Posts Tagged ‘pre-moderation’

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?

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I can’t let today pass without celebrating a major – and it has to be said long overdue – step forward for the Sunderland Echo.

From this momentous Monday all comments on our website will be post-moderated, allowing registered users to log on and say whatever they like without their thoughts being queued (sometimes for days) awaiting approval.

Such a baby step towards engaging with our users will still seem like a dramatic leap of faith to some. Afterall, it won’t be long before the first defamatory and/or offensive comment appears attached to a story (and I should know after some of the corkers I had to reject on the Michael Jackson tribute page).

In fact, in legal terms we are safer than ever now we don’t effectively endorse every single comment. From this day forth we are no longer saying ‘this rant is ok’, even though it might have been approved by accident or through bleary eyes in the moments before an onerous deadline.

Our legal experts have confirmed what we already knew – we should let folk say what they like, and make sure other users can report comments for review by moderators, instantly hiding them from view.

The boost for interaction will be significant, with the possibility of real-time debates growing in a space away from our extremely counter-intuitive forum.

Like I say, it’s a small step. But it’s an important one for a media organisation still getting to grips with the fact we  must enter a conversation with our audience, or risking losing it altogether.