MinnPost reaches 75,000 comments — a good time to review the rules

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.

I’ll end with a quick review of our basic guidelines outlined in our Terms of Use policy:

• 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.

Comments (28)

  1. Submitted by Bill Gleason on 12/20/2011 - 10:55 am.

    Good change.

    My comments have been rejected on occasion and without exception I have later been glad that they were.

    Keep up the good work. Best commenting system in the Twin Cities.

  2. Submitted by Gregory Lang on 12/20/2011 - 11:04 am.

    I tend to be “conservative” and MinnPost leans towards the left. That said, Minnpost has been very fair when it comes to my postings. I would say under 1% rejected. So few I can’t even remember them.

    Good job by Minnpost!

  3. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 12/20/2011 - 11:31 am.

    I tend to be middle of the road, leaning conservative and I’ve only had one comment rejected that I recall, and I think it’s because I used a Sioux word that the moderators apparently didn’t know and might have thought it was an insult. It wasn’t.

    So, thank you for your unrivaled fairness as far as comment sites go.

  4. Submitted by Neal Krasnoff on 12/20/2011 - 12:35 pm.

    “User comments may be included or excluded at our discretion.”

    Then why bother with the rest of the rules if the comments are subject to arbitrary inclusion or exclusion based upon the political bias of the moderators?

    Case in point: moderators will allow the inclusion of an obvious anti-Semitic canard and exclude a comment identifying what it is.

    I realize that conservatives and non-progs want to give echo chambers a good counterargument to the collectivists, anti-Semites and bigots. You must ask yourselves: why give the progs any more traffic than they deserve?

  5. Submitted by Cindy Noponen on 12/20/2011 - 01:22 pm.

    MinnPost’s version of “Minnesota Nice.”

    Thank you for giving me a place to read thoughtful, intelligent, respectful commentary on current events.

    There are plenty of websites, radio stations, tv shows, etc. where I can have my fill of negative, inflammatory, bigotted comments if I ever feel the need.

    Just today, I had a conversaton with 2 recent immigrants regarding the cultural differences they are experiencing. They said they are finding it most difficult to adjust to what they view as our society’s lack of respect in the way we treat each other!!!

  6. Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 12/20/2011 - 01:39 pm.

    I appreciate that MinnPost has generally done a good job of moderating. And I further appreciate that this post helps outline the rules and changes to the rules. I have had a couple of comments never show up, and I have been mostly sorry to have them disappear into the ether, particularly since I did not think them to be personal attacks while some other posters have been, in the past, allowed to make demeaning statements to both individuals and groups. I hope to see these new rules well applied. I will also try harder to be respectful.

    @#4
    I have never seen an anti-Semitic statement in the comments on MinnPost and I read a LOT of comments on MinnPost. Whether that is due to good moderating or good manners, I don’t know.

  7. Submitted by Rachel Weisman on 12/20/2011 - 01:41 pm.

    I think you go too far in accommodating the comments of far right among us. (Regular readers know to whom I am referring). Too many times comments are inflammatory and often snarky to the point of disrespectful.

  8. Submitted by Mark Stromseth on 12/20/2011 - 02:34 pm.

    Your Terms of Use regarding comments is not clear at all; it’s deliberately vague. Refusing to identify exactly what would get a comment not posted is standard fare for MinnPost. And if you are going to reject a comment based on the personal opinion of the moderator(s), you have a duty to inform the person that made the comment; i.e., you need to email them with the full comment and identify exactly what you think makes it unacceptable. You cannot expect anyone to keep a file of comments they make on this or any other site.

    Just because you don’t like something that someone says does not make it in violation of the Terms of Use; rather, it’s just an excuse you use to not post it.

    Time to grow up.

  9. Submitted by Pat Berg on 12/20/2011 - 02:43 pm.

    #5, you beat me to it! Here’s a bit more on the subject I found:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Democrat_Party_%28phrase%29

    Considering that references to the “Democrat Party” in this forum are almost always “used to dismiss, denigrate or taunt”, I think including that in prohibition in the newly amended policy would be quite appropriate.

  10. Submitted by Don Effenberger on 12/20/2011 - 03:00 pm.

    # 5, 10. A very good point. Consider it done.

    We’ll do our best to prevent the use of Democrat as an adjective in the comments.

  11. Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 12/20/2011 - 05:06 pm.

    @#12
    Really? I would appreciate that sort of communication. I would assume that it would take even more time to do. Still, it might be nice to know why some of my comments had been rejected.

  12. Submitted by Neal Krasnoff on 12/20/2011 - 05:27 pm.

    Miss Kahler: here’s a classic anti-Semitic canard posted by another user in the gingrichs_courage_to_tell_the_half-truth thread:

    “Israel’s IPAC is one of the most unwarranted intrusions into our processes ever created, and even if the Rapture types and less spiritual outliers respond to it with the dog-like devotion of Pavlov’s pet, its combination of buying off or frightening off our timid politicians subverts the electoral process.”

    Miss Kahler wrote:

    “I have never seen an anti-Semitic statement in the comments on MinnPost…”

    You have now.

  13. Submitted by William Levin on 12/20/2011 - 06:17 pm.

    @#7: “I have never seen an anti-Semitic statement in the comments on MinnPost and I read a LOT of comments on MinnPost. Whether that is due to good moderating or good manners, I don’t know.” Rachel, sorry but the other explanation is that they were there and you missed them. Having challenged several, I am comfortable only with my explanation rather than either of yours.

  14. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 12/20/2011 - 06:50 pm.

    I’m with #12. Mr. Stromseth is rather shrill, but he’s making essentially the same point, at least I think so. “Not liking” what someone has to say doesn’t seem to me to be the same thing as a comment violating what I think are fairly clear guidelines.

    I don’t know that I’ve had any comments rejected, but should that occur, I’d really appreciate a brief note to “edit paragraph #3,” or whatever is appropriate, so that I can resubmit.

    Rather than “Time to grow up,” it seems to me that MinnPost is basically asking us to BE “grownups,” by trying to keep the comments from degenerating into the sort of 7th grade character assassination that many of us are familiar with from other commentary sections on other sites. “Flaming” someone doesn’t advance an argument, and even when I disagree – which is almost always with some people – I still read what they have to say carefully. Every once in a while, they make a good point. I’ve yet to encounter anyone who’s always right, or always wrong.

  15. Submitted by will lynott on 12/20/2011 - 06:58 pm.

    #11, no offense, but IT TOOK YOU LONG ENOUGH!

  16. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 12/20/2011 - 08:32 pm.

    I too have yet to see an anti-Semitic comment on MinnPost. Perhaps the problem lies with an individual’s own bias and perceptions which could lead one’s self to conclude otherwise.

  17. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 12/20/2011 - 10:11 pm.

    Neal (#14)

    To criticize AIPAC is not to be anti-Semitic.

  18. Submitted by Neal Krasnoff on 12/20/2011 - 11:26 pm.

    Miss Kahler: for additional examples of anti-Semitism allowed on this site, enter zionist, zionism, or Israel as keywords in the search at the top right.

    They are there, Miss Kahler.

  19. Submitted by Neal Krasnoff on 12/21/2011 - 06:46 am.

    Perhaps, Mr. Schulze, you nor the moderators are able to recognize anti-Semitism, do to an individual’s own bias, perceptions, or agreement with the comments in question.

  20. Submitted by Neal Krasnoff on 12/21/2011 - 06:51 am.

    “Israel’s IPAC is one of the most unwarranted intrusions into our processes ever created” is not just critcism, Miss Vetsch. It, along with the rest of the paragraph, is a hyperbolic diatribe.

  21. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 12/21/2011 - 08:19 am.

    #22: No criticism of AIPAC will be tolerated. Yessir, Mr. Krasnoff!

  22. Submitted by Andrew Richner on 12/21/2011 - 08:46 am.

    #20: Neal, I tried searching “Zionism” on this site, according to your advice. I was able to find two comments by anyone other than you from the first page of search results; one was a person was responding to a comment in which you mentioned it, and another was someone quoting the Hamas Charter in order to demonstrate that any opposition to Israel is anti-semitic.

    Certainly this is very charged topic that has the potential to draw out offensive and truly obscene and bigoted remarks, but it seems as though the comment section in MinnPost is capable of addressing controversial political topics in a civil manner, without either degenerating into anti-Semitism or banning any comment that expresses opposition to the government of Israel.

    When political opposition to the policies of the state of Israel are automatically interpreted, by reference to the ideology of Zionism (ideology in the neutral sense of the term), as opposition not only to the Jewish people, but to all Jewish people, then there is no longer any discursive space left in which to make any kind of commentary on any topic regarding Israel — particularly it’s policy vis-a-vis Palestinians. And that kind of total silence seems to be against what MinnPost is all about.

  23. Submitted by Neal Krasnoff on 12/21/2011 - 03:11 pm.

    Due to prior restraint by the moderators, I cannot effectively argument my position.

    I leave you to yourselves.

  24. Submitted by Dennis Litfin on 12/23/2011 - 10:43 am.

    It is quite understandable that the number of comment rejections have increased. The caustic tone that has been set by elected Congressional representatives in recent years has shortened the fuse of many people who follow the political process in earnest.

  25. Submitted by Terry Hayes on 12/29/2011 - 08:28 pm.

    How about not letting one guy with an ax to grind dominate the conversation? (That would have improved my enjoyment of this particular thread.)
    I just want to say that my furious comments have often been rejected by a wise moderator, and I am grateful for it. This is the one place I can come and read comments without counting on having my blood pressure go through the roof. I enjoy the sanity and levels of knowledge of many of the regular posters, and I am truly thankful there’s a place where they can say their piece without getting ripped to pieces.

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