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Let’s talk about the BikePortland comment section

Posted by on February 22nd, 2021 at 3:56 pm

On Saturday, Tony Jordan, a parking reform advocate I’ve known and respected for years and who’s written stories for BikePortland, posted something on Twitter about a BikePortland comment. The conversations and concerns triggered by his Tweet (which I’m still responding to, three days later) have made me think deeply about our comment section.

Here’s Tony’s tweet:

While I disagree with Tony, his concerns are valid.

Many people responded to Tony’s comment with their own opinions about how our comment section has changed over the years. Several people said they’ve stopped commenting or stopped visiting this site altogether because of the sometimes abusive words and bullying they’ve experienced at the hands of other commenters.

The critiques centered around a certain type of commenter and my lack of more heavy-handed moderation of them. You probably know the type: They are mostly men, are quick to demean the subject of a story, tip-toe the line of decency/indecency (or cross it at times), dominate threads with multiple comments, or who are simply not nice to others.

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This is very complicated topic that I’ve wrestled with for many years. I often tell people that commenter opinions do not reflect BikePortland and they are certainly not a representation of “the bike community” (a troubling label in my opinion); but I can’t ignore that many people don’t see it that way.

As I have for the past 16 years, I’m the only person in charge of moderating comments. That has pros and cons. As the site (and the community’s expectations of it) has grown and the general tenor of our society has become more anxious and divisive (thanks Trump!), that task has become harder then ever.

My goal is to provide a platform for robust discussions where everyone feels valued and welcome. I take that part of my job very seriously.

Currently I give readers a very long leash in the comment section. There’s no log-in required. Anonymity is OK. A rough tone is tolerated up to a certain point. I do this because I value open discussions and I want to host as many voices as possible. I have no interest in an echo chamber and I don’t want to provide a sanitized version of reality. I encourage voices that challenge entrenched dogma because I believe strongly that a lack of debate prevents Portland from moving forward on many difficult issues.

But therein lies the rub: How can we balance this need for robust and challenging debates in a way that supports as many people as possible?

It’s not enough to host opposing voices if they result in harm and silencing of others.

BikePortland comments might never feel safe to everyone (important debates are bound to be too heated for some people), but they could feel a lot safer for many. And if we can get better at this, the result is something very valuable and exciting.

(By the way, we have separate communities over on our Instagram and Facebook pages that are much more light-hearted and skew younger and are less male-dominated if you’d like to interact with our content on those platforms. We also have an email with all our stories that you can read without coming to the main site.)

Another realization from Tony’s Twitter thread: Being a white, straight man of privilege makes it easier for me to have a high tolerance level for mean comments. I have a famously low tolerance for mean words directed toward bicycle riders from car users. But I have a higher tolerance for mean words directed at people whom I don’t identify with as strongly? That’s not OK.

From now on all comments will be held back for manual review and approval before they are published. I will also be moderating with an even keener eye for instances of meanness, bullying, misogyny, homophobia, or racism.

Our comment section has survived a long time. It was here before legacy media outlets like The Oregonian had one, and it’s still here long after they’ve given up on them. I have no intention of shutting them down and I remain convinced they are worth fighting for — but only if we stop fighting in them. I appreciate everyone who comments and hope you understand we all play a role in making the comment section something we can all be proud of.

As the owner of this business, my work to make them better is far from done. Stay tuned.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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Daniel Amoni
Subscriber

I find the comment section indispensable for getting a read on an issue and hearing a variety of voices. The hatred and sophistry can be a bit exhausting, on the other hand, and feel like something more at home on conservative talk radio.

My preference would be that the comments section not be anonymous, however. I think accountability for what one says would go a long way, especially with those that live in Portland.

Lastly, I think the most damaging part of the BP comment section are the over-commenters. They often leave little space for others to speak and can just make things feel unwelcoming.

Julie Garner
Guest
Julie Garner

I really like the comments section and like Daniel said, it helps me get a read on an issue and hearing a variety of voices. The New York Times is a great example of comment sections done well. I’ll read an article but really can’t wait to get to the comments because other people will mention things I never even thought of and others will say things that I disagree with but in a way that it helps me gain perspective. And some are just really good at articulating what I’m processing. Or they’ll explain things in the article that weren’t very clear. It’s educational most of the time. An example of a terrible comment section is Politico. Literally all anyone does is name call and rant and rave about things. It’s stupid and a total waste of time. I finally stopped even visiting that site because the comments tainted everything as immature and whiney. And they didn’t seem trustworthy as a news outlet to me.

So far I’ve really liked reading comments on here. Sure some people are probably trolls or are negative in a ridiculous way, but I can recognize those and just move on tp the next comment without taking it personally or getting bent out of shape over it. But most of the comments are really interesting! I’ve learned a lot and I like hearing from other riders and gaining new perspectives. It makes me feel more connected to the collective bike community here in Portland. So I’m really glad you’re going to continue having them up, Jonathan!

Nadia Maxim
Guest
Nadia Maxim

This is a real life example of how polarized we have become in our current society. Yes, it is more difficult to have nuanced conversations online. However, I think the real issue is how social media and online platforms have allowed people to “live in their bubble” which has led to radicalization on both ends of the political spectrum.

As an example is Tony Jordan calling me (a socially liberal, fiscally conservative Democrat) a troll and advocating for me to be silenced. Name calling and censorship instead of engaging in a conversation now seems to be preferred approach by many. Especially those on both the far right and far left. It is ironic that Tony was so offended by a comment from someone who is centrist in their beliefs and values. He does not even want my voice to be aired. I’ve never met Tony. I bet he is a nice guy. We could probably sit down and grab a beer and have a nice chat. Yet he wants me silenced.

Here I am someone with a BLM sign in my yard who frequently calls out friends on the far right side of the spectrum and am now being vilified by those on the far left. If Tony (and others of his persuasions) can’t even engage with me how can we ever find middle ground or consensus to move our city, region and country forward. We have so many important issues to work on (such as racial equity, educational opportunities, police reform and even protected bike lanes 🙂 ) but these issues will never addressed if we just endorse a “shut up” culture.

Think about it. I remain hopeful we can rise above and seek common ground. Not selling out, just being real and loving our fellow humans.

Peace out,
Nadia

beckyjopdx
Guest
beckyjopdx

I’m just here to reiterate what I said on Twitter and back up Tony, Joan, etc.

I come here so rarely I don’t even remember my password. I do not want to expend the energy fighting racist and sexist comments. And yes, you have some very serious culture problems in your comments section. No, they are not harmless “state of our country” issues – these are real problems. It’s comments like “this is just how it is” that allow space for abusers to multiply. They get away with “I can’t be racist, I have a BLM sign” to back pedal their racist comments.

Like I said, I already physically battled skinheads here in the 90s. I’ve spent my whole life battling sexism. I don’t need to come here and volunteer to do it more.

You can have a comment section and it can be anonymous. Like any place with a healthy culture, you set up guidelines on the front end. You can have no tolerance policies. I do it all the time. Heck, pre Covid, I had 100-200 attendee in-person events with behavior expectations set. My nametags required pronouns. It’s not hard to hold space for kindness, anti-sexism, and anti-racism. I say this as likely the second most privileged type of person that comes to this site. I’m here putting my rear end on the line. My real name is Becky Jo Johnson. I really am a cis-female, white, hetero person in Portland with secure housing and food. I bike as transportation by choice.

I gave you, Jonathan, 2 screenshots of forums with behavior guidelines. The first one is 100x the size of yours with a handful of people working there. I can get you in touch with them and do an intro if you want to talk shop with them. I’ve interviewed the owner. You’ve not seen trolls until you’ve seen her trolls. BP has nothing in comparison – yet they still have created a healthy, safe, kind, and supportive environment. You can too.

You can set behavior expectations and right this ship at any time. But without rules and guidelines to point to, you just can’t ground the kids and they all run amok. I’m not afraid of the trolls on this site. I just don’t care. I have other things to do with my time than deal with people who insist they’re middle of the road while being racist and sexist. There are a few, likely me included, that sometimes drop niceties when we get excited. I have and do engage with those (Soren, you rock!) But you’ve got a little club of bullies and I think you know it but don’t know what to do about it.

You also have supporters. And now that many have voiced their concerns and you just now gave a forum…if nothing changes…I’d gamble you’ll lose a few.

The Dude
Guest
The Dude

The tone of your comments section is simply a reflection of the tone of civil discourse in the United States. I am one of those who stopped commenting regularly years ago, and more recently I’ve moved out of the US as well.

The simple fact is that America, Oregon, and Portland are absolutely filled with distressingly uneducated and ignorant people who lack any sense of compassion or perspective, are totally convinced they are correct all the time, and are completely uninterested in having an honest discussion or changing their opinion based on new information. And thus, so is your comment section.

When you leave the US for an extended period of time, you get a much broader perspective on the culture. Perhaps if you’re still engaged in the Portland political scene, you see “spirited debates” on “important issues.” But with the wisdom of perspective and experience, you realize it is the political theatre aimed at preserving the status quo of a violent and dysfunctional culture run by profiteers and malignant narcissists. The leaders are unable to solve even the most basic problems that have been dealt with effectively by other countries of far less means. The people are too pacified to hold anyone to account, even as they seethe with impotent rage. The power is so entrenched it can brutalize its own people and even commit treason with impunity.

America is totally FUBAR. Why would you expect any comments section to be otherwise?

The question you have to ask yourself is how does the comments section serve your goal “to provide a platform for robust discussions where everyone feels valued and welcome.”

In my opinion, the comments section, as it is now, is definitely standing in the way of achieving your goal. As a fellow person of privilege, I don’t feel unsafe. But I do believe it is not a welcoming place for other people (or me). And I do not want to participate because of that.

A lot of Americans seem to hold a really extreme view of what constitutes “free speech” as a human right, and I think this culture affects your judgment. Allowing people to post racist comments, for example, is not the same as fostering “robust discussion,” because the purpose of the site is not to discuss whether racism is acceptable.

I think you need to be much more selective about what you allow people to post on your site to meet your goal. I also think it’s a moral responsibility, and I think that’s at the heart of the question you are posing. I also think doing so would really improve the site. Unfortunately, it seems like it will involve a lot more work for you.

Whatever you decide to do, thanks for asking. And keep up the great work.

Ovid Boyd
Subscriber
Ovid Boyd

If it’s a vote, I vote for no comments. Carefully edited, composed and written journalism has a lot of value; reaction comments not so much. There’s plenty of more private and personal places to react to the world.

I think news comments mostly just make people feel miserable, and I can go on Facebook if I want that

cmh89
Guest
cmh89

I don’t agree with the views of the two commentators but it’s really hard for me to see what exactly Tony is complaining about or why he thinks it should be deleted. It’s a critique of Hardesty but not an attack. I’ve seen a lot worse written about Hales, Wheeler, and Eudaly. I’m also not opposed to de-platforming when appropriate. It’s just hard for me to see what Nadia wrote there that would warrant you to delete the post. I’ve often wondered why the comment section here is so conservative, but I think it’s just the nature of comment sections that aren’t part of social media.

FWIW, I actually think you do a pretty good job at moderation, especially in that you don’t delete whole posts. It really comes down to what you are trying to do with Bike Portland. If your goal is to create a community based on shared social values, it makes sense to say “these are my values and I’ll get rid of anyone who doesn’t share them”. But if your goal is to facilitate discussion on bicycling between people who have differing social values, you can’t just delete posts because they bother you (or in this case bother Tony) personally because the end result is an echo chamber.

Part of it is progressives have to stop saying “I think what you are saying is wrong and therefore you are a bad person”. Like I said, I don’t agree with the comment that was screen capped, but I don’t think Nadia is a bad person, just wrong, and that reader isn’t going to change their mind just because you delete their post for having the wrong opinion.

I do appreciate that Tony is having that discussion on Twitter, a site which famously doesn’t moderate content and gave rise to the disaster that was trump.

Karstan
Subscriber
Karstan

I really appreciate that you’ve engaged with the criticism and clearly put a lot of thought in to how to move forward.

Al
Guest
Al

Who’s to decide what members of the community get to have a voice, regardless of how it reflects on the community as a whole? If the voices/comments of single users are drowning out others, e.g. frequent posters such as HK, why not limit to one or two comments per reader? If someone interprets an internet comment section as a homogenous “bike community,” that reflects much more so on their limited perceptions than on a larger group of people who ride bicycles. Moderating every single comment sounds a whole lot like the “sanitized version of reality” you mention wanting to avoid.

Jon
Guest
Jon

Why don’t we try an experiment. If you are a white male, stop commenting for the rest of this week. I’m willing to give it a try. No more words from me this week.

Hickeymad
Guest
Hickeymad

Why is anyone surprised that the marketplace of ideas is fraught with chances to take offense? When has this ever not been the case? Yet freedom of speech (as a general rule; not only in the first amendment sense). Yet it’s only recently that offense has been monetized; it’s now a sort of currency and confers moral status. This imho is not a healthy development for any society. We should be building strong citizens; citizens capable of critical thinking and debate. Portland seems to want to take the lead in the creation of a culture entirely the opposite. Our progressive bubble I think is to blame for this; it inhibits the realization that your own train is going off the tracks when everyone on board is blinded by their ideology. This, in a nutshell, is why free speech is so important; warts and all. Without it we will come closer still to the same ideological excesses that have destroyed so many societies before us.

Matt P
Guest
Matt P

You run a private site and you can delete and moderate as much as you want that’s your right. But honestly deleting the comments pointed out in the post at least imho will just lead into the increasingly common conception of the dude bro Portland Biker who is overly aggressive and not open into ideas, compromise, etc.

I think the Twitter user you quote as being particularly offended may just have the increasingly common problem of living too much on Twitter and isn’t used to seeing a particular viewpoint that may actually be quite a common view (even if that view is distasteful to that particular user).

I don’t find anything particularly offensive about the quoted comments that would raise it to being deleted. There is of course an undercurrent of bias with them, but there’s nothing preventing someone from calling that out if they are offended by it and any further discussion would be more useful than it being deleted and ignoring any problem that may exist. Deletion / ignoring a viewpoint, especially not a particular egregious one, is just how one gets pushed further and further into echo chambers (or Twitter bubbles).

P.S. I keep thinking of the discourse around Eudaly. If you looked at certain parts of Portland Twitter you would think she was going to get 70% of the vote. But consistently on the comments of stories re: PBOT, etc. There was a constant undercurrent of dissatisfaction with her, problems with the tone she had, work ethic, etc. It may come across as sexist by some in the way those comments were stated but then months later that opinion of her was reflected in the election results and I think a surprise to many who tend to ignore certain viewpoints and just ‘delete’ them from their mind or quite literally from their computer screens.

Brendan
Guest
Brendan

I reckon that no comments can often be better than moderation. Many websites have gone this direction. If you look at willamette week, they are a holdout on comments and a cesspool. Even with the discus login there are tons of bad faith actors and scammers.

I think the problem we have with the internet is that it’s too easy to comment and run. It doesn’t promote discussion. It instead allows for drive by trolling.

Aaron
Guest
Aaron

As someone who has participated in a number of discussions on BikePortland, I’ve noticed that bigoted comments written in a civil tone tend to be left alone while angry comments in response to those bigoted comments are moderated. I think the bigoted comments would almost bother me less if the comment section were left entirely unmoderated (I’m not suggesting this as your approach, by the way!). That name-calling type of comments are moderated quicker than bigoted comments makes it seem as though you are siding with bigots, even if that isn’t the intent behind your action, and that can feel demoralizing.

You stated in this article that you would “also be moderating with an even keener eye for instances of meanness, bullying, misogyny, homophobia, or racism,” but while I find this commendable, the order in which you stated those problems is important. I find it problematic that you put “meanness” at the start of the list, instead of misogyny, homophobia, and racism, which are arguably much more harmful than simply being mean.

One of the problems with emphasizing mean comments over other types of problematic comments is that an angry response to a transphobic or racist comment could, through a certain lens, be seen as mean despite the fact that the bigoted comment causes more harm to more members of the community.

Perhaps a useful framework in changing your approach in moderating comments could be Popper’s paradox of tolerance: that a tolerant society requires being intolerant towards intolerance.

I look forward to seeing the upcoming changes.

zuckerdog
Subscriber
zuckerdog

Monitoring comments seems like tedious and thankless job. And it only you? More power to you, Jonathan.

It’s always amazed me how much courage a keyboard, a monitor, and/or a phone gives some people to say things they wouldn’t have the guts to say to someone in person.

If only we could harness this mystical power for good…

Matt
Guest
Matt

It does often feel like the voices of reason are outnumbered by the trolls and the snarkers. I wonder if the Dunning-Kruger Effect (stupid people not realizing they’re stupid) plays a large part in who shouts the loudest in a forum. And I say this as a person who has had one of my comments deleted in full by Jonathan due to my writing from a position of anger.

Bikeninja
Guest
Bikeninja

I agree with your approach to moderating the comments section. I believe that we should have a wide latitude for commenters who want to critique norms, sacred cows, and paradigms but little tolerance for those who abuse,bully or intimidate other members of the Bike Portland community.

Tony Jordan (Contributor)
Subscriber

I’ll comment quickly here to add a little of my personal context and reasons for tweeting that. I didn’t know the tweet itself would end up as a post, but that’s fine, the discussion on twitter has actually been very civil and robust.

My sentiment is aimed at the forest of comments on this site, rather than any specific tree. One of the difficulties Jonathan has is that any one comment is innocuous enough that it doesn’t cross a line. But taken as a whole, the comments on this site are exhausting and frustrating to many.

Whether Jonathan likes it or not, many people consider the tone and type of comments on this site as somehow exemplary of Portland’s transportation advocacy community. That’s not a fair assessment, I push back on it. But it’s a real one. The truth is, though, that most of the comments on the site aren’t coming from the people active in the advocacy community. Many of us have chosen to spend our time elsewhere, where we don’t have to argue whether white privilege is a real thing, or whether racial justice is a lens worth applying to civic decisions.

For the most part, I don’t read these comments, even though I have been a subscriber since day one, but occasionally the stuff said here impacts my advocacy efforts when I come across someone who has a poor opinion of the “bike community” because of the things they see in these pages. So I said something about it.

Longtime listener...
Guest
Longtime listener...

JM, I’ve always been very impressed by how you’ve navigated this. Generally when I see a site owner in the comments I feel it’s a big mistake and generally makes me enjoy them and the site less. I’ve been a daily reader for over ten years and to be honest I dislike the comment section immensely. Sure, I could/should just not read them, but it is my community too and there’s always the hopes to see someone other than the same 20 people having the same one of about ten different arguments applied to a new topic. Seems like more of a masturbatory debate club than anything else. If you think it has value to the community to publish this comment that is fine, but it’s true intention is just communication from a long time reader to an editor and I’d rather not have it be more comment section fodder.
Thanks for being part of my daily life,
Tom

David LaPorte
Guest
David LaPorte

This is the only online forum I’ve ever really commented on, as I’m not a very online person. But this site and its comment section make me feel like I am part of a community, even if we have internal squabbles. Biking was a huge reason that I moved to Portland a few years ago, and I wanted to chat with everyone I biked by when I first got here! The comment section here is like the modern version of chatting about bike stuff with strangers you meet on the road. I understand moderating a welcoming discussion is difficult, but I love that you do it.

Cyclekrieg
Subscriber
Cyclekrieg

First, I’m not sure why Tony Jordan picked this thought out. To me the most offensive thing in it is: “I do like that picture of her on the bike though. Lookin’ good!” There is no need to discuss a viewpoint about Hardesty’s leadership, or perceived lack thereof, or blinds pots thereof and make a flippant comment involving physical appearance.

Second, the comment does make a valid point. As an example, others, including myself, have mentioned her comments regarding mountain biking before which were some version of ‘Its about reinforcing privileged white guys’, which is pretty much the opposite of what any city that creates those kinds of experiences in town finds. (Example: https://bhamnow.com/2021/02/18/mountain-biking-in-birmingham-went-from-being-a-novelty-to-world-class-how-did-it-happen/ ) The point of mentioning that isn’t to have discussion about mountain biking in Portland. The point is, whether you agree or disagree with her belief, its informed by a racial argument over evidence.

Third, here is what I would suggest for the comments section, both in moderation and user comments. The Daryl Davis rule – if someone makes a point, whether you like it or not, react with questions and conversation, not hateraide or ridiculous slogans. Bring the ban hammer down on the people who deserve it, not someone who isn’t on the bleeding edge of whatever woke groupthink is hot today. Look, bigotry is like pornography, you know it when you see it. Someone in comments gets here asking about the good things Hitler did, that guy has to go. But arguing a particular politician views EVERYTHING through a racial lenses, maybe to the detriment of actionable policy, that isn’t hate, that is an opinion.

aaaa
Guest
aaaa

Also think the site would be better off without the comments. I feel like they got a lot worse when olive shutdown their comment section and I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s where some of the current trolls came from.

pruss2ny
Guest
pruss2ny

Can i address at least one elephant in the room?

How is it not a bad look that when a contributor to BP, who has written political endorsements for Hardesty, encounters 2 rather bland critiques of Hardesty he accuses elitism and misogyny and threatens that BP risks consent if it doesn’t delete the comments?

Jordan (through his work and other writing) seems brilliant on some level and certainly impassioned – would love to see something other than him trying to blanket censor the counter voices.

In his note above Jordan seems genuinely exasperated and is perhaps spot on in his note that:
“The truth is, though, that most of the comments on the site aren’t coming from the people active in the advocacy community. Many of us have chosen to spend our time elsewhere”

But isn’t this the very elitism that he claims to be fighting, because it seeds a “poor opinion” of the bike community? There is a ton of brain wattage on this site regarding urban planning and transportation which is immensely beneficial, but he seems to imply that since i’m not an active advocate that my opinions and questions are not worthy of a real advocate’s time. He may be right.

J_G
Guest
J_G

I’ll be moving to Portland in a few months for a new job, and one of the things I’m looking forward to most is the bike community. This site has been an excellent primer and educational tool for me, and I have found the comment section useful in gaining additional context for your stories. Mr. Maus, you seem even-handed and fair, and I hope you can moderate with clear-sightedness even when you disagree with a comment (the evidence I’ve seen would point toward your capability in this regard). Others use such influence to create echo chambers, but I’m a new reader that hopes to continue to be able to hear all sides of the issues.

 
Guest
 

There’s definitely not one clear right answer with how to moderate the comments section. And I think it’s safe to say that no site in the history of the internet has devised even a good method. It’s more of figuring out what the least bad method of comment moderation is.

Regardless, I agree with the “comment on content, not the contributor” approach to commenting here that others have already highlighted. I believe that comments attacking another commenter’s views are distinct from those that attack the contributor themselves. There’s a big difference between a comment like “your views help perpetuate systemic racism” versus “you are a racist”. I believe that comments like the former should be encouraged, while those similar to the latter should be disallowed.

I also think maintaining anonymity is incredibly important. I have Facebook and Instagram accounts, but I would never comment on any political post publicly or anything because there unfortunately are crazies out there with the potential to harm me in real life. It’s why BikePortland is one of the only sites I choose to comment on, and it allows people to be more honest with their opinions, which is always a good thing.

John L
Guest
John L

Reviewing every post before it is published sounds exhausting and likely to take time away from writing. I’m not aware of any active site that does it, and I imagine there is a practical reason for that.

SD
Guest
SD

Somehow, I remember a time where this comments section was more positive, more bikey, more idealistic, more supportive and more community-oriented. Admittedly it was more of an echo chamber and less conservative. But, it was more effective in bringing people together around bikes, generating creativity and inspiring people to participate in Portland bike culture.
Did that time actually exist?
I would rather have a comment section that is inviting and creative even if it is an idealogical bubble. I, personally, don’t need to get my politically diverse perspectives from the Bike Portland comments section, and I don’t think having a contrarian commentariat validates this platform. People outmaneuvering each other or out-opinionating each other rarely seems to result in positive actions.
I also don’t think that the comments here are truly diverse. It is a relatively small percentage of people who are motivated to comment, and that number grows smaller, the harsher the environment or the greater the risk of being invalidated or misunderstood. It is not a representative sample. Sometimes we mistake argument for being more broad-minded and critical than agreement or loose association.

Chopwatch
Guest
Chopwatch

How about providing an option to log-in and save “Comment awaiting moderation

” for users not logged in and the first few posts of a new account? Whenever I post, I was getting pending moderation, then it stopped, and it’s doing it again. Spam filter is a necessity, but it can get too aggressive in filtration. I’d like to log-in, but that’s not even an option.

Clint Culpepper
Guest
Clint Culpepper

I’ve had numerous friends reach out to me today to tell me that they do not feel comfortable commenting on the site because of the lack of self-awareness that many of the regular posters possess. I absolutely agree with them. I see hateful comments about our city’s houseless residents, dog whistle racism, and anti-trans behavior from these folks. For those of you expressing concern about censorship or blaming progressivism for a lack of debate, I just don’t know how you can make these arguments in good faith. We’re missing out on vital voices in discussions here because folks are not willing to put up with the hateful comments.

Peter W
Guest
Peter W

Random idea – food for thought… make the comments section for subscribers only (and still moderate). That way the moderation work is paid, and if people want to try to troll they have to pay for the privilege of attempting to do so.

Hello, Kitty
Guest
Hello, Kitty

To those lamenting the descension of the comments here, how do you feel about this (posted recently elsewhere on this sit upe):

Most good people don’t want to be cops because they don’t want to spend their lives hurting their community and destroying peoples lives

That’s as ugly and overtly prejudiced as anything that gets posted here, but it’s probably generally compatible with your political framework.

What I’m getting at is is the problem ugly comments, or the fact that you disagree with the sentiment they express?

Speaking for myself, I welcome a diversity of viewpoints as long as they are respectfully presented.

And, I’ll add, I think most people keep things reasonably civil here most of the time. For those comparing these comments to OregonLive, well, I never commented there, but it was a cesspool. At it’s worst, this place is a freshly cleaned motel bathroom.

Doug Hecker
Guest
Doug Hecker

I think what is missing when we hear about advocacy in Portland is that advocates should raise people up to whatever it is they want common folx like myself to agree with and/or vote for. If that isn’t happening then the advocate probably needs to look in the mirror and ask how they can do better to get their message out. This page offers myself and many others the opportunity to interact with advocates. Clearly, some people would like to spout off and say inappropriate things. Maybe having a report button would help? Maybe it would just add more work that you don’t need? But this forum has personally helped me learn more about this city and how it perceives and acts on its convictions, whether it is perceived as good or bad. If advocates don’t want to offer their goals or experiences then that’s fine to as they could be more busy on the front lines but I would also imagine that this could be the front line, rallying the troops.

Ps, nobody is requiring anyone to interact with trolls. But the same could be said with dogged elitists who are worn out from being on the front lines.

JM, I appreciate your efforts and the comments section even though every comment I make has to go through moderation 🙂 haha

Clint Culpepper
Guest
Clint Culpepper

I’d ask each and every commenter why they are here at this website. Is it to further the progress of bicycle advocacy? Or I s it to point out what others are doing wrong?

It’s always going to be hard to tell who is posting anonymously but I can say that I don’t hear your voices testifying at city council. I don’t hear them at committee meetings giving PBOT sand ODOT staff constructive feedback. I don’t even see you at bicycle events in the city. If you’re not doing those things, what is it that you’re doing to improve our city for folks riding bicycles?

Fred
Guest
Fred

Jonathan, I hope you will not change anything about the comments section. Well, maybe one thing: I don’t like how someone, anyone, can drop a bomb with no repercussions – seems like every troll out there has permission to make one terrible post. Have you thought about using Disqus as a backbone for your commenting section? I don’t know many deets on Disqus but I recall that it requires moderation of new commenters until they have built up some credibility with the moderator and the community, and the person can post w/o moderation after that.

I feel as though Tony’s response to Nadia’s comment says more about Tony than it does about anything else: Tony wants to be shielded from comments he disagrees with. Nadia was making the very valid point, which others also made, in other ways, that the photo of Jo Ann on the Nie-key Bie-key is essentially false, since no one has seen Jo Ann on a bike in Portland outside of a photo op. That’s a really important thing to know about a political leader who is – by the miracle of Portland’s dysfunctional commission-style gov’t – now in charge of transportation in Portland.

BP is invaluable to me as a cyclist in Portland, and the comments are also invaluable. Please keep up the good work.

Jimmy
Guest
Jimmy

I like comments and read them frequently. The community here is passionate and in my observation overwhelmingly respectful. People are going to people though. Don’t let a rush to protect everyone spoil a good thing. My views would be narrowed without all you wonderful people.

It doesn’t matter what your name is
Guest
It doesn’t matter what your name is

I remember when there was a dislike button for people to downvote the comments they didn’t like. That could help give agency to those who feel like they need to remove content for being “mean”. But I also remember you taking away the downvote because it hurt peoples feelings?

James S
Guest
James S

I used to be very “free speech” when it comes to comments. Like you, I find it easy to brush off the trolls. But many don’t.

One problem with internet moderation is that moderators/staff has seen their job as purely taking out the trash. That is, removing only the really bad stuff.

But heres an analogy I like. Imagine if every day someone dropped a fresh turd in front of your door. And every day you had to step over it to go out. When you got home, the poop was cleaned up. Stepping over it is not actually difficult. But how much better would it be if there was no poop at all?

The toxic people never get tired of dumping their crap on our comment sections every day. But the normal people get tired, pack up, and leave.

I think the job of a moderator should actually be to curate a conversation. That means booting out the toxic people, even if they’re doing an excellent job of sticking to the rules. It’s your website, and having poop on your front door degrades the whole experience.

joan
Subscriber

Content warning: I’m about to share some of the comments that contribute to this place being hostile, especially to trans folks and non-binary folks and queer folks and women. I completely disagree that this is about gatekeeping by established bike advocates. Folks who engage sincerely and are “rough around the edges” are not the problem here.

I’m with Inga T. on this. I really don’t understand the Transgender thing it makes zero sense to me and I am disturbed by it. ***portion of comment deleted by moderator*** You’re born the way you are and we live in an open and inclusive society. Fighting to compete with the opposite sex is crude and it should not have gone as far as it has. ***portion of comment deleted by moderator***

Her efforts to keep women’s sports fair by excluding trans athletes is appreciated! Great to see that even in a overly politically correct city like Portland that common sense can sometimes override irrational gender sensitivity rights.

Its a religion. It has nothing to do with transgenderism other than that transgendered people are their sacred cows.

My anti-trans athlete stance isn’t at all transphobic, in fact it’s the feminists who are keeping women from racing.

makes total sense and doesn’t at all sound like the ravings of a ***insult deleted by moderator***

Ladies, you are no longer “women”. Transgender women are “real women”, you are “cis” women. Welcome to the “oppressor” class.

The point of language like “cis-women”, doesn’t even have anything to do with transgenderism. It’s about indoctrinating people to surrender and accept what they’re told. Cult leaders re-name their followers for the same reason- accepting the new name is to psychologically “kill” the former self. They know they’ve got you then.

Biological men should not be able to steal medals from women.

No. No. No.

I have trouble understanding how biological males think it is okay to compete against biological females. Can anyone help? If the women’s category is going to be the catch all for anyone, perhaps it should be renamed? Instead of giving advantages to those biological males who wish to compete against biological women I think there should be categories added rather than lumping everyone into 1 of 2 categories and that it is not transphobic to discuss it.

Lulz. I read a story last week about gay men in England being called “homophobic” for not wanting to have sex with biological females who’ve decided they’re men.

None of this has anything to do with “gender”, it’s all about power and how much idiocy we can all be made to swallow in the name of “progressiveness”.

I’m torn; one part of me wants to defend biological women, because they are the physically weaker sex and deserve some protections; including the right to compete in sporting events on a fair playing field. Of course saying this causes progressive heads to explode, but I’m old enough to still value chivalry even if it is in effect a form of misogyny.

There were plenty more but I stopped looking. There are also strong currents of sexism, racism, and homophobia in the comments, but the transphobia really rages. I suspect that’s when a lot of women and LGBTQ folks and their allies checked out. It’s not about being offended; it’s about being exhausted at constantly defending your basic humanity and identity.

Jonathan, you said, “My version of inclusivity means all voices have value and deserve some space, even the ones who are new to this arena, might say the wrong things sometimes, might not know all the lingo, are rough around the edges, and so on.” This is the fallacy of free speech. The kind of comments like I’ve shared above make this site hostile and unwelcoming for many people. I can’t imagine many trans athlete wanting to chime in on those posts and share their perspective.

I welcome nuance and debate. This isn’t about not wanting folks to disagree with me. This is about a pattern where more progressive ideas are challenged at nearly every turn, especially when shared by a woman. The sneering and sarcasm are exhausting. In the posts about trans athletes, there were plenty of things I disagreed with but people shared opinions in respectful ways. The current moderation policy does not allow for all voices nor give space to them, which then further encourages the comments like above.

con_tot
Guest
con_tot

I really appreciate the comments section of the website. I don’t always agree with others and they don’t always agree with me, but I do ALWAYS appreciate the dialog. Though I agree that personally hateful sentiment should not be permitted to remain. I am sure this change will entail quite a bit of work for you, Jonathan, but I hope it helps to make the comments section more welcoming to a larger community.

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

Obviously you can’t personally screen all the comments indefinitely. Somehow we need to get to something that is less effort to manage, and promotes spirited discussion.

I will echo others in requiring site registration in order to post – and emphatically in allowing anonymous pseudonyms.

There’s another suggestion below to bring back the Downvote feature. I strongly disagree with this, because I think the Downvote actually increased negativity, for reasons I’ve described further below. But what you could do is enable Flag/Report This Post feature (as seen on many online forums). The flagging would NOT be publicly visible, so if a post is flagged merely because it expresses an unpopular opinion the poster doesn’t automatically get shamed.

But YOU would see when a post is flagged, particularly when it’s been flagged by numerous people, and then you can decide whether it violates BP’s standards and you need to act on it. You would be the ultimate moderator, but this would help crowdsource a screening/filtration mechanism to highlight offensive comments, and you could spend more time reporting, and less time interpreting every single comment. Of course the flagging mechanism could be abused, but the with site registration requirement you could censure/ban/disable flagging by people that flag everything they disagree with.

IanC
Guest
IanC

Jonathan, I think you do a great job with the comments section. I appreciate the views of other readers and, although I get annoyed by some of the trolls, those views help expand my understanding of the issues we explore here.
Managing a comment section is hard, thankless work. As you touch on, various online publications do the job better than others. I follow the New York Times and I think their comment section is the gold standard. It’s well moderated and there is a minimum of just ranting and flaming. The ‘reader recommended’ comments almost always exist as an informative, elucidating side-car to the articles presented. Even the Washington Post can’t seem to keep the random, schlocky comments away from their site.
The Oregonian’s former Comments section and the current one over at Willamette Week are/were just a cesspool!

Personally, I feel like the Comments Section and online chat rooms, etc are our new public square. As such, they have the most value when citizens discourse fairly and in plain site. Although I know it’ll never happen, I’m a huge proponent of everyone having to register with all common identifiers to become commenters. No anonymity. Free speech is a right for CITIZENS. A citizen should have the decency to stand behind their comments and take the consequences of lies, insults, and other pejorative speech.
That said, I won’t be signing my name because I don’t believe in unilateral disarmament;) !

Thanks again for all you’re doing for our community. I look to BikePortland for a keen insight into local news I care about.

Michael Andersen
Subscriber

This is such a difficult problem.

Speaking as a former BikePortland writer and comment moderator from 2013-16, I have to say that I hope the solution here doesn’t become killing the comments completely. Dealing with the difficult decisions of which comments were and which weren’t worth their costs was really exhausting sonetimes, especially (for me) when there was a predictable popping-up of the same handful of folks to complain about any post that mentioned the existence of either race or gender.

But I simply can’t imagine this work and this community without comments. They were also one of the best parts of the job. You have to take them with a big grain of salt because they’re such a small share of the readership, you have to put up with the the fact that many are tedious and some are hateful, but the good stuff is so good!

I kinda liked the idea of limiting people to 2-4 comments per post or whatever. Dunno what’s technically possible.

D'Andre Muhammed
Guest
D'Andre Muhammed

Is the comment section of BikePortland really adding to the quality of life (and cycling) in Portland? Doesn’t seem like it. I agree with the sentiment of others here, just do away with it. Jon puts out good stories and the comments just seem to taint everything. But that’s only my two cents. Peace.

FDUP
Guest
FDUP

IMO Bike Portland comments are better moderated than on most web / blog sites. Sometimes I don’t understand why comments are held for moderation, but that is the site owner / manager’s prerogative.

Ben DeJarnette
Guest
Ben DeJarnette

Hey Jonathan, have you looked into the Coral Project comments platform? I believe it’s open-source, and it has some really strong features for sorting / curating comments.

Details here: https://coralproject.net/tour/

I know the project lead at Coral if you’d like an intro — just let me know.

pruss2ny
Guest
pruss2ny

Neurodiversity.

I worked in a field that was steeped with brilliant people, most of whom were somewhere on the spectrum (if u’ll allow sloppiness in terminology). Building a particle accelerator or beating u in chess in 4 moves, no problem…social interaction — much more of a problem.

BPs comment section by its nature is a hotbed for social misfits. No doubt some people feel their agency is muted or crowded out by what they perceive as “mean” interaction…but through all the crass interaction or blind accusations of RACISM!! etc that get lobbed about, i see few sociopaths but a ton of neural wiring on full display.

Hope u don’t lose the comments, either explicitly or by over-pruning.

rick
Guest
rick

Because comments are removed from people who respond with a different point of view compared to the negative so-and-so who wants to remind people, on a topic of the Alpenrose Velodrome’s closure and obviously softball and baseball fields closing and theater closing and the adjacent outdoor bathroom closing, that velodrome racing is white male elitist. As if the velodrome has the history of say, golf courses, that excluded people based on religious views?

Sarah
Guest
Sarah

A couple ideas:

1. Comment cool-downs: Limit people to one comment per day or week. Maybe this could create a comments section that’s more like “letters to the editor” than the predictable and tiresome back and forth between known-entities.

2. Require money and moderate the comments: This is the “metafilter” model. Metafilter requires people pay a one-time-fee of $5 before they can participate in dicusssions. The $5 fee is low enough for most anyone to participate, but is enough of a bar to filter out a lot of crap-posting. The moderation tends to keep discussions civil (off-topic-comments, abusive-comments, ad-hominems, …). Of course, moderators aren’t free. This would be a non-trivial investment. https://www.metafilter.com/guidelines.mefi https://www.metafilter.com/content_policy.mefi

casual observer
Guest
casual observer

Jonathan, thanks for all of your work. I’ve been a long time reader and limited commenter. I have noticed the changes in the comments over the years. I cringe, laugh, and ignore many of them. I also gain valuable insight reading people’s opinions and points of view and the responses. I’ve learned how different people can read the same comment and feel differently and that has helped me be more aware of my actions and words in life. There is no place for hate on here for sure, but I do feel that overall the comment section is a bit more open to other perspectives then it was 10 years ago. I like riding my bikes for many purposes, but I always felt unwelcome here in the past because I own a car and I like to ride a road bike. I’m also not an advocate so I had no cred. To me, you had to be part of the hard core PDX bike scene club to be on here or you were run off. A great example was the article that ran off the poor guy that people thought was a cop showing up on a ride (https://bikeportland.org/2013/04/01/activists-suspect-ride-participant-is-an-undercover-portland-police-bureau-captain-84949). You are in a very difficult position for sure and I don’t envy you, but if anyone has the temperament and skills to pull this off and make everyone happy its you.

Jim Labbe
Subscriber
Jim Labbe

I super appreciate the time and thoughtfulness that Jonathan puts into managing comments and his decision to highlight the issue here. As much as I disagree with the original comment that Tony highlighted, I actually didn’t think it is worthy of being deleted. How a comment “reflects on the community” shouldn’t be the basis of deleting a comment. There are better reasons that strike a better balance. But / and I do agree with much said here and the issues raised by Tony’s comments. I hate to admit it, but I have frequented and commented less on Bike Portland in part due to growing maliciousness of a lot of the comments and the how much the threads are dominated by the same people. So there are lots of good ideas here including limiting the number of comments by individual commenters and perhaps not allowing anonymous commenters (Sorry Hello Kitty). Requiring people to put their name behind their words would seem to make them accountable in the real not just the virtual community.

Barney
Guest
Barney

If you don’t simply do away with the comments section then perhaps you could limit it to one comment per person per topic. That way you would end the running arguments that are so tedious.

Hello, Kitty
Guest
Hello, Kitty

Here’s an idea that is both feasible and novel. What if there were two comment sections, one above the other. The bottom one would be moderated in a similar fashion to the one we have today, and the top one could be very strictly policed for anything edgy or potentially offensive to anyone. People could participate in whichever section they chose (or perhaps both), but their posts would be subject to the rules of the section they were posted in.

That would give folks who wanted it a more sanitized comments section, while providing room for those who prefer today’s comment section room to discuss issues more freely. It would also provide an interesting experiment to see if different levels of strictness produced different qualities of discussion.

I imagine the total number of comments wouldn’t change, so the moderation work would be similar to what it is today.

D Hogan
Guest
D Hogan

As far as the comments section, I don’t see any problem with diverse opinions etc.. I just don’t see why any commenter should be anonymous. If you want to weigh in on a topic, lets see who you are so we can respond.

BikeRound
Guest
BikeRound

I see nothing wrong with the comments section as is. Just look at t/he comments after this story: over 200 people have commented and engaged in a worthwhile, civil discussion! Sure, we may disagree on some things, but clearly the dialogue is working well.