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It was a good idea gone wrong.
The reality is that our comments section is doing little more than providing space for a relative few of you to argue with each other every day. So we’re eliminating them from our website.
You can still comment on our Facebook page and we’re considering starting a new letters to the editor feature.
This decision has been a long time coming.
Civil Beat launched in 2010 with Facebook comments — people had to have a Facebook account to comment. We thought that would keep things civil because we figured most people would think carefully about what they had to say since they had to use their real names.
That was wrong on a number of levels. People still posted ill-conceived, mean-spirited and crappy comments about pretty much everything — politicians, contentious issues, each other. Readers frequently complained, and demanded that we block certain users or at least investigate whether they were even real. (Sometimes they weren’t.)
In 2016 we came really close to ending the comments section. But then a new company emerged, Civil Comments, with a new software that promised to ferret out uncivil comments through a peer-review system where other commenters could block problematic posts by voting them down. But Civil Comments allowed anonymity and provided a way for people to game the system and knock out comments they simply disagreed with. Or just for the heck of it.
In October, again on the verge of shutting this whole mess down, we heard about Talk, another new commenting system. This one was much easier for us to manage, including allowing close moderation of comments before they published. We have been approving or rejecting comments manually for the past several months.
And that, frankly, has made us realize what the comments have become.
It is not the virtual town square where broad segments of the community can discuss matters of importance to Hawaii and come to agreement on reasoned solutions. Nope. The same handful of people (sadly, I can name you off the top of my head) are dominating the comment threads on every single story.
And that’s squeezing out a lot of other people who might have interesting views to share if only they weren’t terrified of getting smacked down by the comment monsters. We regularly hear from these readers who write or call to talk about a story or an issue, but tell us they have no intention of being dragged through the cyber muck.
We still have a vision of Civil Beat as a place that brings the community together to learn about — and talk about — the really vital things that are going on in Hawaii and beyond. And now that we’re a nonprofit we’re trying even harder to provide numerous ways for you to make your voice heard (as long as you keep it civil).
We’ve also started a number of Facebook groups around topics like education, Hawaii politics, Honolulu rail, endangered monk seals, the cost of living in the islands, and traffic. We even have a new group that discusses broad news topics. We’re happy to add more on issues you’re interested in discussing.
Every Friday at 2 p.m. we hold Office Hours on Facebook, hosted by Anthony Quintano and Landess Kearns, in an effort to bring people inside the newsroom and talk about what we’re doing.
One good way to participate in the Civil Beat community is come to our monthly “Conversation & Coffee” gatherings, generally held in our newsroom. We have great discussions with readers on everything from news of the day to how Civil Beat operates. The meetings generate a lot of good ideas for news coverage and civic action.
We also host other events — Hawaii Storytellers, Civil Cafes, other community discussions in conjunction with film screenings or other forums. Check out our Calendar for events, dates and times.
And you can always write your own commentary that we’ll publish in our Community Voices section. You’ll need to be willing to take responsibility for your thoughts, though — you need to use your name and we need a head shot and a brief bio for the byline. We encourage a wide range of voices. Send to email@example.com.
We’re considering starting a new feature, along the lines of a traditional Letters to the Editor column — shorter (200 words max) thoughts on issues of the day. No head shot needed but we do need your name and a contact phone number for verification purposes only. Submit your letters to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll get started.
You can always call us at 808-737-2300 (main office line) or email email@example.com. Ben Nishimoto and Mariko Chang are very good about responding quickly to emails.
We’re not the first to ditch comments and I’m sure we won’t be the last. More and more news organizations are finding the comment environment just too toxic. I think we’re all striving to help readers navigate the increasingly overwhelming media landscape with as much grace and thoughtfulness as possible.
Thoughts on this or any other story? We’re replacing comments with a new letters column. Write a Letter to the Editor. Send to firstname.lastname@example.org and put Letter in the subject line. 200 words max. You need to use your name and include a contact phone for verification purposes.