I was reading Matt Ingram the other day and he had a posting; Are comments valuable or a waste of time? Yes. It got me thinking especially as Matt has become the Community Director for the Globe and Mail.(I sent him my condolences:) But I digress.
One of the latest memes to arrive in cyberspace is Transparency. You know, bare the soul, perform disclosures, admit conflicts of interest, fess up that somebody is paying you to say nice things, basically run around the internet naked.
Electronic Veritas! Truth in Pixels!
Transparency is a lot like sausage. You like the result, but you prefer not to look to closely at how it gets made. As long as you understand that Facts and Truth are not the same thing, you will not bleed much.
Newspapers long regarded as the primary bastions of Facts and Truth, are in serious trouble. They put up a pretty good fight against radio and television, but the Internet has kicked their ass. Eyeballs have moved online. Fact checking does not take place in the newsroom alone anymore. News cycles are no longer 24 hours, but have collapsed to 24 seconds, 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. Newspapers have moved online in an attempt to remain relevant and viable. That is the good news. The bad news is that readers want to share their opinions on what they read.
Newspapers enjoyed the ability to control commentary through the Letters to the Editor. You could write an impassioned letter to the editor, but your chances of it actually appearing, were about equal to winning the Powerball Lottery.
Moving from Monologue to Dialogue is the most important step any news organization can take.
The ability to get comments on your website is probably the most powerful part of the interactive web. This is the part of the web that promotes dialogue over monologue. It lets you know that somebody actually cares, sort of. The dark side of this are comments that are outside of your comfort zone, because of language, snark, or off topic raving lunacy.
A lot of organizations have rules and policies in place for comments. Moderation is necessary for a number of reasons. The primary reason is to demonstrate that somebody is paying attention, actually listening and may engage in dialogue. Secondarily, decisions are made as to tone of discussions, from topicality to language. Thirdly, to fight spam.
Moderation and Transparency are not mutually exclusive and can actually act as an enhancement for dialogue.
Some have full moderation, which is not transparent and is no better than the Letter to the Editor game. When commentary is filtered with the bias of the folks that wrote the article in the first place, it is a lose, lose situation. You only get what they want to show you, there is no incentive to comment, and criticism is eliminated. There is no transparency here. Nor is there any learning curve as to what the deleted comment and why it was deleted.
Some require registration as a requirement to comment, which is not as onerous as some folks might believe, but still is not as transparent as it should be. While the moderation may be significantly less, the dialogue is not transparent, and most sites do not even acknowledge removed comments or provide reasons. Here again there is no feedback as to what or why.
Some allow Anonymous comments, which does increase the amount of interactivity, but also increases the probability of language, snark, or off topic raving lunacy. This however presents the best opportunity for more transparent dialogue. I personally am a great believer in transparency, and have a much higher gag threshold than most folks, and a twisted sense of humor.
Getting back to Matt. I suggested that they try
strike through. Strikethrough is one of those little known or used visual tags that allow text to appear and can present a clear signal that the comment is a policy violation or is irrelevant or to the conversation.
Publishing all comments, but using strike through on those comments that do not fit whatever policy you have in place will do a couple of important things.
One, it will demonstrate your desire for transparency, by publishing all comments.
Two, It demonstrates comments that are objectionable, using them as indicators for what will not fly.(you can also take the time to note why the comment is outside the lines. preferably, below and in italics )
Also you can use the star **** to bleep language too ‘salty’ for your readers.
Three. Strike through demonstrates your commitment to Transparency, engagement and dialogue.
A lot of folks will scan over things that get stricken, and stay with the program. You will probably get a much better comment stream, and help your shy writer’s over their issues.
As for spammers,
they should be fed their own intestines starting at the rectum and moving north slowly, very slowly should be deleted.