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LETTER TO THE EDITOR: ‘A look at the new commenting system’

[EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is a Letter to the Editor, written by a Reader. It does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The B-Town Blog nor its staff:]

LETTER: A LOOK AT THE NEW COMMENTING SYSTEM

First and foremost I greatly appreciate both Scott Schaefer and the B-town blog for the community service that is being provided in local news, information, and a community forum for public discussion on these topics. As an individual who has personally run a gaming server I know first hand how time consuming, difficult, and discouraging it is to have guests that don’t behave in a civil manor. With hind site I liken it to baby sitting. Late last year commenting was halted for a full month to allow for a cooling off period and to institute a new commenting system. This new system would allow “readers to interactively moderate others by voting comments up and down.”

I recently took a look at the comments posted from when it started 12-1-13 to 3-10-14. This is what I found.

  • 482 Total comments
  • 60 Hidden from view
  • 45 No valid reason for being hidden

The 60 comments hidden from view fit into one or more of the following categories.

  • 49 Personal opinion and or was important to the conversation
  • 13 Off topic, too personal, not helpful, or just snide in nature
  • 4 Offensive language
  • 0 Vicious, intimidating, and or slanderous in nature

For the comments I put into the 3 negative categories I used the most conservative definitions I could think of that would be considered offensive to only the most sensitive of readers. Although I did not read every one of the 482 comments I did see several examples of much worse language getting a more positive response. As an example the worst case I found was someone using the phrase “shut the hell up” which got 33 thumbs up vs. 26 thumbs down and was not hidden. In all cases the comments hidden were much more benign. If this is as bad as it gets I think it is a good testament to those behind the scenes in keeping offensive comments from public view.

After reviewing the data three questions come to mind. Does hiding comments help? Is having comments hidden a big deal? What are the ramifications?

First it is about fairness. The majority of comments hidden were from people who were trying to participate in the conversation in a positive manor. Those commenting in a not so civil manor are just as likely to get a thumbs up as a thumbs down resulting in a system that lacks consistency.

Second is the perception of censorship. By having a valid comment hidden it is less likely to be read thus less likely to affect the conversation.

Third is the lemming effect (mob rules). If you have a crowd running toward a cliff and certain doom, it is important for someone to say, “Stop, let’s think about this.” Having valid comments hidden solely because they are not popular only encourages the mob to come to bad conclusions that can literally affect us all. All to often I have found that those in the minority are also the ones who where right.

Fourth has to do with a voting system with unintended consequences. What has happened is that a thumbs down vote is not only ones opposition to a commenters opinion but is also a vote to have that comment hidden from view. This has led me to a personal dilemma in which I disagree with a commenter, yet also do not want to hide / censor that commenter’s statement.

Fifth has to do with political agendas. Consider that 40% of the 60 comments hidden from view were what I would consider political in nature. It is not difficult for those who want to effect public opinion in an unscrupulous manor to log multiple thumbs down votes on those expressing an opposing view with the intent to get them hidden.

Sixth is about creating a welcoming environment for the readers of this blog. Many people spend a significant amount of time writing thoughtful and insightful comments. By having those comments hidden solely because they receive fewer votes can be discouraging and would tend to decrease participation in the future (imagine the first time commenter).

After much thought I personally like the old system better where a comment stands on its own merits. As with one example (link below) 13 of 31 comments were hidden from view, many of these where valid and important to the conversation. Having to click to see them rapidly becomes annoying.

If the system must change and the intent is to let the reader have a more positive experience I suggest having only a like button. This would allow the reader to participate in a positive fashion and would not alienate those with minority views. For those interested a non-scientific poll can still be inferred by which comments get liked more. If the intent is to have “readers to interactively moderate others” then include an option to report. I think the blog is doing a good job but this is not a guarantee that something offensive might slip through. Both of these combined I think would address the reasons for the change and the concerns mentioned above.

This forum is the primary reason I am here, I like the public discussion. Often I read stories I would otherwise not because of the number of comments. This forum is an important part of the blog and without it the blog would diminish. I would encourage the reader to look at the archives and decide for themselves what is best for this forum and then please express your views. One of the best examples that covers most of my concerns can be found at the following link: http://b-townblog.com/2014/01/09/neighborhood-group-files-appeal-challenging-shoreline-master-program-update/ [3]

I would once again like to thank Scott and the staff at the B-Town Blog for running this forum and considering these views. I know that doing all this can be both time consuming and sometimes a hassle but ultimately the final decision is theirs. We as readers should not forget we are guests here and should know how to properly behave.

To see the B-Town Blog’s commenting policy: http://b-townblog.com/comment-policy/ [4]

– Pat LeMoine

[Have an opinion or concern you’d like to share with our ~80,000+ monthly Readers? Please send us your Letter to the Editor via email [5]. Include your full name, please remain civil and, pending our review, we’ll most likely publish it.]

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