Online commenting. What a long, traveled road we have paved here at the Collegiate Times as we evolve, develop and examine our commenting process. With so many different hands at the table, all wanting to look out for their best interests, and with so many online readers all wanting their opinions to be heard, it’s easy to get lost in all of the changes that have been made over the past couple months.
After some controversy, we at the CT decided to draft a memorandum of explanation to serve as the most current and definitive statement of our policy about online comments. It serves as a defense of why we believe in the system we have implemented and why it is the best thing for our readership. This document, which can be found here, was submitted to the Commission on Student Affairs on Tuesday, March 30.
Created by current and future management staff members here at the CT, we really wanted to be as transparent as possible about the changes we’ve made, the reasons why we believe in the system and how the system serves the community in the best way possible.
The oldest comment recorded on our current content management system is August 2007, and the system is almost unrecognizable to what we have now. There were no threaded comments or Facebook Connect, and there was very little transparency of our methods for moderating, which was a huge detriment to our readers. With last fall’s Web site redesign, the CT took the opportunity to reshape the commenting system to encourage community discussion and moderation.
And thanks to Jamie Chung, our amazing online director, we began to develop more useful features to help our readers communicate with one another across the Web site.
One of the biggest problems the CT staff grappled with was whether or not a registration system should be implemented. For many reasons carefully outlined in the memorandum of explanation, we decided a registration system would fault the very voices that needed to be heard the most.
For example, if there happened to be a gay student who would like to point out a homophobic environment at Tech, why would he want to attach his name to his comments? In order to keep his identity protected, we only ask users to provide a display name and a comment. But we are constantly working to improve the usability of Web site, and our comment system is no exception.
One such feature is Facebook Connect, which was implemented just a few weeks ago. Although we stand behind the benefits of anonymous commenting, we wanted an optional login system that is essentially universal and open to readers around the globe. Users can log into our commenting system with their profile, which allows a form of verified identity. But we still encourage our readers to attach a face to their words.
If our SGA president Brandon Carroll, a frequent user of our commenting system, would like to respond to something published on the site, he can now log in with his Facebook account, verify his identity, and be merry with his commenting.
Having an optional verification system allows users to attach their names to their opinions while still allowing those who need anonymity to speak out.
But with anonymous commenting comes the potential for subjectivity in commenting moderation. If you don’t already know, one of my roles as public editor is to moderate the online forums. I am the hand that goes behind the scenes through our Web site and searches for nasty comments that go against our posted guidelines, are libelous or advocate an illegal act. When I find one, I use our Candidates for Deletion (the latest version may be found in the commenting field) to decide whether that comment should be buried. If a comment is buried, it hidden from plain view on the story — or removed completely from view.
The differences between these two concepts need clarification. A comment is buried when it may be degrading and thought of as spam, but isn’t necessarily harmful or adds to a discussion. We don’t remove these comments because they still create a context in a string of comments, but it is at the reader’s discretion to unbury it.