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Comments about comments

Kirk Caraway
Internet Editor

One of the most popular features of the Nevada Appeal website is the reader comments section attached to every story.

It’s also a topic that brings up a lot of questions from readers.

So, let me see if I can tackle most of them right here in this impromptu FAQ.

Q. Why do comments have to be approved before they show up on the site?

A. We tried an experiment last fall with unmoderated comments, and ran into problems. Even with some very restrictive word filters to strip out the profanity, the comments spiraled out of control with vicious, racist attacks. We had a lot of complaints about these comments, but the final straw was when we saw traffic to these pages drop. That was a clear indication that the readers had had enough.

However, there will be a new comment system coming online this summer that will have the tools to control bad behavior and still allow live posting. Our sister newspaper in Grass Valley is trying this out right now. You can see it here: http://theunion.com

Q. Who approves the comments, and how often do they get approved?

A. Comment approval is done by the Internet Editor and a few other people on our newsroom staff. The duty rotates depending on who is available at the time. We tend to go through and approve batches of comments at a time, starting around 7 a.m. We try to do another batch at mid-morning, another right before lunch, a couple more in the afternoon, and once in the evening.

Q. Why do you allow anonymous comments?

A. There are a couple of reasons for this, one technical, and the other philosophical. Technically, that’s the way the system works currently. The new system will attach user names to each comment. Even so, there is no real way to verify identities online. People can make up names, email addresses, etc. But, once comments have user names attached, at least it will allow us to corral some of the trolls who make repeated personal attacks and generally try and disrupt any fruitful discussions.

Philosophically, we think people should have a right to comment anonymously. This country has a great tradition of anonymous commentary, perhaps the most famous of which was the Federalist Papers. Everyone should have a voice, even if it’s hidden behind a mask. Due to legal restrictions, we almost never allow anonymous letters to the editor in the printed newspaper. But laws governing websites are less restrictive. As a result, far more people have a voice in what is happening in their newspaper and their community.

Q. Hey, my comment never showed up. What happened?

A. This one has a few different answers. One, the comment may not have been approved yet. Two, the comment may have been deleted due to its content. Three, it may be attached to another story, as sometimes there may be multiple versions online, especially when it comes to breaking news items.

And four, it may have been deleted accidentally. Unfortunately, we have discovered that when we go through and try to approve comments too fast, sometimes the wrong button gets pushed. This happens at least a couple of times a week. It’s worse during certain parts of the day when the network traffic in our office slows down the Internet connection, and the page is rendered slowly, causing the position of the buttons to move. This is another problem that will change with the launch of the new system.

Q. I see a comment that I think is inappropriate. What do I do?

A. Please send a link to the post to webeditor@nevadaappeal.com. Please copy the URL from your browser and send it in the email, to make it easier for us to find the comment in question and delete it.

Q. What standards do you use to determine which comments to approve and delete?

A. Anything with profanity will get deleted. So will those which engage in name calling or nasty personal attacks. Someone posting the same or similar comment over and over will have the duplicates deleted. If a discussion gets out of hand and turns into a flame war, we will start deleting comments, and sometimes kill the entire thread.

Then there are the “sockpuppets,” people who try and act as if they are multiple people on the same thread. In the administrative interface, we can see the IP addresses of each comment, so we can see if the comments come from the same person. Posting anonymously is one thing, but pretending to be an anonymous army is not allowed.

In general, we seek to keep the discussions civil. People do want to react emotionally to news stories, and we give pretty wide latitude for that. But when the venting becomes mean spirited, we try to calm it down.

If you have any more questions about comments, please leave a comment. Thanks.