Rules Of The Road

Road_Signs_car.jpgYes we do censor reader comments. We’ll continue to.

Want to accuse someone of committing a crime? Make fun of how she looks?

Want to charge that someone had an illicit affair? Want to smear groups of people because of their religion or race?

We read comments before we post them. And we remove the ones that violate the rules of the road on the Independent.

Please don’t misunderstand. We love it when you comment on our stories. That’s why we have the feature. Commenting may be the most important feature of the new web journalism. There’s no livelier virtual water cooler in town, no better place to debate the pressing and not-so-pressing issues facing New Haven with the widest possible range of neighbors, than in the Independent‘s comments threads. We consider our news articles the beginning of the story, not the end; the comments move the stories forward.

So thank you for making this forum a success!

To keep it that way, we try our best to keep the debate civil, respectful, within the bounds of decency and of the law. Passionate, yes. Unpredictable. Raucous, even. And as diverse as New Haven itself.

But lately people have been asking us what happened to some of their comments that never made it onto the site.

We have always censored comments that we felt exposed us to libel, or were just nasty, or outright racist or hurtful or profane. We make mistakes. We post some comments that should have been removed, and we apologize to the targets of those comments.

In addition to reviewing comments before publishing them, we rely on readers to notify us when we’ve accidentally posted a comment that shouldn’t have appeared, or if we just made a wrong call. (Contact us here.) We review up to 100 comments a day. And we take the job seriously. As free as the debate needs to be, it ends up being more limited if too many people feel unsafe or uncomfortable participating amid a deluge of verbal sewage from a small group of haters.

And it’s often a judgment call. We’re still trying to find our way, to define that line between a free-flowing democratic discussion and a harsh, anonymous hate-fest. Please help us.

The New Haven Independent’s staff reviews the comments. Eugene Driscoll reviews the Naugatuck Valley comments at the Valley independent Sentinel. Don’t worry if it takes a while for your comments to appear on the site: We try to review and post comments every few hours during weekdays. Sometimes we don’t get to the job overnight, so comments posted then may not appear until morning. Similarly, it may take a day or a little more for comments to appear on the site when you post from the end of Friday through Sunday.

So here are the rules:

• No gratuitous swearing.
• No allegations of criminal behavior or other extreme personal wrongdoing based on facts that haven’t been published in articles.
• Wail away at public figures’ policies and records and article subjects’ and other commenters’ quotations. Ixnay on the personal attacks.
• No demeaning comments about religious or ethnic groups.
• No comments making fun of people’s physical appearance.
• All viewpoints are welcome — left to right, and all points in between.
• It’s preferable to use your real name, but anonymity is fine. Please use the same handle every time you post; don’t make up multiple names. Readers will take comments more seriously if posters put their real names on them. On the other hand, we’re interested in hosting the most diverse and free-flowing debate possible within civil limits; we want the most ideas possible to be published. That’s why we allow anonymous posts. We trust readers to be discerning in judging them.
• If you’re trying to hijack a comments thread to link with ads for your personal business, invective aimed at a person or a group against whom you have a personal vendetta, or long rants about unrelated issues or crusades — we’re going to zap them. Helpful hint: If it reads like a late-night TV commercial, a passage from a lawsuit you’re filing, or an excerpt from a KKK website, don’t bother.

In addition to the specific rules, there’s also the “yuck” factor. If the tone or thrust of a comment is just plain toxic, or nasty … we will not publish that comment, either. We welcome all readers into our commenting “living room.” And we set a standard there for civility.

Paul Bass