Heads up, Civil Beat readers: If you try to post a comment on a Civil Beat story, you’ll see some changes.
Civil Comments, which has been our platform since May 2016, is shutting down. So we’ve switched to a platform called Talk, developed by The Coral Project, originally a collaboration of the Mozilla Foundation, The New York Times and The Washington Post.
Talk is built on research from 150 newsrooms around the world, says Andrew Losowsky, project lead for The Coral Project.
“Our mission is to protect privacy and security on the internet and to make the internet a healthier place,” he says.
We are the first local newsroom in the U.S. to use Talk but it’s been doing well at The Washington Post for months and also at a number of newsrooms in Australia.
It’s pretty straightforward and very simple to use. Regular commenters should have no problem picking it up in a jiffy. (If you do, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll help.)
The big change: You will no longer have to rate other comments before you can post. And there will be no more knocking other people’s comments off the site by rating them as “uncivil.”
One problem with Civil Comments, we discovered fairly recently, was that some of you had learned to game the system by creating multiple aliases and then use them together to, in essence, vote out people you didn’t like or comments you disagreed with. That won’t happen any more and our apologies to all of you who might be wondering why your comments were being removed as “uncivil” by your peers.
Now, you just need to create a new user account and start posting. We prefer that you use your real name but, as with most commenting systems these days, Talk is OK with anonymity.
That said, Talk’s moderation tool allows us to keep a pretty close eye on the tone and content of the comments.
And it uses a “toxic comments” plug-in, utilizing machine-learning technology developed by Google that helps weed out uncivil comments.
But the machine is somewhat forgiving — if it doesn’t like a comment or a word it lets you know and then gives you a minute or two to rethink the post and rewrite it. If it still doesn’t like it, it kicks it to a moderator for review.
We hope to use Talk and its companion program, Ask, to do real-time question-and-answer sessions with reporters and editors on certain stories.
We’re also in a better position now to flag and remove accounts, posts and accounts that are consistently toxic. And Talk allows us to shut down a comment stream — or not allow comments on a particular story at all — if necessary.
As the old saying goes, it takes a village. And we will be relying on our village of readers to flag comments that you think are questionable and let us know if commenters are behaving badly toward someone.
Talk has a number of other cool features, too. We can pose a particular question at the top of a comment thread that we’d like people to weigh in on. We hope to use Talk and its companion program, Ask, to do real-time question-and-answer sessions with reporters and editors on certain stories.
You’ll be able to sort comments in a number of different ways. And we’ll feature the best comments at the top of stories and even on our home page and in our morning newsletter, the Morning Beat.
Our readers tend to disagree with each other a lot, on politics and issues as well as people and events. But we’ve also found that overall our commenting community is a very positive space.
Civil Beat readers participated in a national commenting survey last fall, also done by the Engaging News Project at UT Austin. The survey looked at the commenting practices and patterns of more than 20 online sites of all sizes.
The study found that Civil Beat readers stood out from commenters elsewhere in large part because of the reason they participate in comments. While other commenters generally comment to express emotion or an opinion, our readers said their No. 1 reason for commenting is because they think they can add useful information to the discussion.
“It seems like the culture you have at Civil Beat is different than the national sites,” lead researcher Talia Stroud said at the time.
About 150 Civil Beat readers participated in the survey.
A higher percentage of our readers also see Civil Beat comments as generally more civil than comments on other sites. Stroud said readers tend to visit a variety of news sites so they’d have a pretty good idea of how Civil Beat stacks up in that regard.
That’s a good foundation for us to build on as we move to the new commenting platform. Please let us know what you think and if you have suggestions for improving the system and the experience.
One casualty of the switch seems to be previous comments. We are working to restore all the comments posted on the Civil Comments platform, so please bear with us.
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Patti Epler is the Editor and General Manager of Civil Beat. She's been a reporter and editor for more than 30 years, primarily in Hawaii, Alaska, Washington and Arizona. You can follow her on twitter at @PattiEpler, email her at email@example.com or call her at 808-377-0561.