.e. posting the same message more than once);
Avoid profanity (with or without the funky keyboard symbols) and gratuitously graphic imagery; and
Avoid abusive "abuse reporting" (i.e. flagging comments solely because you dislike them).
Commenters who violate these rules will be blocked and all their comments will disappear. We do not warn before removing violators. These rules will be applied to every post we see.