A few very important comments about your comments

By | September 19th, 2012

Thank you.

I wanted to start by saying that, because the bottom line is, I’m really grateful to you for making this site what it is today.

You — and specifically, your excellent comments — have made this blog a helpful resource for consumers with real problems, a lively forum, and a fascinating read.

I feel as if I’ve been entrusted with something valuable and important. Which is why I’m writing this post.

I’ve had a “hands-off” policy on the comments, in part because I believe the Internet is all about free expression, and in part because I don’t have the resources to screen each comment. (More on that in just a moment.)

But during the last few weeks and months, I’ve received numerous emails from concerned readers who say the comments have gone too far.

These readers, some of whom have been commenters for years, are refusing to participate in the discussions because of the negativity and perceived bullying by a small, vocal group of commenters.

I outlined some of these changes as an update to yesterday’s post. But I’m going to repeat them now, in a separate article and in a little more detail.

It’s gone too far

Here’s the thing: This site has an obligation to help consumers, first and foremost. When we veer from that mission, as I believe we have, and the comments devolve into shout-fests and name-calling, then the only ones who benefit are the companies providing terrible customer service.

We can’t let that happen.

We deserve a comments section that is a welcoming, non-toxic environment, where ideas and suggestions can be freely exchanged without fear of ad hominem attacks.

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To that end, I’ve made the following changes:

• All comments will require a confirmed email address. I will not allow anyone to anonymously take potshots at my commenters.

• I’ve reverted to the old version of Disqus, which allows for more moderator control. It will also give more people the ability to comment, since the new version of Disqus has some serious compatibility problems. Regressing to the previous version of Disqus eliminates the ability to “upvote” and “downvote” comments people agree or disagree with. I think having your comment voted down can be hurtful and offensive to some commenters.

• All of the comments are now being screened. If your comment doesn’t add to the discussion, or is nothing more than a thinly-veiled personal attack, I will not approve it.

Hit me with your best shot

I’ve also noticed an uptick in comments leveled against me. I don’t mind the criticism, but like many of the other commenters, I object to the way some of them have been framed.

By all means, feel free to point out places where a story can be improved, or where I misjudged a case. But leaving an anonymous zinger that accuses me of being the worst consumer advocate ever is profoundly unhelpful, and I’m inclined to just delete it and invite you to find another consumer advocate to criticize.

In particular, I’ve reached my limit with the complaints about the following topics:

Not knowing as much as a “professional” [insert name]. I’ve openly admitted to not being a lawyer, travel agent or customer service manager. I’m not any of these, nor do I aspire to be one. I’m a consumer advocate. That fact has already been pointed out on this forum, ad nauseum. We should move on.

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Not voting in the poll or disagreeing with the poll. My polls are designed to provoke an animated discussion, nothing more. Sometimes they have little or nothing to do with the story. If they’re thought to be unfair every now and then, that’s fine. I’m not trying to get a job with Gallup here. Deal with it.

Hating my headlines. Again, I’ve openly admitted that I love provocative, tabloid-style headlines. If you want the newspaper of record, you are clearly reading the wrong site, and it’s time to move on. I’ve been crafting my sensationalist headers here since 1996, and I’m not about to stop. If you have a problem with it, rest assured, your complaint has been registered.

The initial feedback from readers regarding this new policy is positive, and I’m happy that so many of you agree with me.

But I need your help. I can’t manage all of the comments alone, and I need a few good volunteers who are regular partipants, and who can act as moderators when I’m on assignment.

If you’re interested, please email me directly.

Update: Thanks to everyone who emailed me with offers to help with moderation. I’m putting a few things into place now and getting the moderators up to speed with Disqus. You may see a comment slip through here or there while we get this new system in place. Please be patient with us.

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