Opinion: Quality control on your comments

Cheryl McGrath / February 21, 2014 02:11 PM

In what is becoming a more common online trend, The Conversation is the latest site to publicly publish new standards for their online comments.

                     The -Conversation _logo

It seems like a natural move for the academic journalism website, which has appointed Cory Zanoni as the new moderator of the site and author of the new guidelines. This followed complaints that comment threads were often degenerating into off-topic arguments and trolling.

“We want The Conversation to be a place for intelligent discussion,” Zanoni said in his open letter on the website. “We're here to talk about ideas, not the people behind them.”

Summed up, the guidelines are:

  • Don't attack people and don't respond to attacks – report them and move on
  • Keep your posts on topic and constructive
  • Take responsibility for the quality of the conversations you take part in
  • Above all, respect others and their opinions

Other guidelines include the compulsory use of real names, instead of anonymous logins, which requires greater accountability on the site for users. Anonymous usernames are usually an easy avenue for trolling and spam.

These kinds of guidelines may read like common sense, but for a niche publication like The Conversation, the benefits can be extensive. These guidelines can act as backup for editorial decisions, such as when deleting comments or user accounts. Just as importantly, the quality of the comments on sites is often a draw card, and sets the tone for the website.

The guidelines are also pretty standard for communities online – there’s a casual tone, dot point format and list “do’s” and “don’ts” equally. Flickr and Yahoo Answers are other good examples of this.

What’s interesting with The Conversation, though, is how the community is now trying to police comments on the basis of quality.  Everyone can agree on what is spam or a personal attack, but drawing the line on what comments are “off-topic” or “not constructive” can get murky.  

For many, the idea of deleting a comment that’s not “intelligent or civil” enough can sit uneasily alongside the whole idea of a level playing field, and this of course puts the onus on the moderator to keep objective.

The Conversation’s guidelines will be evolving over time, and it will be interesting to see where they chop and change. What do you think? Do you agree with quality control on comments?

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