On comments: part II

// 23 December 2010

two blue speech bubbles on a scratched metallic backgroundPreviously, I described some of the challenges we face moderating comments on the blog, and highlighted the fact that we feel we are spending too much time and energy on the process, resulting in reduced blog content.

We have discussed a variety of options for making the task easier, but before I tell you what we’ve settled on, I think it would be worth pointing out why we don’t want to turn off comments altogether.

While my first post painted quite a bleak picture of comments on the blog, the majority of comments received are a very welcome addition to the posts we write. Blog posts are never going to cover every aspect of a topic and it’s great to receive perspectives and insights from other people. We certainly don’t see ourselves as the number one authorities on feminism, or hold our personal views to be superior to others’, so opening up comments on our posts continues The F-Word’s commitment to providing a platform for a multiplicity of feminist voices.

Furthermore, with so many places and people both offline and online that are hostile to feminism, we feel it is important to have a space where feminists can, albeit virtually, meet one another and discuss feminist issues without constantly being berated or forced onto the defensive.

Finally, we’ve seen some wonderful comment threads where readers have offered each other support and advice, shared ideas and experiences, and proved that having a more interactive element to the site really is a positive thing.

We don’t want to shut all this down by turning off comments altogether, but we do need to ensure that the comment moderation process is manageable and does not compromise our ability to contribute to the blog.

So the first step we’ll be taking is to bring in comment registration. This is the only way we can effectively ban trolls and abusive commenters from leaving comments and so save ourselves the hassle and emotional stress of dealing with them. In future you will therefore need to register with a name and valid email address before you can post comments. You will only need to register once, and once you have logged in you will be able to stay logged in, so minimal effort is required on your part. Alternatively, you will be able to log in via a third party, such as Twitter, Facebook or OpenID. We will still moderate comments, as we agreed with the majority of readers who said that allowing some regular commenters to comment freely with others having to face the moderation queue would be unfair.

We appreciate that you may not always wish to comment using your regular ID. For example, you may wish to discuss a sensitive personal experience or something associated with your job that you don’t want traced back to you. To do this, you can simply register with a different email address or, if you have one, log in with a different ID via a third party.

We will also be introducing a limit on comment length, so we have less to moderate and threads don’t get dominated by one commenter. If you find yourself writing an essay, please do submit it as a guest post or feature.

Most importantly, we have agreed to spend less time worrying about and justifying our moderation decisions. We will err on the side of caution when deciding whether to publish, and take our own capacity for dealing with any potential resultant comment thread flare-ups into account in our decisions. We want to publish as many comments as possible, but if we do not have the time or energy to grapple with borderline comments and personal remarks or keep a watchful eye on our comments threads, we will leave comments unpublished. This may not seem completely fair, but trying to achieve the impossible task of being completely fair to everyone is what has lead us to the situation I described in my first post, and it’s time we started being fair to ourselves.

In addition, we have agreed that any blogger can turn comments off on any of their posts without having to justify that decision. If it’s a toss up between no post or no comments, we choose the latter. Similarly, comments threads can be drawn to a close as and when the blogger sees fit. Both these options have been used in the past, but we want to make it clear that they are acceptable decisions, supported by everyone on the collective.

This new approach is effective as of today. I’ve opened comments up on this post in case you have any questions on the above or my previous post, and would like to thank you in advance for your understanding.

Image by Duncan, shared under a Creative Commons licence.

Comments From You

Saranga // Posted 23 December 2010 at 8:59 pm

It all sounds fair enough to me.

Happy Yule to all at the F Word! Thanks for running the site and giving us this feminist space :)

angercanbepower // Posted 24 December 2010 at 9:09 am

This seems like a shame. I appreciate moderation is voluntary and time-consuming, but the best thing about thefword is the comments. The fact that, unlike blogspot, wordpress etc, the comments appear by default and in the same size text as the body of the post always made me think you give what we think as much as weight as what you do. But the gist of this post seems to be that publishing our thoughts is just not worth the hassle.

Suzie Bee // Posted 24 December 2010 at 9:11 pm

I’m glad you’re taking such a thoughtful attitude towards comments and not shutting them down altogether. Please do try to allow as many as you can and as quickly as you can, because I really appreciate this section of the site.

Hannah // Posted 27 December 2010 at 6:01 pm

I disagree with angercanbepower – Laura makes it very clear in the above post how important a part of the site she thinks comments are. I’m not sure everyone criticising the decision understands how big a task – or as fworders have said before, an emotional strain – moderating comments can be. I’d rather they were kept as open as possible, but having to register is a small inconvenience compared to not being able to comment at all. Thanks for these posts, it’s reassuring to know how much thought you’ve put into the decision, which was probably the right one.

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