Changing the rules of engagement (for the better, let’s hope)


It’s been an interesting few months for this site. Late last year we introduced a crew of volunteer moderators and a few simple rules of engagement.

But like everything else, both the rules and the roles played by the moderators evolved.

Today, I’m proposing to clarify some of the rules of engagement and to more clearly define what the moderators do.

Until now, we’ve had a very succinct comment policy and no real definition of moderator duties.

Here’s what we’ve already articulated:

1. No personal attacks

2. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you

3. Be nice to your host and moderators.

As a group, the moderators decided we needed to elaborate. So we found another policy that we liked (thanks, CBS Interactive!) and modeled our proposed rules after them.

Here’s the suggested text:

We strive to create an open and engaging environment for all commenters. To maintain that standard, here are some simple guidelines to ensure that your comments appear and remain on the site:

Stay on topic. Please comment on the subject of the post or story.

Be nice. You know the old saying: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” If you disagree with a comment, feel free to respectfully and politely challenge that comment in a civil manner.

No personal attacks, please. We don’t tolerate name-calling of any kind. Please be nice to your moderators and to the publisher, too. (After all, we’re only human.)

Don’t feed the trolls. If you think someone’s a nuisance commenter or worse, please don’t goad that person in the comments. That only makes it worse for everybody. Use the flagging system and let us know; we’ll take the appropriate action. (But remember that your definition of a “troll” and our interpretation of whether someone’s breaking the rules may not match.)

No #&$*(& swearing! This is the comments section of a consumer advocacy blog, not your high school locker room.

Stay out of trouble. Don’t post anything libelous, defamatory, obscene, pornographic, abusive, harassing, or threatening. No messages containing viruses or other contaminating or destructive features. No trade secrets. You get the idea.

No free ads. Comments that contain spam, advertisements, business/self promotional content, campaigns, recruitments, or signature links are not allowed, period.

Don’t break any laws. If you’re thinking about breaking any rules, please think somewhere else. This isn’t a place to violate any laws or to discuss illegal activities.

Respect people’s privacy. You wouldn’t want your e-mail address, phone number, or other personal information plastered all over a public site, would you? Please do not share another person’s personal information.

We ban members. It’s unusual, but it won’t come as a surprise. We try to warn you before we do. Normally, our first ban will be 30 days; a second infraction will get a 60 day ban, followed by a lifetime ban.

During the last few weeks, our moderators have been very busy with deleting comments, and in at least two cases, handing out 30-day bans to two commenters. They’re exhausted.

One other item I’d like to try to include in the FAQ is a reasonable expectation for our moderators’ level of involvement. Here’s my proposed language:

Moderators are volunteers who care so much about the level of engagement on this site that they are willing to invest their time into making it a better place. They are not babysitters.

Moderators have the ability to edit and delete comments, to mark comments as “spam” and to disable an account. These decisions are not taken lightly, and only after consulting with the group.

It is unreasonable to expect the moderation team to read every single comment. They try, but on days with hundreds of comments, it’s not always possible.

If you see something objectionable, please flag it. That sends an email to the entire moderation team, and the comment will be reviewed.

The moderation team believes in due process. If your comment is flagged, the group will do its best to explain what was objectionable and to give you an opportunity to resubmit the comment. The moderation team tries to handle these corrections privately, but on occasion you will see a moderator make a public comment about a post. We reserve the right to do that.

In the unlikely event that your account is disabled, you should expect to receive multiple warnings in writing, both privately and in the public forums.

The moderators also believe in second chances. Unless you’re a spammer, your account will be reactivated after 30 days and your comments will once again be welcome on this site.

And here’s where you come in. We need your feedback.

What should stay? What should go? What needs to be changed?

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • KyRoamer

    You said ”
    Moderators have the ability to edit and delete comments, to mark comments as “spam” and to disable an account. These decisions are not taken lightly, and only after consulting with the group.”
    Suggest removing “edit and.” I do not want my posts edited, Delete them if they cause problems. The only exception I’d make is if the post is otherwise OK but contains personal identifing information, that can be blanked out. Where comments are deleted, I’d leave message in place but replace text with “Deleted by Moderator.”

  • KyRoamer

    i forgot to add a well done. These rules will encourage community participate and lessen the fear of the all to common bullying.

  • Christopher Elliott

    Disqus allows moderators to edit a comment – it’s not a feature we asked for. I’ve used it only once, and only after consulting with the commenter.

  • NOYB

    That stupid pop-up that comes up soliciting signups should be eliminated. If you must, put a non-intrusive box at the bottom of the story

  • Raven_Altosk

    Considering one of your moderators kept deleting my comments on a post while taunting me himself and not even giving an explanation about the deletions, I like the idea of being offered the opportunity to “edit” the post or for the moderator to edit the post. However, if it is edited by a mod, it needs to say “EDITED BY X FOR…Y REASON.” Rather than just getting delete happy like that dude did. Not. Cool.

  • Raven_Altosk

    THIS X1000

  • JenniferFinger

    Which moderator actually edits the post isn’t relevant-all the moderators will have agreed to the edit. We don’t want disgruntled posters attacking us individually.

  • TonyA_says

    Lighten up folks. It’s April Fool’s day. This site has been one of the best for many years without moderation.

  • Christopher Elliott

    I was away for a few weeks and missed that one.

  • Christopher Elliott

    The pop-up is triggered by cookies. If you activate your cookies, it will go away. If it doesn’t, please let me know.

  • andi330

    There has been moderation of comments on this site for months.

  • Raven_Altosk

    It was the one I emailed you about awhile back. Kind of the reason I haven’t been commenting much, but I’ve noticed he hasn’t been around so…

    Because really? There were far worse things than me calling the TSA agents that harassed my GF idiots and walmart greeter rejects. >__<

  • Christopher Elliott

    The last email I have from you is Feb. 27, but I have no record of a resolution. I know there was a discussion about an entire thread.

    I’ve been away for the last few weeks and there have been entire days when I haven’t had reliable access to the Internet. Some of those days fell on a Wednesday, when the TSA column normally runs.

    I hope the new policy will allow the moderators to take a more relaxed approach, focusing on the truly offensive comments, the bullies and the trolls. But it’s a work in progress.

    That said, I welcome your comments and am sorry to hear you’ve been holding back.

  • EdB

    I’ll just throw in my usual suggestion about the moderation. Have the moderators use a different account for “moderating” and a non-moderator account for regular posting.

  • Christopher Elliott

    I’m going to test a lower box, as you suggest. Let’s see if it works. The technology doesn’t always do what it’s supposed to.

  • Daisiemae

    I’ve been holding back too for very similar reasons. I went from reading every word on your site for over a year to not even looking at it for a couple of weeks.

    I think it’s safe to say a LOT of people have been holding back. If you check the number of comments on your TSA articles, you’ll see that they used to number in the hundreds. Last week you had 25.

    The rules that you outlined today seem quite reasonable. I personally don’t have any problem with any of these rules since I basically follow them anyway in my daily life. In fact, I asked the moderators for weeks to give us clearly defined rules, so this is a good first step.

    However, a second and third step are needed. A good second step is assurance that the rules will be evenly applied to all and not used to discriminate against one side. A good third step is some type of appeal or recourse for a blogger who gets slammed when there is very clearly no violation of these rules.

    I think some kind of recognition of this problem and a willingness to address the past uneven application of the rules would go along way towards bringing back some of the bloggers who have been “holding back.” There needs to be some fence mending.

    I think most people want to feel that they are given a fair chance to participate. If your bloggers do not feel they are on a level playing feel, they may seek a field that does “create an open and engaging environment for ALL (emphasis mine) commenters.”

  • Mundane Lustrator

    Sounds good to me.

  • ChBot

    ” If you check the number of comments on your TSA articles …” :
    May be due more to the fact that TSA is not getting any funnier as days go by !…

  • karlakatz

    My browser clears cookies with each log off… I absolutely hate that pop up, and often avoid clicking your site because of it.

  • Christopher Elliott

    Let me be clear: I LOATHE my own pop-up. I would do anything to get rid of it. But I can’t.

    Here’s why, and here’s why other big news sites like Huffington Post and Daily Beast have them. Unless that thing pops up in your face, you probably won’t subscribe to my email newsletter. Conversion rates are significantly lower when you offer an option “newsletter” box that doesn’t pop.

    The newsletter sustains this operation. I have corporate underwriters who pay good money to have their message sent out to 30k subscribers a week. Google won’t let me “sell” links and Facebook can take away my visibility with a new algorithm.

    If I don’t have a pop-up, my newsletter readership declines, I can’t promise corporate underwriters the same visibility, and everything falls apart.

    If you have an alternative in mind, I’m very open to it. I would do almost anything to get rid of the pop. Seriously.

  • Christopher Elliott

    One suggestion is that we abandon Disqus. This blogger did. See:

  • Christopher Elliott

    I understand that some feathers were ruffled when I was on assignment. Some commenters feel that the moderators crossed a line. I’m sorry it came to this. This is our attempt to fix it.

  • EdB

    Disqus has been going downhill ever since 2012 was released. Some of their recent “improvements” have taken features away, such as the ability to reply via email. And the new email notification format is horrendous. Disqus has never been very mobile friendly either. I would love to see something else replace it just as long as I don’t have to create a Facebook account. I refuse to work with anything that requires you to have a Facebook account.

  • Daisiemae

    I agree about Facebook. I refuse to have anything to do with Facebook. It’s an open invitation to identity theft.

  • ChBot

    Also agree about facebook : i would stop commenting right away as i don’t have and don’t plan to have a Facebook account !

  • Christopher Elliott

    Thanks for your input.

    Here’s the final policy:

    We are still working on revisions, and will probably continue adding to it in the future.