Friday, July 17, 2009

You can't please all of the people ... Part 1

We had 117 comments in three days on my post on plans to introduce registration to the comments system on thisisleicestershire ... and they illustrated the issues we face on every level.

Before I talk about what I made of the comments, I have to say this: I have no idea how many different people made the comments, how often people posed as other people to make comments or which comments were meant to be taken seriously. I do know that I tried to respond to four comments, but on each occasion the email address given by the poster turned out to be fake and my replies bounced back.

Despite all of that, I think it has been an interesting and useful exercise.

I think there were a number of trends that could be seen in the comments:
  • A lot of people think we moderate unfairly at the moment.
  • Very few people said they would not register to use the comments system.
  • Some people think we moderate too much
  • Some people think we don't moderate enough
Despite this, I think there was a lot of underlying agreement on the way forward.

In this post, I'm going to deal with the first of these: the question of how we currently moderate is a difficult one for me as I don't recognise the claims being made as accurately reflecting our policy. What is clear is that we need to spell out what we think is acceptable and what we think is unacceptable - I'll come back to what that might be later, but, first, here's a selection of what some commenters said:
  • I have submitted comments on numerous subjects, but very few have appeared. I stick to the point, am honest and make every effort not to offend - Susan, Leicester
  • I too have been a victim of my comments being removed - Bobbi, LE1
  • I have said this time again you need guidelines, the Mercury do not play fare at all I have had comments removed with no reason what so ever, where other comments have stayed, which I believed to be more offensive! I would LOVE for a spokes person from the Mercury to explain why they have removed some of my comments and not others? Not just - CJ, Leics
  • LM you have lost so many of your readers as you censor way too much and it is clear that the moderators are nothing other than crazy do gooders who only allow their own ideas to be published. Remember you are running a business LM and if you continue to shut down half of your customers comments they will simply go elsewhere. A newspaper is supposed to be inpartial to views but you are clearly not - Rob, Leic
  • Does one presume, that you've actually noticed how many people have stopped commenting because of your censorship? - Mr A, leics
  • Great idea, as your moderation of the site has, on occasion, seemed a little inconsistent in the past - Lol, Groby
  • I won't object to having to register but please allow people to air their opinions without fear of having their posts deleted or edited for no good reason other than the fact that the moderator doesn't agree with them - Bill, leicester
  • I still maintain however that the LM openly asks for people to put their views on this website and then proceeds to delete them if there not deemed pc enough or may cause a heated debate which is totally wrong - Daniel, Leicester
Adam from Leicester left the following:
"I do not believe Pops was suggesting you ban do gooders - it is clear what he is saying and it is a view that many of us share and it is a view that has resulted in many, many people turning away from both your site and paper. Pops is clearly stating that the LM only appear to allow the views of the liberal left and any other views including more right wing views are simply deleted all the time - thus there is no balanced debate. It is so clear from viewing comments over the last few weeks that any right wing view is immediately deleted by the LM and any left wing view is
left on - so Pops was clearly saying that whilst the moderators are so clearly extreme pc and left wing that no normal people (non left wing) will bother to read, comment or buy your paper.

"It is common sense - either allow all comments and views to be aired without censorship (within legal boundaries naturally) or simply do not bother with having a forum as presently you only have extreme do gooders battering us all with their aggressive nonsense and like pops and myself and many others - we can not be bothered to even read your paper - let alone comment on it."
And, finally on this topic, Tel, of Leicester, said: 'There is a lot of censorship going on.'

Clearly there is an issue. Something appears to be going wrong somewhere as I don't believe we have any policy internally that would lead us to moderate in a way that would make it so that someone like Susan could claim that she sticks to the point, is honest and makes every effort not to offend and then finds that her comments are deleted. I did try to write to a number of posters (not Susan) to ask them to give me examples of this, but unfortunately all those that I chose turned out to have fake email addresses.

So where do we go from here?

Firstly, I will carry out an audit of what exactly it is that we are deleting. That's not as easy as it should be, but we will do it.

Secondly, whatever decision we take on registration and moderation, we will post a set of guidelines which state exactly what we think is acceptable and not acceptable. Before we do this, we will post a set of suggested guidelines for discussion by users - I don't expect there to be unanimous agreement on this, but I believe there will be a lot of common ground.

Thirdly, if we do introduce mandatory registration, we will consider writing to individual posters explaining why their comment was deleted.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Looking to expand the conversation

We are planning to alter the way we allow people to comment on our main website, but would like to know what you think before we introduce any changes.

We would like to make the comment functionality on thisisleicestershire available 24-hours-a-day and for us to have a lighter touch in our moderation. We think the best way to do this would be to introduce mandatory registration for those who wish to comment and then ask for community volunteers to help with the moderation.

We also plan to introduce clear guidelines for what's acceptable - these will not be onerous, but are likely to include a ban on anything libellous or illegal, along with most swearing and personal abuse. They will not prevent people from criticising the Leicester Mercury or each other.

Currently, you do not need to register with our site to comment - anybody can come along and add their views in just a few moments, cloaked in anonymity and without us having any idea who they are. As such, a significant minority of people abuse the system and this, in turn, leads us to a situation where we feel the need to check every single comment added and, since we cannot have staff working 24 hours a day, seven days a week, we restrict comments to normal office hours as we can guarantee that somebody will be available to moderate.

We believe that asking people to register and validate their email address is more likely to create some form of bond with the site and will lead to more self-moderation and, therefore, a more reasoned debate. Combining this with some volunteer community moderators would, we hope, allow us to open up our comments on a 24/7 basis.

Over time, we plan to improve our comment functionality and to add forums and, hopefully, to allow people to use existing web profiles such as those created through Facebook, Twitter or their blog to comment.

What we'd like to know is whether or not you think these proposed changes are a good idea. Please leave your comments here (24 hours a day!) or on thisisleicestershire when we add this post to that site on Monday.