MinnPost has just reached another milestone.
Last week, we surpassed the 75,000 mark in comments submitted by MinnPost readers since our beginning in November 2007.
Over that time, we’ve been credited with developing and maintaining one of the most civil environments in the nation for online commenters at a news site.
It hasn’t always been easy.
In fact, we’re unveiling one policy change now that we hope will make the comment site even better in terms of promoting civility (details below).
In large part, our success in the contentious field of online commenting has depended on a two-step process.
First, we put together a clear, concise policy that outlines our rules and requires commenters to use their real names.
Second, we use a dedicated group of volunteer moderators and MinnPost editors who review comments throughout the day (and much of the night) before they’re posted.
For more than a year, I’ve been coordinating those efforts, among my other duties, and I want to thank our comment moderators for all the work they do to maintain the quality of our forum.
A year-end report
At year’s end, I wanted to report to you on how we’re doing and review again some of the basics that will continue to make our comment section a place for a spirited but respectful exchange of ideas, political views and social philosophies.
To that end, we want the comment section to engage, not outrage, those who visit it regularly.
That, of course, does not always happen.
Of those 75,000-plus submitted comments, just more than 4,200 have been rejected. Roughly, that’s about 5 percent of them.
Among the frequent reasons for rejection is the use of incomplete or false names. Also common are spam comments touting commercial products or those unrelated to the subject at hand.
The biggest reason, though, for rejecting comments is the violation of our policy promoting civility, which basically boils down to: no personal attacks, no foul language, no libelous statements and no wording that “incites” hate or sexual harassment.
Too often, commenters appear more interested in “winning an argument” than in contributing to a meaningful, respectful conversation.
And things appear to be getting worse on that score, just as rhetoric everywhere has heated up over the nation’s divisive political and economic situations.
We’ve seen it reflected in submitted comments containing more personal attacks, more name-calling, more snark and more outright insults.
All signs point to an even more contentious 2012 nationally and locally — with controversial issues and events ahead: a presidential election year, continued congressional battles, a new session of the Legislature, political in-fighting at all levels, and competing campaigns for and against a proposed Minnesota constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.
All, of course, are worthy subjects for MinnPost news coverage — and the subsequent discussions they may invoke.
And we encourage more readers to take part in the discussion — respectfully.
A policy change
In recent weeks, we’ve been rejecting more comments in cases where folks are not being respectful, and we’re prepared to reject even more if necessary. Several months ago, we banned the use of several derogatory terms some used to refer to the Tea Party.
Now, we’re going to try one other policy change to see if it helps a bit:
From here on, we are banning the use of “nicknames” and “invented” names in comments.
In our experience, they are almost always used to dismiss, denigrate or taunt others. So, we’re saying farewell to the likes of “Bri,” “Swiftee,” “Ronnie Raygun,” “ALGORE” and others that regularly show up.
• MinnPost welcomes user comments on our stories and posts. MinnPost’s mission is to engage the public in news analysis of issues in their community and to encourage interaction with our editors, writers and other posters.
• We intend for this area to be used by our readers as a place for civil, thought-provoking and high-quality public discussion.
• In order to achieve this, MinnPost requires that all commenters register and post comments with their actual names.
• MinnPost reserves the right to remove postings that include the use of foul language, personal attacks or the use of language that may be libelous or interpreted as inciting hate or sexual harassment; however we are under no obligation to do so.
• User comments may be included or excluded at our discretion.
Enforcing this policy, we hope, will produce a lively, but civil, informative discussion that’s welcoming to a wide variety of views.
We all can benefit from such a forum.