The BikePortland comment section is a core strength of this site. Commenters flesh out stories, provide examples, share expertise and historical knowledge, and add heft to our reporting. So thank you for your contributions! We couldn’t do our work as well without you.
Providing a safe platform for discussion and the exchange of differing opinions is also central to BikePortland’s purpose. In early 2021, we responded to community criticism and tightened our approach to moderation. Since then, all comments have been read and approved by either Jonathan or myself (I usually take over on weekends to give him a break), and we feel like it has helped improve the quality of dialogue.
After nearly a year and a half of this new moderation strategy — and 513,362 total comments approved — now might be a good time to talk about how we do it.
What happens to your comments
Here are a few of things you might want to know about what happens to your comment after you click “post”:
- Your comment appears to us in a back-end comment queue. We have a short list of things we can do with it. We can either approve it, edit it, send it to the trash or toss it into the spam bucket. Jonathan most often approves comments straight off the queue, and I often look at the thread for context if I need to. We often take context (of the thread, the news cycle, the topic, the subject of the article, and so on) into account when deciding whether or not to approve a comment.
- WordPress has its own comment filter that automatically deletes comments according to its spam rules. These are based on an algorithm we don’t always understand. It might reject a comment because of a single word, overall length, use of many links, and other things. The spam filter sometimes makes mistakes, so if you don’t see your comment appear, let us know and we can “un-spam” it. If we haven’t approved your unobjectionable comment within a couple of hours (it might take a little longer nights and weekends) let us know, by either saying something directly in the comment section or contact us. We’ll make it right.
- We also maintain a blocklist (also known as a “blacklist” but we don’t like the black/white terminology) of terms and usernames. This list is long and has been added to since 2005. It’s where the really bad actors have been placed and it includes very objectionable terms. If someone repeatedly leaves inappropriate comments and doesn’t heed our advice on how to make them better, they get put on the blocklist and we never have to worry about them again.
Divisive times ahead
Two months out from an election and I’m expecting the volume of comments to skyrocket. Two things happen when we get inundated; comments get approved that maybe shouldn’t be, and we delete more comments than usual. That might seem contradictory, but this happens because we don’t have capacity to keep up and take time required to consider each comment.
You can help us, and reduce the risk of your comment ending up in the trash, by not hugging that fuzzy line between approval and rejection. Take the time to collect your thoughts and write a comment worthy of them, don’t rely on name-calling or insulting other people to make your points.
This is where we want to make our reasoning more clear. The internet is a harsher, more dangerous place for some groups of people than for others. Women, ethnic, racial and sexual minorities, and other vulnerable people more easily become targets of internet-fueled aggression and bullying than, say, straight white men.
It’s not that those groups can’t handle it, or that they need to get a thicker skin, it’s that they are treated worse.
It is important that BikePortland not only avoid fueling disrespect or mob behavior, we want to avoid the appearance of fueling it, including vigilantism. This means that we are particularly sensitive to name-calling and insults directed at vulnerable people.
We try to balance this sensitivity with our desire to provide a forum for lively discussion and to pierce the bubbles people comfortably select for themselves. You can help by debating constructively, and avoiding name-calling or personalizing arguments.
Watch out for “welfare queen in a Cadillac” type images. These include tropes like “rich boomers from the west hills who drive Subarus to Neil Diamond concerts.”
When I go in to edit out insults and cliches in an attempt to “save” the substance of a comment, I sometimes find that there is nothing to save, the whole comment disappears. Self-regulate. Is what you are wanting to say so important that thousands of other people should turn their attention to it?
BikePortland is a business, we work hard to provide information daily to readers, most of whom never comment. The comments at the bottom of our posts are an important part of our content, by moderating them we try to guard against the descent into ugliness that has wiped out the comments sections of other news outlets.
BikePortland is biased
Yes it is. But I’m not Jonathan’s mini-me. We vote for different candidates, we have different sensitivities, and we sometimes do not agree about whether something is objectionable in a comment. Our frequent discussions (many of them about whether to accept or reject one of your comments) are a good model for the BikePortland comments section as a whole — animated, productive and respectful.
You can join in too. If you don’t like the way something is moderated, keep letting us know. Our moderation evolves, just like your comments do.
Lisa Caballero has lived in SW Portland for 20 years. She is on the Transportation Committee of her neighborhood association, the Southwest Hills Residential League (SWHRL) and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.