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Handling online comments QT34

Posted by on Nov 29, 2017 in Blog, Digital Media, Quick Tips, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

Deciding whether to accept online comments can be a tough decision they can carry a lot of baggage. How to review and verify them? How does refusing to run them affect your forum status?

And that’s only the first decision.

Next come a choice of approving them before posting or posting the then reviewing, which can result in takedowns.

Whatever decision students make, they should not make it lightly. Having enough students to monitor the letters in a timely manner is but one question to be answered.

 

Guideline

Student media should accept letters to the editor or online comments from outside the staff to solidify their status as a designated public forum where students make all final decisions of content. This allows their audience to use their voices as well. Question: Should student media enable online comments?

Key points/action: Handling online comments seems to have three options:

  • Review them first and then post
  • Post and then pull down unacceptable ones
  • Don’t accept any comments online at all.

All three work, depending on the mission and policies of your student media.

Stance: We feel there are no quick and easy answers, but plenty of ethical room for discussion and implementation of workable solutions.

Reasoning/suggestions: Within the choices above, your students could:

  • Require authenticated identification of poster before posting
  • Initiate a verification system of the source and his or her information
  • Consider your mission and forum status before students make a decision
  • Decide how much person power and time do you want to devote to authenticating posts?
  • Decide how will your decision fit into existing policies and ethical guidelines?
  • Ensure online and print standards are consistent

Resources

Online ethics guidelines for social media

Questions student staffs should discuss before entering the social media environment

Online Comments: Allow Anyone to Post or Monitor and Approve First. An Ethics Lesson, JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee
Online Ethics Guidelines for Student Media, JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee
A Newsroom Guide for Handling Online Comments, JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee

Related: These points and other decisions about mission statement, forum status and editorial policy should be part of a Foundations Package that protects journalistically responsible student expression.

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A newsroom guide for handling online comments

Posted by on Apr 6, 2014 in Blog, Digital Media, Ethical Issues, Hazelwood, Legal issues, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching, Uncategorized | 0 comments

“The New York Times and The Washington Post have the two smartest teams of lawyers and editors in the world, and they’ve come to opposite conclusions. The Times is a review first/post later system and The Post is a post first/takedown later system. So there’s no industry standard or consensus.”  – Frank LoMonte, Student Press Law Center

• Basically, there are two approaches for moderation of online comments:
— Post first and then take comments down if they are inappropriate
— Moderate and only post those that meet criteria

A third option, of course, is to allow no comments at all, but that runs counter to media serving as a forum for public expression.

For the most part, the same principles apply to handling comments as with handling letters to the editor in print or guest commentary in broadcast or online, including verification of sources and information. Once the decision is made to publish user comments or responses, label them clearly, keeping in mind your journalistic credibility and commitment to accuracy.

• How to handle inappropriate comments  (*see model policy below)
Pulling down posted comments looks like censorship. And if you allow comments to be posted without moderating them first, you create the potential of incorrect and legally dangerous comments being captured/cached and available forever. Why publish something that jeopardizes your media’s ability to serve your community and then remove it after complaints or realizing it’s inappropriate?  It’s all about the policy you establish, the atmosphere you seek to create on your site and your ability and willingness to enforce your rules and standards.  Remember, if you edit comments and change the intent or meaning you are legally responsible for their content, according to Section 230 of the Communication Decency Act.

• Criteria for comments
Just as you need a policy for letters to the editor, you need a policy for determining when you will allow comments.  Consider: Staffs can be responsible for the content of comments posted by others on their sites despite some special legal protections that exist in the online arena.

Ideally, those making comments will use real, verifiable names and email addresses.  If they don’t, commenters could remain anonymous if the student editor knows their real names. Approving content ahead of time is not prior review because it is done by the student staff, not school officials. Anonymous comments should be taken down after a short time

Use of real names is an ethical issue. Knowing who a person is can give comments clarity, meaning and context, and add credibility. Because part of the impact of using comments is about creating community where all can participate and feel safe, knowing identities generates trust in the commenter and the comment. Search engines pick up comments as if they were content, so you have an obligation not to spread falsehood; information must be verified

• Be upfront and transparent about your policy and explain it thoroughly
Student media can establish a forum by setting ground rules of prior approval/rejection without changing content unless cleared with the author. Do not edit or revise comment content. Revisions should be made by the author.

Once posted, comments or information should not be removed for transparency, accuracy and reality in terms of establishing a historical record.

• Establish a procedure for handling comments
Appoint an online editor and staff to vet comments (which means training for that staff on how to handle comments). Online comments should be signed with verifiable addresses and IDs that are verifiable. Require real names or IDs known by student editors or identify who will verify the names and identification before publication

Study other media, including The New York Times, The Poynter Institute and The Washington Post, for guidelines as part of the process of setting up a policy. Decide what is permissible in comments ahead of time and clearly publicize the criteria. An example would be no personal attacks. Also publish a statement that a student “editor” will contact the poster for information, clarification, to have writer correct grammar, etc.

* A model policy section for handling comments might look like this, with content adapted from The Washington Post , The Poynter Institute and introductory wording modeled on The New York Times:

Model Comment Policy

We moderate comments to enable readers to share, without abusing others, informed and intelligent views that enhance the marketplace of ideas, focused to the topic of discussion not the presenter.

By posting comments:
1.We recommend use of real names for commenting. We will allow anonymous just like we allow anonymous sources provided we have verified the commenter’s identity.
2.You agree not to submit inappropriate content. Inappropriate content includes any content (as defined by the Student Press Law Center) that:
• Infringes upon or violates the copyrights, trademarks or other intellectual property rights of any person
• Is potentially libelous or defamatory
• Is obscene, pornographic, or sexually explicit
• Violates a person’s right to privacy
• Violates any local, state, national, or international law
• Contains or advocates illegal or violent acts
• Degrades others on the basis of gender, race, class, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, disability, or other classification
• Is predatory, hateful, or intended to intimidate or harass
• Contains advertising or solicitation of any kind
• Misrepresents your identity or affiliation
• Impersonates others

3.You agree you are fully responsible for the content that you submit. You will promptly remove any content that you have posted should you discover that it violates these rules or that it is otherwise inappropriate.

See more for the complete package:
Takedown demands?
Evaluating legal demands
Evaluating ethical choices
Decision models
10 steps to a “Put Up” policy
Resources


 

 

 

 

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