When we did away with comments a little over a year ago, many of us breathed a sigh of relief. The time, effort and heartache it took to try moderate comments outweighed the benefit to us as an organisation and you as the reader.
But, we did say we’d keep looking for a solution and if we found one worth looking at, we’d give it a try. We think we’ve found one, called “Civil comments” that we’re trialing for the next 30 days.
So how is it different this time:
1) Before posting a comment to the site, a reader is asked to rate 3 other comments for civility and usefulness. Readers then have to rate their own comment before it goes into the system, the theory being that readers might amend their uncivil comments before posting.
2) If the community rates the comment down, the comment appears to be posted for that reader but no-one else sees it. That reader also quickly becomes identified as a troublesome mofo and can be dealt with by limiting the number of posts they can make in the following days and/or eventually blacklisting them.
3) If the community lets dodgy posts through, there is a machine learning algorithm checking posts regardless. Posts and commentators flagged as out-of-order are marked for further attention.
The community is the first multi-pronged line of defence, rather than one poor soul who has to stare into the abyss of online comments. And rather than censoring people, the system is designed to encourage debate by attempting to nudge comments in the direction of civil debate. We want a variety of views and not an echo chamber of voices rooted on any one side of the fence.
Of course, no system is foolproof and the first few days might be a wild west of nutjobs venting, given the current climate. But we’ll be watching and hoping that with a little help from our friends, something special can happen.