This site now gets several hundred comments a day on our accumulated total of more than 10,000 articles.
The vast majority of them are thoughtful, from experienced owners and advocates who want to discuss a new item or vehicle test in more detail. And we're grateful to our many, many commenters, who expand the discussion in ways we couldn't.
We've learned a lot--and gotten quite a few story leads--from reading the comments on our stories.
A small number of those comments, however, contain personal attacks--against other commenters or authors--or obscenity.
We moderate those comments--which is to say, we'll warn the author that such comments violate our community standards.
Green Car Reports redesign launch graphic
We may also edit the comment to remove the offending language.
EDITOR'S NOTE: We originally published this article in March 2014. Given the increasing volume of comments flagged for moderation, it's worth repeating. Our regular commenters should feel free to drop a link to this piece into comments that respond to posts flagged for moderation.
Not surprisingly, a few of the commenters we moderate are not happy about it.
Below is an adapted version of a response we sent to one such commenter, who had angrily accused us of censorship.
Here's what we wrote about why we moderate:
You've undoubtedly seen sites and forums in which comments are entirely unmoderated. There are usually a small number of commenters who have descended into obscenity, insults, and general nastiness.
Angry Driver with Road Rage
Angry Driver with Road Rage
Those commenters can poison the well for a much larger community, driving away some of the vast majority who want to engage in a robust debate on the merits of the topics—but won't do so if they're subject to name-calling, assertions about their ethnic background / national origins / sexuality / intelligence / sanity, not to mention blatant obscenity.
So we made the decision early on to keep the discussion civil and ask commenters NOT to use obscenity and NOT to insult each other or our authors. We think it's helped grow the site, and made the comments a more pleasant place to be.
A number of outside observers have expressed their surprise over how "intelligent" or "knowledgeable" the discussions in our comments are. To us, that demonstrates that we're on the right course.
Hope this helps explain why we moderate. Thanks in advance for your contributions to the ongoing discussions, and for staying within our guidelines.
We also moderate spam, by the way, deleting comments whose sole purpose is to include links to commercial sites. Those come in groups and are usually pretty easy to identify.
Green Car Reports comments using new Disqus system
More explicitly, here's what we recently wrote to a commenter who questioned why a specific item had been held for moderation (in this case because it contained a live link).
Just four reasons
There are just four reasons that we moderate a comment:
- direct personal insults, whether aimed at other commenters, authors, or named sources (keywords: moron, idiot, stupid)
- profanity or scatology (you can guess the keywords)
- climate-science denial (generally angry, usually flagged)
- commentary on general politics that has nothing to do with the topic of the article; more prevalent in election years (keywords: trump, clinton, hillary, bernie, socialism)
Those four together remove the main sources of nastiness and rancor that send comment threads quickly down a rabbit hole and drive away serious readers.
(We have also removed a handful of threads that devolved into back-and-forth bickering at the 8-year-old boy level, but that's thankfully rare.)
Live links too
Finally, the only comments that automatically go into a moderation queue to be looked at by live humans are those with links in them. We do this to ensure that the periodic deluges of dealer linkspam to which the site is subjected never appear.
We do our best to inspect and approve expeditiously, but we are very small and very thinly staffed, and if travel schedules overlap, it can take 6 to 24 hours at worst.
Like any valued feature of a website, our comments require a bit of care and nurturing—though at this point we no longer have the staff to read over every comment (we get hundreds a day).
Keeping them on-topic, civil, and family-friendly ensures that while commenters may disagree, sometimes heatedly, they don't drive away serious readers.
All that said, we're open to feedback from our readers and commenters.
Is this the right call? Should we continue to work toward a Comments section that prohibits direct insults and profanity? Or would you prefer unmoderated comments?
Leave us your thoughts—politely as always—in the Comments below.