Online staffers to take questions about site comments
August 3, 2009
This chat has already taken place. Read the transcript below.
Online editor Jonathan Kealing and online editorial projects manager David Ryan will take questions about comments on LJWorld.com, and, if time allows, other issues on LJWorld.com.
Howdy folks. We'll get this chat thing going in 2 minutes or so.
I'm David Ryan, and Jonathan Kealing is sitting next to me. We'll be talking comments, anonymity, and anything else with regard to our online community.
It's about the news , or is it ? We used to be able to view a clear collection of stories , now it is mixed with various blogs , editorial letters , sorted by number of comments rather than most recent comments , and rather disorganized in my opinion. The recent plant articles about high volume posters seems to drive the attention seekers to post more drivel than thoughtful posts.
What are you trying to achieve here ?
David here: I think you might be talking about our Most active discussions page at http://www2.ljworld.com/popular/discussions/ ?
If so, we show all kinds of content types on that page, and the list is ordered by discussions that have more recent comments.
The reason we include all types of content -- photos, videos, user blogs, etc., -- is because that list is purely driven by what users find interesting and compelling enough to talk about.
We don't want to tell readers what they can and can't talk about.
Many papers screen online comments for libel, vulgarity, etc., before the comments are posted to readers. Why doesn't LJWorld.com take this approach?
Jonathan here, I have a couple of answers to your question. First, the volume of comments make it practically impossible to prescreen all of the comments that we get. We generally received a few thousand comments per day. Even more, though, we think the community should be involved in the discussion about whether a comment is valuable or not. We do, however, run all of our comments through a computer program that screens for specific profanity and other conditions that are not allowed.
Why is it permissible to make unsubstantiated claims (or only verified by extremely partisan sites) in the comments sections of a news site? Shouldn't there be some sort of filter to prevent partisan extremists from presenting opinions as fact on your site?
Related to Jonathan's answer above, we don't drive users' agendas in terms of what they want to post.
Not only that, it would be impossible without a huge research staff to preemptively limit claims made by users.
You can find examples of unsubstantiated claims made all over the media landscape -- on TV, in Op-Ed pieces, on radio. So our comments aren't the only place where folks are making claims that don't quite stand up to scrutiny.
We're looking into tools we can make available to users to more finely interact with other comments; we generally prefer that route -- giving users the tools to manage well the community -- over dictating how users make use of the publishing tools we provide.
My comment about OrthoKansas was "banned" by Jonathan Kealing yesterday and that act truely amazed me. After contacting him, he said it was a mistake and he would restore it. I found it frustrating -hard to be part of a conversation when your comment is banned for most of the day- and also embarassing. I would not participate in any behavior that would result in being banned. How carefully are comments censored and how often?
Jonathan here. Great question, Glo, and I'm glad to have the opportunity to explain what goes on. In my e-mail, I receive every comment that someone thinks should be removed. I review the comments and see if it does need to come down and can then take action. In your case, I'd had about seven comments to remove and accidentally clicked a link out of your e-mail to take it down. I clicked yours by mistake (though someone did suggest it be removed; I'm not sure why), but was happy to put it back up when you pointed it out. We try our hardest not to make mistakes with everything they do but they unfortunately do happen.
ljworld: The main problem I see with posting on most stories is the mindless drift from the original story. I try to post thoughtful comments but it seems like the bully's take over and the story drifts away. I have almost reached the conclusion that the JW wants it that way; keeping the blogership up. Also, with some of the crazies out there it seems to me that anonymous logging is the safest way to go.
David here. The last thing we want is for users not to feel free to comment on a particular story (or any other type of content). That said, I wouldn't let off-topic comments dissuade you from posting your thoughts. We do want to give everyone the possibility to add their thoughts.
That said, human nature being what it is, there's no way to both give access to posting one's thoughts and at the same time to make sure everyone's contributions are at the level of Plato or James Madison.
Look for some tools coming down the pike -- we'll be talking about them in a blog post soon -- that are intended to help users filter through the comments that don't quite hit the level most users would like to see.
Jonathan here. Just wanted to add that we don't forsee requiring users to become verified to comment any time in the near future. We're committed to enabling as many people as possible to comment on and discuss the news of the day.
A plaintiff in the recent lawsuit filed against the local school board over the practice fields used the forum and its anonymity to make frequent, repetitive posts which were, at the very least, highly misleading, abusive, and in violation of your terms of service.
That individual was eventually removed from the forum for his abuse, but he has been removed from the forum at least eight to ten times before and since. He violates the rules on a regular and ongoing basis.
Why do you allow these individuals to return again and again?
Would you consider a "squelch" feature to help moderate those who think the forum is all about screaming at each other?
Jonathan here taking this question. Several of you can think of users who have come and gone from our site numerous times. We ban them and then they can return because they register with a new e-mail address. We've worked to develop other tools to try and prevent repeat violators from returning, but ultimately because people's IP addresses rotate, it's practically impossible — without requiring everyone to verify with their real name — to know whether a user who's newly registered has been kicked off before.
As for a "squelch" sort of feature, we are considering giving users the ability to ignore other users. In essence, if you get tired of a certain users posts, you'd be able to ignore that user. We're still working on and considering a feature like that, but we certainly have heard your concern before and are working to do what we can to make that situation better.
There have bee a number of instances of comments that required the involvement of law enforcement. I believe one example was a commenter that claimed to have information relevant to a ongoing trial that police were unaware of and it resulted in a delay or mistrial. To what extent does the LJW bring these types of posts to the attention of authorities and what process must law enforcement follow to identify the author of such comments?
David here. Good question.
We can't recall any times when we brought a comment to the attention of authorities. There might be times when we think authorities might want to be involved, but to date, we believe, it's been the other way around, where we've been contacted about posts made on LJWorld.com.
We usually find ourselves served with a subpoena requesting information. Sometimes we've asked our attorneys to resist, and in other cases we thought our public responsibilities clearly dictated that we comply. Such requests are handled on a case by case basis.
When do you think newspapers will start to see legal action against them for the content of some of the postings they allow? It seems some posters can commit libel/slander (never can remember which is written and which is spoken) that would be actionable if they did it in another setting, the city council meeting or on the streets (or even in a letter to the editor with their name on it.) Is your legal staff thinking about this as blogs and comments get more popular?
Made_in_China, Jonathan here, thanks for asking that question. It gives me a chance to explain something that comes up often. In 1996, the U.S. Congress passed a law called the Communications Decency Act. Here's more information, from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Communications_Decency_Act Most of the law was eventually overturned as unconstitutional, but Section 230 remains good law and is the key to your question. Here's some info about Section 230: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Section_230_of_the_Communications_Decency_Act In short, though, Section 230 provides immunity from liability for Web sites that host comments, so long as they don't edit users' comments. That's part of why we merely remove or allow comments — but don't get in the business of editing user comments.
What happened to the mobile page? I generally read the LJworld on my iPhone through the address www.m.ljworld.com. However, recently it tells me the server cannot be found. Also, just because someone is viewing the mobile page doesn't mean they don't want access to pictures, video, etc. Leaving these off the mobile page often prompted me to view the normal page instead. It takes much longer to load and is more difficult to scroll / zoom, but at least I get the whole story. I like the idea of a mobile page, put it back up and include pictures and video, etc.
As for video content, that's something we've got in the pipeline. It's not that we don't want to present our video on mobile devices, just that we want to get the user experience right and hit the variety of targets we have to hit, given the differences between mobile devices.
We've got photos on the mobile site, but we're not satisfied with them currently and have plans for those in the pipeline as well.
In general, you should see our mobile sites going through some changes in the near-ish future. Expect a blog post on that as well; we're quite interested in how readers are making use of our mobile sites and what they'd like to see.
how many comments have to be removed before you get disappeardededed?
Jonathan here. The number of comments you have removed has very little to do with getting disapeardedededed — or banned, as we call it. Really, what we're looking for is a pattern of willful and/or egregious violations of our terms of service. People step over the line all the time, and we take those comments down, but in order to be banned, it has to be a specific kind of misbehavior in order to warrant such a drastic step.
The LJ search function is unreliable. It often churns out stories unrelated to the search, or comments that have a (very) weak linkage to the search terms. Why is it so bad, and what is being done to fix it?
David here. Glad to talk about search.
Go ahead and try out http://betasearch.ljworld.com/search/ -- we'd be very interested in hearing how our new search framework performs for you. We're currently gathering feedback on the new framework.
On every search results page on LJWorld.com, you'll see a link to "Try your search on our new Beta Search" which will let you perform the identical search using the new framework. That allows you to do side-by-side comparisons and report back any issues you find.
My wife has kept a journal/diary for years to vent her life concerns privately. She sees my blogs and posts on ljw.com as keeping a journal anonymously for all the world to see. Can't say I can argue with that, any thoughts?
Roe, this is Jonathan, and thanks for the question. I couldn't agree with your statement more. I don't want to speak for David, but I think he'll agree that for many of us, online comments, social networking sites like Facebook or Twitter and personal blogs have all become a sort of diary. I was never big on journaling growing up, but I've taken to much of this as a way to communicate about my day. For example, I announced on Twitter I'd recently gotten engaged just a short time after it happened. We actively encourage people to use certain parts of our site that way and I think it's one of the strengths of our online community.
David here. I agree with the journal-ish view of comments, but extend it to a view of the community over time about particular events. How interesting and cool would it be if you could read community comments -- the insightful, the inane, the nasty, the angelic -- about, say, the assassination of Abraham Lincoln?
The idea that newspapers are historical records of the life of communities is enhanced even more, to my mind, by the inclusion of the community itself -- something impossible before the rise of the internet.
I'd love it if 50 - 100 years down the road people were reading through LJWorld.com's comments to get insights into the lived lives of people, not just the view from "official" channels like governments or news reports.
Thanks everyone for all the questions you asked. Unfortunately we didn't get to all of them but we'll try to do something like this again in the future. Feel free to get in touch with me (http://www2.ljworld.com/staff/jonathan_kealing/contact/) if you have any other questions, or David (http://www2.ljworld.com/staff/david_ryan/contact) as well. Also, please check our LJWorld.com Labs blog at http://www2.ljworld.com/weblogs/ljworldcom_labs/ for all the latest announcements about changes coming to our site. Thanks for joining us.