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Public editor: How online commenters can help ensure quality debate

Thanks to everyone who commented on my last post on The Globe's efforts to moderate comments, especially on stories where racist, misogynist or religious attacks tend to drown out the very reasonable debates that generally happen.

There were many excellent suggestions on how other sites are tackling this issue. The Globe encourages commenters to self monitor to a large degree through the "report abuse" button and also through the thumbs up/down rating system. Abuse reports get sent to the moderators and the ratings allows users to sort the comments from highest score down if you want to avoid those who the group feel have nothing to add to the conversation. The Globe also offers users an option to block other commenters from view, when they don't want to read their comments. Any logged-in user can hover over the grey box beside another commenter's name, and then click the red stop sign icon, which is the "ignore user" function. In that same pop-up, readers can click a button to recommend a user, or click the yellow yield sign to report a commenter as abusive.

Some of you have pointed to sites such as the Daily Mail, which uses a more complex points system to reward the smart commenters. Here's sample of a commenter's profile page from the Daily Mail. Other sites have tried requiring the use of full names or allowing only Facebook or Twitter profiles to be used.

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There is real value to readers to join in the debate. The number of letters to the editor that can be printed in the newspaper is small, and a great, lively, even angry debate is great for journalism, for democracy and for society. But the rules are there for a reason and that is to encourage civil debate and to encourage a wider group of readers to join in. The Globe has rules, but the country has laws on libel and hate speech. You might have seen a few recent legal actions against comments people have made on Twitter including this one.

As public editor, I want to advocate for all readers, not just the dominant voices. Many readers have something important to say but are reluctant to wade into what can turn into a personal slagging match.

Meanwhile, The Globe is watching the pre-moderated comments on the Gaza stories and assessing how well the process works. Please let me know what you think of that method of allowing comments and any other practices you see on other sites that you like.

Feel free to comment below or send me an email on this or any other subject at

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About the Author
Public Editor

Sylvia Stead has been a reporter and editor at the Globe since 1975, after graduating from the University of Western Ontario in Journalism with a minor in Political Science. She won the Board of Governors Award there in 1974. As a reporter, Sylvia covered courts, education and Queen's Park. More


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