Controversial comment sparked newsroom debate

Post-moderation of user comments is now the accepted safest practice for journalists. Pre-moderation opens us up to the risk of letting through an offensive or libelous comment in error, effectively endorsing it through our approval process.

But there’s still confusion and differing opinions about how we should treat comments we don’t like once they go live.

This week a story about a Congolese woman facing deportation sparked an interesting debate in the Sunderland Echo newsroom.

>> Battle for mum and son to stay in Britain

A comment suggesting the subject of the article should ‘go back to the Congo’ as she was a ‘parasite’ was posted by a user. It was an uncomfortable read with worrying racial undertones.

But how do you handle such a comment? Removing it ourselves would set a precedent of moderation which would be difficult to maintain in terms of resource. More importantly, perhaps, it would show that we were hands-on with moderation thereby raising the notion to readers that comments we don’t remove are implicitly approved.

On the other hand, the comment does not sit with the inclusive values of our newspaper and journalists, and would almost certainly cause offence to the subject of the article or some readers.

In the end we opted to leave the comment and trust our readers to contextualise it with responses of their own.

Even by the time our debate had ended the decision had become a moot point – one poster had taken the original commentator to task and another had reported the comment as unsuitable, thereby hiding it from view.

But what would you have done?


  1. I’d have removed it.
    We don’t actively moderate, but that doesn’t mean we have to pretend we don’t glance through the website now and then just to see what’s going on.
    We make it clear that if something distasteful catches our eye – whether or not it has been reported – we’ll remove it and ban the user if necessary.
    I think leaving a ‘go back home’ comment on-site would easily make some of your readers think you’re happy with it, and it would damage your site’s reputation. At the end of the day, as much as you say in the T&Cs that you don’t moderate, most readers will still think that you “allowed” the comment to be made.

    Murray Kelso
    Digital Editor,

  2. I would have removed it as well. Post-moderation doesn’t have to mean no moderation at all. If it is clear that you generally do not moderate and your T&Cs state that you trust your audience and community to treat subjects with respect and within the law (e.g. not contravening the 1976 Race Relations Act) then I would have no problem stepping in if something came to my attention. It doesn’t mean, as your T&Cs state, that you are able to do it all the time.

    However, good that you have the ‘mark as unsuitable’ function. I think most readers these days know that you can’t moderate everything. And it’s a good thing to place trust into the hands of the audience. 99.9% of the time it’s a good thing to do.

  3. I’d’ve removed it too.

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