For the Record

Dean Wright on Ethics, Innovation and Values

Toward a more thoughtful conversation on stories

September 27, 2010

Visitors to this space may recall that I wrote this summer about the issues Reuters and other news organizations face in dealing with reader comments on stories.

I’ve become increasingly concerned about the quality of discourse in comments on news stories on Reuters.com and on other major news sites.  On some stories,  the “conversation”  has been little more than  partisans slinging invective at each other under  the cloak of anonymity.

I believe our time-challenged, professional readers want to see a more rewarding conversation—and my colleagues who lead Reuters.com are introducing a new process for comments that I believe will help bring that about.

The new process, which gives special status to readers whose comments have passed muster in the past, won’t address the anonymity issue, but I do think it is an important step toward a more civil and thoughtful conversation.

Let me introduce Richard Baum, Reuters Global Editor for Consumer Media, to tell you about the new process:

——————————————————————————————

Like many major news publishers, we’ve agonized over how to balance our enthusiasm for reader comments on stories with our belief that few people would benefit from a free-for-all. Most of our readers respect our request for comments that “advance the story,” by submitting relevant anecdotes, links and data or by challenging our reporting when they think we’ve fallen short of our editorial standards. It’s rewarding, sometimes even exhilarating, to see the way our audience builds on our coverage.

Where we struggle is with comments that we believe contribute nothing useful to the conversation. I’m not talking about obscenities and spam — we have software that aims to block the publication of those — but something more subjective. Most of our readers are business professionals who value their time highly. We believe they want comments that are as rewarding to read as they are to write. The challenge is how we deliver that experience in a way that doesn’t delay the publication of good comments nor use up resources that might be better deployed on other parts of the site.

I’ll explain how we’re tackling that shortly. But first, here are some examples of the type of comments that fall foul of our moderators:
– racism and other hate language that isn’t caught by our software filters
– obscene words with letters substituted to get around the software filters
– semi-literate spelling; we’re not looking for perfection, but people shouldn’t have to struggle to determine the meaning
– uncivil behavior towards other commentators; debate is welcome, schoolyard taunts are not
– incitement to violence
– comments that have nothing to do with the story
– comments that have been pasted across multiple stories
– comments that are unusually long, unless they’re very well written
– excessive use of capital letters

Some of the guidelines for our moderators are hard to define precisely. Mocking of public people can be fair sport, for example, but a moderator that has just approved 30 comments calling someone an idiot can rightly decide that there’s little incremental value in publishing the 31st. When we block comments of this nature, it’s because of issues of repetition, taste or legal risk, not political bias.

Until recently, our moderation process involved editors going through a basket of all incoming comments, publishing the ones that met our standards and blocking the others. (It’s a binary decision: we don’t have the resources to edit comments.)

This was unsatisfactory because it delayed the publication of good comments, especially overnight and at weekends when our staffing is lighter.

Our new process grants a kind of VIP status on people who have had comments approved previously. When you register to comment on Reuters.com, our moderation software tags you as a new user. Your comments go through the same moderation process as before, but every time we approve a comment, you score a point.

Once you’ve reached a certain number of points, you become a recognized user. Congratulations: your comments will be published instantly from now on. Our editors will still review your comments after they’ve been published and will remove them if they don’t meet our standards. When that happens, you’ll lose points. Lose enough points and you’ll revert to new user status.

The highest scoring commentators will be classified as expert users, earning additional privileges that we’ll implement in future. You can see approval statistics for each reader on public profile pages like this, accessed by clicking on the name next to a comment.

It’s not a perfect system, but we believe it’s a foundation for facilitating a civil and rewarding discussion that’s open to the widest range of people. Let me know what you think.

Comments

I wrote some time ago a column on Free Speech,
http://socyberty.com/issues/yes-i-said-t hat-free-speech-use-it-own-it/
I still don’t believe in anonymity; here in America we’re not afraid, or shouldn’t be, to put our name and reputation on what we write, IF we believe it. There may be circumstances where anonymity is needed-whistleblowers, revealers of wrongdoing by corporate and public officials-but in the area of public discourse and opinion, there is no room for the cowardice of anonymity.

Posted by Mediaman | Report as abusive
 

there should be some relaxation in posting comments but should not be as free as others do.

Posted by ChAliGhafoor | Report as abusive
 

How long does the preocess take? Is there a way of monitoring the status of your comments in queue? Or how about a method to ask about certain comments that were removed without explanation…

I posted a resonably nice comment several hours ago and saw nothing posted. So i just posted another comment to the same article just a few minutes ago. We’ll see what happens.

Following guidelenes, expecting response.

Posted by thisjustin125 | Report as abusive
 

Ah, the simplicity of establishing positive guidelines. I appreciate that these conversation blocks are moderated for constructive communication and against destructive attempts to despoil the function of our deliberations.

Censorship? If by censorship you mean you want to spread vile hatred, animosity, confusion and insanity abroad, then you are simply not welcome in a constructive environment, random abusive commentator. Therefore, for the purpose of this website, you should go elsewhere to berate, abuse and defame people. This paragraph is for the readers, not the author.

Posted by Xeraphim | Report as abusive
 

I have no problem with your explanation of what criteria you use for your moderation. Given the mentality of so many in our vastly declining educational system, it had to be explaned.

Your explanations, at one time, used to be a given in social discourse, & didn’t need to be expounded upon. Anyone who read comment pages in any newspaper knew that. Unfortunately, today it has to be spelled out explictly.

In actuality, this problem is far worse than name calling, baiting, bullying, etc. that the internet has opened up to all. Without standards, the jungle rules.

thank You!

Posted by VickyBevis | Report as abusive
 

Sounds reasonable enough on the surface. I would like to see some sort of feedback system. (for example … your comment was deemed unworthy due to item “x” of our list of potential infringements…) I would also like to see the list or definition of comments that qualify as racism or hate language. I for one would not want to accidentally come accross as a racist or a hate monger.

Posted by uncommensense | Report as abusive
 

It’s your ball, so you make the rules.

I do think there should be some automated notice to the poster when a comment is disapproved or pulled before the nuclear action of blocking all of their comments. I did a post on one article on Nov. 18th early in the morning. Three other posts of others were added that originated after mine.

Then no more posts were added for three days! Needless to say by the time my comment appeared the article was no longer timely, and most who commented over that four day period did so “in the blind”…unaware of what their peers were saying. Such dilution, while not common, can be abused!

Some of your Blog “post” windows give instant response when a post is submitted. Today I found one that is strangely unresponsive.

The poster doesn’t know if the comment was “accepted for review”, lost in the electrons of the net…or what. Usually I can tell is a comment is “on hold” by checking my profile, but not this time. Such makes double-posts much more likely with no hostile intent!

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive
 

It seems like “meeting your standards” equates to agreeing with your position. I have posted several comments over the past months, none of them abusive, profane, or belittling to anyone. However, most, admittedly, indicated a position other than liberal Reuters or the liberal media as a whole.

Your censors blocked virtually all of them. As I said, none were offensive . None of them belittled another posted. None contained profanity, and all were directly on the subject of the post. I can see no reason beyone your disagreement with the political stand for blocking them. So much for freedom of speech.

Posted by Ashau | Report as abusive
 

What about when we quote a historical figure who uses obscenity such as Richard M Nixon on Donald Rumsfeld:
“at least Rummy is tough enough. He’s a ruthless little bastard. You can be sure of that.”? Likewise for direct Mark Twain literary quotes, are we supposed to make them PC?

Posted by jbgfour | Report as abusive
 

Posts are important for every online business, a blessing of web 2.0. I have been using a lot of online forums, youtube, b&w, fp, toi,and many others. Except with some newspapers, the policy of Reuters is comparatively very strict. Hard to find a reason. Believe readers here don’t matter.

Posted by abhi1498 | Report as abusive
 

“It seems like “meeting your standards” equates to agreeing with your position. I have posted several comments over the past months, none of them abusive, profane, or belittling to anyone. However, most, admittedly, indicated a position other than liberal Reuters or the liberal media as a whole.”

This is quite correct. Reuters is only interested in posting comments that agree with their position. I have had numerous comments removed and my account banned while strictly following the posting guidelines. It is a weak attempt to try and shape public opinion and most people can see it very clearly.

Posted by JackinFL | Report as abusive
 

If “Wisdom is known by her children,” then comments from your readers will reflect the values of your readers. I agree, to help serious readers avoid useless comments, some filtering is required.

Posted by Mooron | Report as abusive
 

If this forum is edited, why do double and even triple posts get through? Also, even though I’m from the opposite end of the political spectrum as Ashau, I have also seen completely unoffensive comments disappear.

Posted by RGR | Report as abusive
 

why bother to even comment ,if it doesn’t meet your criteria,your not going to print it,plain and simple take your comment section off.

Posted by theplumber | Report as abusive
 

I came. I saw. I commented. It disappeared. Don’ know where? Don’t know why?

Sanjay
http://delhi.niyukti.in

Posted by SanjayJ | Report as abusive
 

My experience is quite similar to those reported by Ashau of 10/27. I really question who and how these comments are filtered. Mine were neither rude, profane, nor verbose, but they didn’t seem to live up to the liberal ideal, so go figure?

Posted by SupStew | Report as abusive
 

To further “flesh out” my comment of 10/26, posting now on 11/8 at 11pm CST, two days ago my profile showed over 60 posts with zero “removals” and zero “abusive”. Today it shows 81 posts with 4 removed and two “abusive”.

With no way to review or identify the 4 removed or the 2 deemed by someone (Reuters or a reader?) “abusive, how am I supposed to perceive or correct my purported transgressions?

I am observing less and less currency in the review and posting of “held” comments. In the case of “As Troops Leave…”, four days from 11/4; the same for “The Physics of an Economic Crisis”.

There was three day period from 11/4 to 11/7 for “Rick Perry & AL Gore…”. For “Analysis: Economy’s Shifts” I am still waiting to see a thoughtful response to “Whassup” posted 11/4 appear. Four days lag?

“Analysis: U.S. Gets a Reprieve…”, posted 11/6, still waiting to see; same thing with “Coments: Fear Grows of Gridlock”.

Without regard to the reasons behind such moderator delays, the dynamics of a healthy reciprocity of ideas is hopelessly being lost. That’s in no one’s best interest.

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive
 

I doubt anyone reads the posts, and if so, how come some terrible racist posts can go through?

If some one’s post is rejected, it should be replaced by a short word: something like:
“Anonymousxxx’s post rejected, reason: racism inciting to violence”

Posted by garilou | Report as abusive
 

censorship plain and simple

Posted by mitch52 | Report as abusive
 

I didn’t read the whole thing, however I’d imagine an organisation such as Reuters would want the following from the feedback/comments on articles;

1. No racism/personal attacks/religious vilification/etc
2. No base-less claims.

That said, I believe that if you can prove your point, from a respectable source(such as one of the main media outlets, for example Reuters and Al Jazeera), then it should remain.

3. Try your best to keep sentences readable. The beauty of the English language is that you can miss letters and have it read perfectly fine.

4. If your comment isn’t posted, don’t complain that it wasn’t accepted. I’m sure the staff at Reuters have something better to do than read comments by the general public which offer little to no extra on the topic at hand.

Posted by rob1990 | Report as abusive
 

Reuters doesn’t believe in free speech. They can publish anything they want so as to influence voter’s minds. I want to read everyone’s comments. I know that this comment will not be posted. None of my posts are posted. There is one story I commented on three days ago, and it was not posted. In fact, there were only 6 comments posted. You know, then, that these “moderators” kept a lot of people’s views from the public.

Posted by madampolo | Report as abusive
 

Allow me to translate: ‘We will simply remove any comments that we feel interferes with the propaganda message we are trying to make.’

I especially like the part where name calling and vulgarity is okay, but posting factual information across many threads (regardless of whether relevant or not) will not be allowed.

Posted by stambo2001 | Report as abusive
 

I see! I hope most understand what is meant when someone types the acronym “POTUS” which means “President of the United States”. I am used to use acronyms because most blogs only give you a certain amount of characters per session. Thanks. Your instructions are very useful.

Posted by afrommi | Report as abusive
 

I for one have been writing on CNN, BBC and many other forums under pseudo names, in the inner circle there these concerns that constantly nags our fellow contributors, if one is to say something about the jewish community or comment against Israel, they are afriad of being labelled anti-semetic and consequences. So using a pseudo name is something that is being done in the wrting industry for decades now. It’s not a sign of cowardice but sign of the times. Good job reuters you have been fair in your reporting a “shade” below BBC.

Posted by politicaljunkie | Report as abusive
 

The worst and the most vile free for all is CNN comments, Reuters is head and shoulders above all that I for one welcome it immensely. I have been a reuter “fan” where I would make my finacial decisions, in the good old days prior to the arrival of the internet, when Reuters had installed telex /fax machines in all 5 star hotels through out the world. They have remained neutral and fair in their reporting with highest standards of jounalists. Kudos Reuters!

Posted by politicaljunkie | Report as abusive
 

It’s not hard to get kicked off here. Pretty much any comment that is

Posted by Noah-Fing-Whey | Report as abusive
 

On the off chance that Reuters management is not up to its necks in directing this “managed democracy”, I’d like to give an example of the really flagrant political censorship that’s been going on with user comments lately. I know for a fact I’m not the only one this has been happening to.

If this is the work of rogue moderators pursuing personal (or other) agendas, an audit of non-published comments and some staff changes are in order.

Here’s a comment that’s well-written, thought-provoking, meets all the guidelines — and was blocked from becoming one of the thoughts in that “more thoughtful conversation”:

http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/11/1 4/us-greece-idUSTRE7AD0PT20111114

[QUOTE]

The bizarre situation here is that Lucas Papademos was governor of the Bank of Greece at the time when — it is now publicly acknowledged — Greece was fraudulently cooking its books to “qualify” for euro membership.

So the guy being hailed and trusted by the markets to clear up Greece’s finances at the moment is the one who muddied them in the first place.

In fact, he’s responsible for the entire current act of the European financial crisis, which wouldn’t have happened if unqualified Greece weren’t proving just how unqualified it is for euro membership in a big way at the moment.

Now is that good corporate governance? Promote the guy who drove the company into bankruptcy to CEO?

[END QUOTE]

Posted by Jenn_L | Report as abusive
 

So much for freedom of the press. You are free to say whatever you want as long as it offends no one.

Posted by britjunkie | Report as abusive
 

Sorry gentlemen..The time delay between making a comment and seeing it posted is unacceptable.Not much point in making a comment!! Why not have spellcheck,many people are lost without it and won’t make a comment.Seems many high IQ people are poor spellers.

Posted by HONEYBIRD | Report as abusive
 

I have read your reasons and am willing to abide by your rules,you are correct there is no room for school yard shenanigans . We cannot learn anything by acting like spoiled children ,I hope i can make reuters a better site with my contributions.

Posted by gp72908 | Report as abusive
 

Good grief, what Reuters’s is saying is that too many people are just ripping on the people posting comments and totally ignoring what the article is about. Posting a comment that does not focus on the main topic is going to get rejected, that is not censorship. I agree with them that people with knowledge pertaining to the article are getting shouted down, made fun of, bullied and their comments diluted between all those weird, mean and pointless political posts. What’s wrong with what Write said??

Posted by DavidinWY | Report as abusive
 

Overly time consuming as screened comments are so late to be posted when approved, the comment is dead of old age. I have no problem with the system, just think you have an obligation to review in a timely manner.

Posted by AZWarrior | Report as abusive
 

I know I have already commented here, but this problem is also about so called “Astroturf Blogging”. I wonder just how many of these comments are from persons that are paid to make comments that are inflammatory and contain false statements, “There really are lizard-aliens in the Obama administration”. It has been widely reported. It is a fact that has is widely accepted”. Now, believe everything you read in the paper, hear on the radio or watch on TV if you want, but how much of the problem is because some clearance house of lies and liars are paying others to start rumors so that it spreads until some journalist gets ordered to run that story as “fact” will be next weeks headlines, but I for one like to write my opinions because I have so many good ones! I also want to thank the guy who moderated my last post, I was wondering if I was using the correct spelling of the word “Too”, guess I was wrong! But seriously people, use that spell-check!

Posted by DavidinWY | Report as abusive
 

Censorship of free speech by (of all institutions!!!) the press? Tell me it’s not true!! I happen to be one of the (now apparently) dumb schmucks that supports a person’s right to make political/social comment on any issue within a free society, yes even the racist, religious zealot or indeed any of the other agenda driven activists (be they nutcase or not) that make up our wonderful democracies. I’m a grown up…allow me to act as my our censor.

“I may not agree with what you say, but I will fight to the death for your right to say it” -Voltaire.

Posted by Alonegunman | Report as abusive
 

I’ve just posted (attempted)two comments, using rather thoughtful sarcasm to make my point of perceived hypocracies of the protesters. No foul language, no ripping on any poster and, I believe I am well in line with the state rules/guidelines of Reuters.

Quite simply, why are pithy comments not published. Should anyone of authority have an answer, I’m all ears, err, I mean, eyes.

Thanks in advance.

Posted by cdog11 | Report as abusive
 

While I understand the reasoning behind this policy, I do find it a bit troubling. To me, it looks like what you’re basically doing is imposing a set of editorial guidelines on your readers as if they were your reporters.

Here’s the problem: If your commenting filter goes beyond the blocking of spam, unrelated content, and unlawful activity, you have officially ventured into the realm of censorship.

For example, what if the next commenter is really offended by my remarks and, buried within a set of criticisms, calls me an idiot or some other personal pejorative? Under the guidelines you mentioned, that post would be subject to being blocked, regardless of how valid his points may have been. That, in turn, has a chilling effect on other commenters, ultimately resulting in less open dialogue on an issue.

As far as repetition goes; again, we’re not your writing staff. We’re end-users responding to your content. If 31 people post the same comment, why exactly do you feel it’s your place to place an arbitrary limit on that? Repetition in comments by diverse users can be a valuable (albeit unscientific) metric for guaging public reaction to a story. If you’re artificially capping that at an arbitrary number, that benefit is completely erased.

I like the points system, but I believe you need to cut some of the fat out of those guidelines, as some of them are simply not reasonable and antithetical to the open exchange of ideas. Simply ask yourself: If offensive speech is undesirable, then who gets to decide what speech is offensive and what speech is not?

What alarms me most about this, however, is that you’re a news organization. You of all people should already know this. I, for one, will probably avoid commenting on Reuters articles– even though I just signed-up– because of this policy. I would strongly suggest you come up with a less bulky set of guidelines before Reuters.com gains a reputation for censorship of its readers.

Posted by KrisCraig | Report as abusive
 

I very much appreciated “Toward a more thoughtful conversation on stories.” I’m concerned as well that we encourage helpful and thoughtful dialog. Iron sharpens iron as one person sharpens another.

In addition, I have grown most by those who have challenged my position with thoughtful and well-reasoned conversation. I hope to participate in the conversation in such a way as to build a good reputation and encourage readers of your articles. Thanks again.

Posted by dcalves1 | Report as abusive
 

Oh for goodness’ sake. What tantrums people throw when asked to behave politely.

Reuters has no obligation to allow abusive language or hate speech. They’re not the government; they’re not required to put up with verbal attacks disguised as “free speech”. They can make any rules for their website that they want, and anyone who doesn’t like it is free to go elsewhere.

Posted by ExiledStar | Report as abusive
 

I think you should be very careful to insure your reviewers don’t have a liberal bias and, therefore, exercise censorship rather than “filtering”. The problem I have with your policy is most news organizations are run by liberals who are not sympathetic to conservative sentiments and, therefore, squash them in the name of “elevating the discourse”.

Posted by Jimboni | Report as abusive
 

No wonder Reuters commentators are so different from other websites’. Only a few people who benefit from the propaganda are allowed to comment. Good for you…finally learning from China and allowing other independant news organizations to rise. It’s funny how near the end the people at the top make it easier for the up and coming to succeed.

Posted by Sumedha | Report as abusive
 

Do you have to be a reporter to post with you guys; .. a post is a post- It isn’t Classified. I am surprised at you guys. One sided conversation helps no one.. So, I wonder; if posting on your sight goes through rigorous editing- how do you claim to be objective? Reuters is a News gatherer and supplier.. Propaganda is not one that comes to mind when I research, but limiting scope of imagination and response from audience response is shallow..almost arrogant. Don’t be such a snob- It’s pretty rare that I ever witness Tom-Foolery inside responses..maybe anger, but most of the time, foolish folks get tired or have diapers to change.. I respect Reuters; you guys are noted quite a bit as responsible sources, but I have to question your options of posting.. After all, It is your research, but fear of the question integrity or quality of resource might improve reliability.. I don’t take any journalist news to my information bank- especially now!

Posted by OlleoBuggii7 | Report as abusive
 

Looks to me like this is so heavily censored that nothing of any merit ever gets though. Boring! And un- American.

Posted by impact09 | Report as abusive
 

It looks like your “Standards” are similar to the Chinese Communists, it’s no wonder there are so few posts on your stories.

Posted by impact09 | Report as abusive
 

I find it ironic that my comment about free speech is being reviewed for approval.

Posted by Thisisjustwrong | Report as abusive
 

Please spare me with your propaganda….I posted a comment in retort to one of your anti-Ron Paul stories, yet you would not post it, I’m certain because I mentioned that the U.S. has no need to support Israel. You conveniently did not post it and then when I sent a comment about not posting it, you wouldn’t even post that one! So, you’re not fooling the more intelligent members of our country…classic corporate controlled media.I will be surprised if this comment is posted….

Posted by sickofzion | Report as abusive
 

Let’s suppose somebody’s IQ is too low to be able to meet your conditions. Such a person doesn’t have the right to enjoy the freedom of speech? Is the freedom of speech reserved for the elite?

Posted by srelu | Report as abusive
 

Does anyone know how I can track which comments I have been rejected on and the one’s that are reported as abusive. Because I would like to apologize to the people I have offended in the spirit of peace.
Thanks.

Posted by politicaljunkie | Report as abusive
 

I don’t like this policy but… you have sword, do what you want

Posted by MostGoodNews | Report as abusive
 

I am trying to participate under the penname Lacordaire to the discussion of Jean-Claude Trichet’s personal paper, without success. Seeing the comments you selected, it is obvious to me that Reuters is biased in favor of the most conservative anglo-saxon anti-Europe opinions. Some are reasonably expressed but some are so naive and insulting that I am surprised they were selected. Correct me if I am wrong.

Posted by combastille | Report as abusive
 

Everyone’s opinion is valid and it should be treated as such.

Nice and simple.

Posted by PhilosoMonkey | Report as abusive
 

Post Your Comment

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
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