Sign up for PM Award Updates!

On Forthright Comment In Online Comments

The Open Society Foundation website has posted an interesting article on a report that examines the challenges to editors as they walk the fine line of moderating comments pre-publication, while trying to facilitate robust exchanges on controversial subjects.
The report ‘Online Comment Moderation: Emerging Best Practices’ was undertaken for the World Editors’ Forum by interviewing 96 publications that accepted comments. The study followed the controversy that emerged in the Estonian online portal ‘Delfi.’ When anonymous comments published in ‘Delfi,’ an Estonian court had found the portal liable. ‘Delfi’ in turn appealed to the European Court on Human Rights, which upheld the national court’s verdict.

The question that prompted the study is a truth that any newspaper editor knows. While permitting anonymous comments could promote scurrilous and irresponsible comments, if all commentary is moderated before publication robust discussion on sensitive subjects is near impossible. In repressive societies it is worse. Because, forthright criticism of regimes and government actors in signed comments could earn harsh punishment, truthful reaction to stories will not be forthcoming unless editors permit comments that violate the country’s repressive freedom of speech legislation.
“When to moderate is one of the first and most important decisions that a publication has to take. If all news organizations were effectively obliged to pre-moderate the content on their sites through fear of being held liable for users’ comments, conversations would be slower and less dynamic, and some news organizations would likely stop allowing comments altogether for lack of resources to read every one,” says Emma Goodman who discusses the findings of the study in the article.
The article goes on however to cite the case of ‘The Irrwady’ that is published by Burmese Diaspora where commentators would require their names are not included below the comments because of security concerns.
“Decisions on when to moderate and whether to enforce real names can be seen as choices to prioritize either “civil” or “robust” discussion. The ideal, of course, is to find a way to combine both, and this is what many publications are trying to do,” says the article.
To read the article click here. For details of the Report click here