Keeping Comments Courteous


There was a time when you could get your “daily dose of crazy” from the comments section of SignOnSanDiego.com (or so said a colleague). But, those days may be numbered as the online arm of the San Diego Union-Tribune moved to Facebook comments earlier this week.

bronze figure with loudspeaker

Sharing your opinion is one thing...

The UT explained in an article that they hope the move away from anonymous comments will lead to “more civil and constructive” dialogue between readers. While it’s too early to tell if this has happened, several other newspapers have already instituted Facebook comments, like the Los Angeles Times, or are in the process of doing so, like USA Today, who is rolling it out on their online blogs in the coming week. And others, like the New York Times and Washington Post, are considering it.

Prior to the change, reading through comments on any SignOnSanDiego article often required the mental equivalent of a flak jacket. Because of the facelessness of the commenting system, things got ugly (and off-topic) quickly. Unsurprisingly, the media sees censorship as anathema, so comments were rarely censored.

But, by putting a face to a real name, newspapers and other media organization hope people will think twice about what they say — just like they do in real life — and employ a little self-censorship. Would uglycommenter78 still say the same thing if he was instead listed as John Smith and had his picture posted next to his name? It’s an interesting exercise and one that will be played out in the (online) court of opinion for some time.

All of this examination basically leads up to the policy we employ on SDSU NewsCenter — which can be found here and is linked to from every story on the site (see “Comments Policy” in the footer).

We have a few guiding principles that we use in moderating comments both on SDSU NewsCenter and on the university’s Facebook page.  We don’t mind disagreement or frustration. We dislike spam (who doesn’t?) and have zero tolerance for hate speech.  Still, we rarely delete comments.

Maybe that’s because we’re lucky, that we’re all Aztecs or maybe it’s because of the system we employ, DISQUS, which lets users create profiles anonymously or based on existing social networking profiles. Either way, we’ll keep an eye on things.

So, read, comment and get a (courteous) conversation going.

5 Comments

Filed under New Media

5 responses to “Keeping Comments Courteous

  1. I’m really mixed on this. I’m all for freedom of speech but there was so much hate associated with the UT forums, I haven’t checked back in two years. Of course now with SDSU Athletics performing well (and less for UT to post things like getting rid of football) I assume the nasty posts have diminished. I’ve diverted my media consumption for SDSU Athletics over to Facebook pages with focus on SDSU and SDSU Newscenter / GoAztecs.com. There have been drastic improvements in both of these over the past year. Great sources for objective information with a little SDSU bias :)

  2. I’m worried about the increase in accessibility, which sounds like a crazy thing to say on the surface. I’ve found that when you open a discussion to facebook and social network logins, you allow people to make a instant reply – the first thing off the top of their heads, often. This does increase activity dramatically and is ideal if you are selling a product (instant unabridged feedback), but when you’re running a discussion forum or wanting information replies to articles, it can easily lower the quality.

    I’ve also found that (not including spammers) people who are willing to sign up a website to comment will typically have a real interest in the subject, while those who have a mild interest will instantly be put off. Of course it is a balance between the two, but it might be a good idea to test it out – see what sort of comments and numbers you’re getting – modify accordingly.

  3. It would be great to have intelligent conversations following an informative article, but anonymous comments on newspapers across the country demonstrate that there are more idiots than intellectuals that leave comments. An organization has to consider the impact that racist, mis-informed, and generally ignorant comments can have on their reputation.
    I know several newspapers considering using Facebook profiles in an attempt to curb the blatant hate posts, instigation language, and off topic comments. Personally, I no longer read the comments from most organizations because of the crud that gets posted there. So, if your reading this, Thank you.

  4. Yeah, the San Diego tribune switched to facebook, so we started our own site http://signedoffsandiego.com

    to continue our anonymity, now we probably get more comments that their own website.

    Come on over, everyone is welcome, and there is no darn rules, plus we have a sports bar, a game room, all sorts of things going on

  5. I know several newspapers considering using Facebook profiles in an attempt to curb the blatant hate posts, instigation language, and off topic comments. Personally, I no longer read the comments from most organizations because of the crud that gets posted there. So, if your reading this, Thank you.

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