If you can't do it properly....

In the Bournemouth Echo this weekend is a story
She's safe: Leona baffled by ‘missing’ reports on California holiday, following on from this are the comments from the readers. as often happens these comments are pretty nasty. Personal remarks about the missing girl , why her boyfriend was interested in her etc.

Starting off, straight in for the kill with:

going on to say

I bet he's just another well off bloke who's flashed the cash in a last desperate attempt to be with a young piece of a***.

Seems like the daughter here has found a father figure in her choice of boyfriend.The boyfriend i deduce , just appreciates tender meat..
The Echo wouldn't allow it's journalists to write stuff like this, and wouldn't  print letters with this sort of content from commentaters in the actual paper, so why does it allow this  sort of comment on its site?

There are a few signs of a badly managed comments section:

In Internet slang, a troll is someone who posts inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community, such as an online discussion forumchat room or blog, with the primary intent of provoking other users into an emotional response[1] or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion

sockpuppet is an online identity used for purposes of deception within an online community. In its earliest usage, a sockpuppet was a false identity through which a member of an Internet community speaks with or about himself or herself, pretending to be a different person,[1] like a ventriloquistmanipulating a hand puppet.

The Echo site certainly suffers these!

I am not against allowing comment, I think that the comments section could be a real community for productive useful discussion on the issues that matter to us in Bournemouth.  There are plenty of places where this does work, and it's because they have thought carefully about how to make it work!

There are some ways that the Echo could act more responsibly. They would take up more time and involve some care,

Howard Owens has a list of ways which I think are spot on

Here's how you fix your comment policy:

  1. Assign one person on staff -- ideally, make this a full time job -- to be community site manager. This person will participate in the community, both online and off and be known as a person of authority and friend to the community.

  2. Require every writer to read and respond to comments on his or her own stories. Journalism online is more than a "I publish and you read" job. Reporters need to be part of the conversation. This leads to more civil discussions and more fruitful discussions.

  3. Require real names. This is hard to enforce perfectly, but not impossible to make a consistent feature of your site.  The smaller the community - where reputations can be broken so quickly -- this is especially important.  People will often say anonymously (you'll note none of the garbage in the Daily thread has appeared on The Batavian) won't they won't say when people know who they are.  Real names also serve as a check against sock puppetry, which has no place in a local community site.

  4. Act swiftly to remove libelous statements. The law doesn't require this, but journalism ethics does.  This is also why you need a pro managing your comments.  All kinds of grey areas arise when deciding what comments to delete, and even after more than a dozen years of managing online communities, I'm not sure I always get this right.

  5. A subtext to all of this -- make sure the community knows you take the community conversation seriously and expect it to be productive.

If you're unwilling or unable to take these steps, you should seriously consider turning off comments. They are likely doing your newspaper more harm than good.

The only thing I would add to this is to have a moderator review the first few comments of a new commentator, this not only stops people being able to set up quick accounts to make inflammatory comments, but also gives some value to an account and some  incentive to behave politely etc to others on the site.


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