As most of you know, BikePortland moderates its comments. Specifically, either Jonathan or myself manually approve every single comment that gets posted — and there have been 7,041 of them so far this year. If I had to describe our system in a word, I would call it “flexible.” No set hours or days for who’s on, no written rules — occasionally we text or phone to make sure our thinking is somewhat in the same place.
I think it is a strong, albeit imperfect, system.
One thing we’ve been noticing the past few weeks is that extended back-and-forth dialogues between two or three commenters are dominating, and maybe inhibiting, discourse on some threads. So we thought it might be time for a refresher on how to effectively use our comments section.
Letters to the editor or social media? Some of you may remember the good old days of trying to influence the world by spending hours crafting a concise and powerful letter to the editor, mailing it in, and then waiting days to see it in print (or not). What exciting times! Nothing felt better than landing that top spot in the column.
We are not going back to that.
On the other hand, if you find yourself writing mostly one-, two- or three-line comments that are just reactions to what someone else wrote, consider that you might not be giving your thoughts the effort they deserve. Take a paragraph or two to say what you think. Work at it — and then step back. You’ve said it. Now let someone else have a shot. Remember, you’ve got a big audience and your comments are an important part of BikePortland’s content.
That said, there is a social media aspect to the comments. Many people post under their real name, many commenters know each other in person. Respectful disagreement can be informative. We encourage that. But as with any creative endeavor — even a comment to BP — do your audience the courtesy of giving it your best effort.
A newly discovered feature. There is a feature on the back-end that lets us open or close a comment sub-thread. I’ve only used it once or twice, but we may start putting a halt to some back-and-forths a little sooner than we have been by using the lock. You will still be able to comment on the post, just not into the locked sub-thread.
Limit yourself. I’ve got a ton of opinions, I could jump in on every thread — but I don’t. Here’s my rule of thumb, “limit yourself to five comments a week.” It can be hard, but a limit helps you to use the resource wisely. My impression is that the most respected commenters don’t write that frequently, but when they do they say something insightful.
Unpopular opinions? BikePortland gets accused of censorship for sometimes not publishing a comment, but I can’t think of a time when we pulled a comment because of the opinion behind it. Rather, it’s usually because the writer is calling people names, using facile tropes, or being disrespectful. Things get particularly difficult to moderate when the topic is policing, mainly because the discourse starts out so heated. I’d like to do a better job at that. It is a mistake to think that our comments sections reflect what anyone at BikePortland thinks about enforcement issues.
My advice to commenters concerned about expressing what they think might be an unpopular opinion — or an opinion on any controversial issue — is to stick close to the facts, lay out the argument methodically and specifically, without hyperbole, and to use your own words.
Problems with the trash. This is just housecleaning stuff, but several of our strongest commenters are going straight to trash. And our automatic spam filter also sometimes catches good comments. We often fish them out eventually, but if you find that your comments seem delayed, those could be the reasons. Our web developer is always working to prevent this from happening, but tech is often imperfect.
That’s it! Keep ’em coming!