A reminder on how to use our comments section

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!

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)

Lisa Caballero is on the board of SWTrails PDX, and was the chair of her neighborhood association's transportation committee. A proud graduate of the PBOT/PSU transportation class, she got interested in local transportation issues because of service cuts to her bus, the 51. Lisa has lived in Portland for 23 years and can be reached at lisacaballero853@gmail.com.

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joan
1 year ago

Thanks, Lisa. I appreciate the work you all do on the site and in comment moderation. Closing sub-threads sounds like it’ll be a great feature, too.

The other thing that gets really dispiriting: folks who seem to take on the role of antagonist to specific people. We’ve got a few folks on here who pretty consistently snark at a few other specific people. There’s no actual conversation happening, just a lot of dunking on the (fill in the blank of the group you dislike). This often continues even when the original commenter doesn’t respond to the snark. The net effect is to drive people away, which is, I think, the goal.

FDUP
FDUP
1 year ago
Reply to  joan

In the end everyone is either a snarker or a snarkee, and there is still a lot to disagree about when it comes to ‘bike advocacy’. If everyone here had the same opinion all the time BP would just become another irrelevant internet echo chamber, something it has already been accused of multiple times.

blumdrew
1 year ago

If I limit myself to 5 comments a week, what am I supposed to do from 8 to 4? My job? No thanks 🙂

SolarEclipse
SolarEclipse
1 year ago

As someone who is guilty of the 2 – 3 lines (this one being no exception) reaction to a post I thought that was what back and forth discussion was all about. I guess it’s the length of the comment and not the actual content that is important.
Well, that’s cool, you can run the site how you see fit (I used to have one myself), and I’ll just put this site on my do-not-go-to sites list.
Anyway, it’s been fun! Arrivederci!

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
1 year ago
Reply to  SolarEclipse

I too am used to what might be called an “Italian” form of conversation where everyone interjects constantly, which is more common among all people on the East Coast. I’m not used to the “I say this, then I stay silents as you say that” back-and-forth conversation form that so many wholesome-Americans seem to prefer. I’ve been told the latter form is more respectful of everyone’s opinion, but I find it stifles conversation and the organic development of shared ideas and common consensus.

FDUP
FDUP
1 year ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

As a native New Yorker I couldn’t agree more!

9watts
9watts
1 year ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

I too am used to what might be called an “Italian” form of conversation where everyone interjects constantly…”

This!

that is how it was in the old days of Bikeportland and it was amazing. Some people had a lot to contribute, and it was inspiring. I’d take a comment by are or El Biciclero or Alan 1.0 or SD or John Liu any day (or ten) or fifty.

A Christine Hoerner
A Christine Hoerner
1 year ago
Reply to  SolarEclipse

SolarEclipse, I don’t think it was meant that way. I enjoy your comments as well as several other regular commenters. Please don’t go.

Jenni S
Jenni S
1 year ago
Reply to  SolarEclipse

I hope you don’t leave. You provide much needed balance to the often seen far left of center Bike Portland “echo chamber”.

Jakob Bernardson
Jakob Bernardson
1 year ago

Thanks for all the careful moderation, LC & JM.

A tip for longer comments: type it first in a Literary Cuisinart, edit, correct, et. c. Then cut and paste it into the comments box.

We would-be Icelanders were taught to do so by our Irish forbearers.

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
1 year ago

When in Rome, do as the Vandals do…

Fred
Fred
1 year ago

I think that you, Lisa, are like me a member of an older generation who thinks of comments more as letters to the editor. But younger people who grew up on social media think of comments as endless and always available. It’s like taking photos: we grew up not wanting to “waste film” b/c it was limited and expensive; but digital photos today are cheap and endless so why should you ever limit yourself?

Same goes for comments on a site like BP: you need never self-censor b/c comments are free and endless. I don’t think your edifying post will ever change the way people comment, except maybe to drive people away. Anyway, thanks for trying.

Damien
Damien
1 year ago
Reply to  Fred

I would fully support, if the technology allowed, operationalizing Lisa’s comment limits. I probably wouldn’t advocate comments per day – rather comments per article – but either way would provide an incentive to make those comments meaningful, rather than the typical internet fight that makes so many other sites’ comment sections utterly worthless.

FDUP
FDUP
1 year ago

Valiant effort but possibly ultimately doomed to failure, b/c the internet. Personally I’ve backed way off the past several weeks/months just b/c of what Lisa is talking about, but I disagree with her opinion on comment length; I think attention spans are shorter these days and a couple of well crafted sentences separated by a lot of blank space are worth a lot more than any number of dense paragraphs these days.

Serenity
Serenity
1 year ago

Thanks, Lisa.

Stephan
Stephan
1 year ago

I personally think you could restrict comments a bit more. Some people would complain, but others would appreciate it. In the end, it is your website, your work, and your decision whether and to what extent comments are useful for your purposes.

I find a lot of comments very insightful, but the back-and-forth threads are not particularly helpful and often make me not want to read other comments. I can also see some readers being discouraged from commenting because of a few frequent commenters.

I follow a few other news websites and blogs and they all have more restrictive commenting policies in place.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)
Admin
Reply to  Stephan

I totally agree that the back-and-forths are not good or helpful to the community. That’s what this post is about. We are going to try and end all that by just closing someone’s individual comment (so it can’t be replied to) and/or just deleting a lot of the back-and-forths.

Watts
Watts
1 year ago

Perhaps giving folks the ability to collapse threads would help — if a conversation is growing tiresome, the reader can collapse the thread and it’s basically gone.

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)
Lisa Caballero (Southwest Correspondent)
1 year ago
Reply to  Watts

That feature is already there, you can collapse replies with the up arrow at the bottom of the post. (I just checked it not logged in as myself to make sure it is available to everyone.)

The “so don’t read me” is not a satisfying solution. Jonathan has built up a following for this site over two decades, we aren’t going to idly stand by as a small handful of people take over comment threads for their own purpose. It isn’t fair to BP or our readers.