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Public Editor Public editor: What to do when online comments get out of hand

Recently I wrote about the heated, lively, but generally respectful tone of comments on a few key stories. Then there are the issues that generate anger, disrespect and at times hate speech.

It seems stories that have racial or religious aspects attract the worst of the trolls. I won't repeat any of them here, but some of the comments that moderators have removed from The Globe's website on the Middle East conflict stories are downright racist. In my view, even some of the ones that weren't removed are unacceptable.

There is always an argument for free speech, and in a democracy a full, and yes, heated debate on matters of policy is a good thing. The Globe and Mail's commenting policy is clearly stated in an Editor's Note at the top of the comments board on each article. It says: "Personal attacks, offensive language and unsubstantiated allegations are not allowed." If you as a reader are offended by a comment you can report abuse to a moderator.

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You can explain why the comment is offensive or you can note that it is obscene or vulgar, hate speech, a personal attack, advertising or spam or a copyright issue. Despite the clear policy, stories on topics such as the Middle East attract the vitriolic. While the comments are clearly the views of the commenters and not The Globe and Mail, there are many actions the organization can take when the comments get out of hand.

It seems clear to me that this is a topic that requires The Globe to step in and control the hate speech.

Starting later today and continuing for the next while, The Globe is making some changes to the comment policy on stories dealing with the Gaza crisis. At the end of each article on the topic, readers will have a chance to enter comments, which will be reviewed by a moderator before being published. If the comments meet our guidelines, they will be published.

Stephen Northfield, Deputy Managing Editor, Digital, had this to say on the issue: "Balancing the worthy goal of providing an open forum for discussion with the need to prevent our site from attracting abusive comments is always tricky, never more so on a story like this that so bitterly divides people. We're examining ways to strike a better balance in our approach."

If you want to send me an email on this or any other subject, please do so at publiceditor@globeandmail.com

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Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

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Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

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