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You probably noticed something new if you read any of our stories over the weekend — a spruced up comments section.
I’m excited about it because the back-end changes are making it even easier for us to stay on top of comments that flow in — more and more — every day. Yes, we are still approving or rejecting every comment, a bit more on that in a sec.
But first, for people who like to comment you should find the new system a lot more user-friendly. The platform developers — Coral by Vox Media — have added some new features for us. Civil Beat continues to oversee the community and set the guidelines.
Here are a couple of things you’ll notice right away.
It loads faster and it’s much better on mobile.
When replying to comments, you can create a “single conversation” view to better follow discussions you are interested in.
Perhaps most useful to you regular commenters, you can now know when your comment has been reviewed and posted (or not, more on that in a sec) or when someone replies to a comment you’ve made.
Click on My Profile to find those features.
My Profile also now lets you manage your account in different ways.
For instance, you can set up a list of commenters you want to ignore. Just click on the commenter’s name and then click Ignore. They’ll be added to your list.
Occasionally people have asked us to send them their previous comments especially on a particular issue.
Now you can download your comment history once every couple of weeks.
There are other potentially useful tools here as well. I’ll let you explore on your own.
On our end, the moderation exercise has become more streamlined.
You may remember that we got fed up with commenters a couple of years ago and eliminated the ability to comment at the bottom of stories. It seemed like the comments had devolved into an online fight club between about a dozen people. And that was turning off people who really had something they wanted to say but didn’t want to risk the pounding that was sure to come.
Later that year we tried it again when our comment platform providers — then known as Talk by The Coral Project — offered an easy-to-use moderation tool. That’s what we’re building on now, with most of the changes playing out on the user interface.
This is super important because, as I mentioned above, we read every comment before it’s posted. We’re a bit unusual in moderating 100% of the comments we receive. But it really has helped grow and maintain a vigorous commenting community that is civil and welcoming of new voices and opinions.
We’ve refined our commenting guidelines as we’ve gone along and they are still evolving. Basically, we are trying to cut down on the kinds of knee-jerk postings that someone has fired off without much thought.
We keep a close watch on over-generalizations especially when it comes to politics. And mocking people or institutions is just not allowed. You may think a nickname is clever; we think it’s a slam. Suggesting someone doesn’t know what they’re talking about is grounds for rejection.
Misrepresentations and things that are blatantly false — even if you’re throwing it out as your opinion — also won’t make it.
Here are some recent examples from the Reject File of what I mean on the closer calls. They weren’t necessarily uncivil, but just not the kind of discussion we’re trying to encourage. We also don’t have the capability to edit comments; they are as-is. Some of these might have been OK if the commenter had just stopped themselves from going too far:
— “Just what we don’t need is another holiday. Another day of no productivity. Nothing gets done as it is!”
— “Uninspired, gutless, deceitful, self-serving, self-aggrandizing dolts surrounded by sycophants who isolate their meal tickets from the obvious: they HAVE no clothes.”
— “Last year President Trump let Russian Military Aircraft fly over the Hawaiian Islands, so more than likely they will invade this Island.”
— “If he’s a trump supporter I see a pardon in is future….except it better happen by Jan 2021!”
— “Corruption in Hawaii politics is everywhere! Time to clean the swamp!”
— “Why not just hang a sign in front of your house that says: “I’m afraid. Take my things but please don’t kill me. I won’t defend what’s mine.”
— “At the end of the day, Republicans are united by the words “Me” and greed.”
Very occasionally, someone will write us and ask why their comment was rejected. We are happy to have that discussion and in a few instances the comment has been rewritten and resubmitted.
And frankly, sometimes people just comment too much. We’ve had to reject comments that were perfectly fine simply because the commenter couldn’t seem to stop themselves from arguing with everyone else. Our guidelines request you limit your comments to two or three per story.
We also don’t allow links because too many of them are to sites and material that we have no bandwidth to vet or verify. We don’t allow posts written in ALL CAPS.
And P.S. We generally don’t look at comments while we’re sleeping so 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. for those of you who get frustrated that a comment you post at 2 a.m. HST isn’t immediately acted upon.
In the past two years we’ve banned 53 people from commenting and suspended many more. Suspensions can range from one hour to one week. Putting some people in a time out as helped shape the tone and quality of discussion in our comments.
As Civil Beat continues to grow and we reach even more people with our journalism, we think it’s essential that we provide a forum for community discussion and debate. But we see it as a privilege, not a right.
Please hang in there with us as we do our best to make it a safe and meaningful space for as many people as possible. And please let us know what you think of the new features and what we can do to make it even better.
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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.