Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Changes to Mercury website comments system

We have finally got round to changing the way we allow comments to be added to our main website, thisisleicestershire.co.uk.

It is something which I have previously proposed both on thisisleicestershire and here on my blog, but have backed away from for various reasons. Until now, we have allowed anybody to comment on stories without asking them to register or give us any details. To help us keep an eye on what people said, we have restricted the times at which comments could be left to normal office hours.

Now, however, we have introduced a system that forces people to register with the site before they can leave a comment. We hope that forcing people to register will encourage them to join in constructive conversation rather than the abusive slanging matches which so often seem to dominate the 'discussion.' In return, we will leave the commenting functionality enabled 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Following the advice given by our lawyers, Foot Anstey, we will no longer moderate the comments in any way, but have introduced an easy way for readers to report abuse which we will then check and act on if appropriate.

Unsurprisingly, the change was not met with universal approval and a number of users immediately set about proving that it was still possible to cheat the system by, for example, registering multiple accounts or changing their displayed user name to impersonate someone else. We know the system is not perfect, but I believe that the changes will help. We'll see.

At the same time as we introduced the changes, we highlighted our terms and conditions and the way in which we expected people to use the site.

One user, Daniel, wasn't happy.
Just looking at the house rules:-

You must not make or encourage comments which are:
  • defamatory, false or misleading;
  • insulting, threatening or abusive;
  • obscene or of a sexual nature;
  • offensive, racist, sexist, homophobic or discriminatory against any religions or other groups
If you enforced this then no-one would have an opinion on anything! and if they did it wouldnt stay on the comments page.

Freedom of speech!, i'm not so sure. It seems you can only post something if its politically correct but what if you dont actually believe in the ridiculous P.C world we live in are you less of a human who shouldn't be allowed to have your say. The L.M is clearly stating 'have an opinion as long as no one else disagrees with it, or happens to find it offensive' well I am sorry but so what if someone happens to find a post offensive thats their business, isn't the whole point of having your opinion known is that its YOUR opinion.
That seems a bit of an odd objection to me: if you look at the rules in reverse, how would people feel if we said it was ok to make comments that were any of the things listed - it's ok to be racist, defamatory or obscene, for example?

Of course, somebody always complains about a restriction of their freedom of speech whenever you have rules that prevent them writing whatever they want. I believe strongly in freedom of speech and would not seek to prevent you saying whatever you want ... but that doesn't mean that I think you should be allowed to do that on our website. We provide our website for the information and enjoyment of our readers, but it is our website and I think it is reasonable for us to set the rules.