News websites comments policies
News websites comments policies set out the terms and conditions agreed to by contributors for content posted to websites.
Adbusters states on its website that:
- "We don’t censor comments based on their political or ideological point of view. We only delete comments that are abusive, off-topic, use excessive foul language or include advertising. We occasionally edit comments in the “Featured Comment” box for spelling, punctuation and length."
- "If you come across any factual errors in our stories, please let us know and we will investigate your assertion. Send your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org. To avoid distracting other readers, we will not publish comments suggesting a correction."
Australian Broadcasting Corporation
The ABC states that it "generally recommends that applicants register online using a pen name or pseudonym as their login name (not their real name). You should be aware that your posted comments or other submissions can remain online indefinitely and may be found through search engines or online archives. Users must not impersonate another living person or registered user."
It also states that the "ABC may refuse registration of users whose suggested login names are considered inappropriate. Grounds for refusal may include:
- 1.5.1 offensive content;
- 1.5.2 obscenity;
- 1.5.3 abuse;
- 1.5.4 defamatory content;
- 1.5.5 contempt;
- 1.5.6 incitement;
- 1.5.7 copyright infringement;
- 1.5.8 brand names or registered trademarks;
- 1.5.9 company or organisation names;
- 1.5.10 names of high-profile or public figures; or
- 1.5.11 names promoting political, religious, social or economic issues."
It also states that "your contribution may be edited, removed or not published if the ABC considers it to be:
- 4.4.1 defamatory, or otherwise unlawful or that it violates laws regarding harassment, discrimination, racial vilification, privacy or contempt;
- 4.4.2 intentionally false or misleading;
- 4.4.3 an infringement of intellectual property rights or copyright. See below for further information on copyright;
- 4.4.4 abusive, offensive or obscene;
- 4.4.5 inappropriate, off topic, repetitive or vexatious. For example the ABC reserves the right to reject contributions that have been widely canvassed in the forum. It also reserves the right to reject contributions from participants who seek to dominate the discussion;
- 4.4.6 compromising the privacy of yourself, other contributors or of ABC staff, or containing inappropriate personal information;
- 4.4.7 seeking to endorse commercial products or activities or to unduly promote commercial products or services;
- 4.4.8 seeking to directly solicit donations;
- 4.4.9 deliberate provocation of other community members;
- 4.4.10 a posting on behalf of a suspended member. This may lead to you also having your membership locked or terminated."
It also states that "repeated breaches of these Conditions of Use may cause the ABC to complain to the Internet Service Provider of the person responsible, and in very serious cases, initiate legal action."
The BBC states on its website that:
"* Contributions must be civil and tasteful.
- No disruptive, offensive or abusive behaviour: contributions must be constructive and polite, not mean-spirited or contributed with the intention of causing trouble.
- No unlawful or objectionable content: unlawful, harassing, defamatory, abusive, threatening, harmful, obscene, profane, sexually oriented, racially offensive or otherwise objectionable material is not acceptable.
- Be patient: users of all ages and abilities may be taking part in the relevant bbc.co.uk community.
- No spamming or off-topic material: we don't allow the submission of the same or very similar contributions many times. Please don't re-submit your contribution to more than one discussion, or contribute off-topic material in subject-specific areas.
- No advertising or promoting.
- No spoilers: material which contains plot developments which haven't been transmitted on UK television will be deleted unless submitted in a designated 'spoilers' area or marked as a 'spoiler'.
- Contributions containing languages other than English may be removed unless allowed in the relevant local house rules.
- No impersonation.
- No inappropriate (e.g. vulgar, offensive etc) user names.
- URLs (web site addresses) can only be posted if allowed under any relevant local house rules.
- Deliberate misuse of the complaints facility is not permitted. If you persist in doing this, action may be taken against your account."
The UK Guardian has the most detailed guidelines. On its website it states that "our aim is to ensure this platform is inclusive and safe, and that guardian.co.uk is the place on the net where you will always find lively, entertaining and, above all, intelligent discussions."
It states that its "Community standards" are:
- "There are 10 simple guidelines which we expect all participants in the community areas of guardian.co.uk to abide by, all of which directly inform our approach to community moderation (detailed below). These apply across the site, while moderation decisions are also informed by the context in which comments are made."
- "1. We welcome debate and dissent, but personal attacks (on authors, other users or any individual), persistent trolling and mindless abuse will not be tolerated. The key to maintaining guardian.co.uk as an inviting space is to focus on intelligent discussion of topics."
- "2. We acknowledge criticism of the articles we publish, but will not allow persistent misrepresentation of the Guardian and our journalists to be published on our website. For the sake of robust debate, we will distinguish between constructive, focused argument and smear tactics."
- "3. We understand that people often feel strongly about issues debated on the site, but we will consider removing any content that others might find extremely offensive or threatening. Please respect other people's views and beliefs and consider your impact on others when making your contribution."
- "4. We reserve the right to redirect or curtail conversations which descend into flame-wars based on ingrained partisanship or generalisations. We don't want to stop people discussing topics they are enthusiastic about, but we do ask users to find ways of sharing their views that do not feel divisive, threatening or toxic to others."
- "5. We will not tolerate racism, sexism, homophobia or other forms of hate-speech, or contributions that could be interpreted as such. We recognise the difference between criticising a particular government, organisation, community or belief and attacking people on the basis of their race, religion, gender or sexual orientation."
- "6. We will remove any content that may put us in legal jeopardy, such as potentially libellous or defamatory postings, or material posted in potential breach of copyright."
- "7. We will remove any posts that are obviously commercial or otherwise spam-like. Our aim is that this site should provide a space for people to interact with our content and each other, and we actively discourage commercial entities passing themselves off as individuals, in order to post advertising material or links. This may also apply to people or organisations who frequently post propaganda or external links without adding substantively to the quality of the discussion on guardian.co.uk."
- "8. Keep it relevant. We know that some conversations can be wide-ranging, but if you post something which is unrelated to the original topic ("off-topic") then it may be removed, in order to keep the thread on track. This also applies to queries or comments about moderation, which should not be posted as comments."
- "9. Be aware that you may be misunderstood, so try to be clear about what you are saying, and expect that people may understand your contribution differently than you intended. Remember that text isn't always a great medium for conversation: tone of voice (sarcasm, humour and so on) doesn't always come across when using words on a screen. You can help to keep the guardian.co.uk community areas open to all viewpoints by maintaining a reasonable tone, even in unreasonable circumstances."
- "10. The platform is ours, but the conversation belongs to everybody. We want this to be a welcoming space for intelligent discussion, and we expect participants to help us achieve this by notifying us of potential problems and helping each other to keep conversations inviting and appropriate. If you spot something problematic in community interaction areas, please report it. When we all take responsibility for maintaining an appropriate and constructive environment, the debate itself is improved and everyone benefits."
- "In short:
- - If you act with maturity and consideration for other users, you should have no problems."
- - Don't be unpleasant. Demonstrate and share the intelligence, wisdom and humour we know you possess."
- - Take some responsibility for the quality of the conversations in which you're participating. Help make this an intelligent place for discussion and it will be."
The Guardian also states that its approach to the moderation of the comments is:
- "Participants who seriously, persistently or wilfully ignore the community standards, participation guidelines or terms and conditions will have their posting privileges for all guardian.co.uk community areas withdrawn. This is not an action that we take lightly or arbitrarily. However, we are aiming to create and maintain an online experience consistent with Guardian values, and we reserve the right to make decisions which we feel support that. Please be aware that moderators may contact you by email in relation to your participation, especially where an issue comes up in relation to these community standards. Any advice they give/request they make should be adhered to, as our moderators are employed to enforce these community standards and create a constructive environment for everyone who contributes to our site."
- "We will, when necessary, remove user postings or comments from our talk boards, articles, and blog posts. * If a contribution to guardian.co.uk is perceived as breaching the community guidelines set out above, then it will be removed by the community team, in the interests of keeping community areas of the site appropriate for the vast majority of the people who visit."
- "(*NB: We will not edit user posts to change the meaning, spelling, or anything else intended by the user. Even if only part of a comment or posting is perceived as breaching the community guidelines, the whole thing may be removed. Also, when a comment or post is removed for any of the reasons above, it is sometimes necessary to delete subsequent messages which refer to explicitly or quote from the original (removed) comment, in order to preserve some notion of conversational thread. This may also happen because a later comment quotes directly the problematic bits of the original comment, which just perpetuates the problem. In such cases not every deletion will be marked individually.)"
- "We reserve the right to take steps or implement measures which we hope will benefit the whole community of guardian.co.uk community participants. Because we are ultimately responsible for everything which appears on this site, all actions and decisions taken by our moderators are final. Unfortunately, the huge (and growing) quantity of user content on guardian.co.uk means that we can't enter into correspondence regarding specific moderation activity, although all correspondence will be read."
The Guardian has also published a detailed "Frequently Asked Questions" page.
On this it states:
- "Q: What do you count as "personal attacks (on authors, other users or any individual)"?
- "A: Exactly what you might imagine. The main things we want to avoid are (but are not limited to) vicious or persistent name-calling or accusatory comments; comments which attack the individual rather than the argument or the position; abusive or defamatory phrases (epithets, especially those attached to religious, sexual, racial, gender or ethnic contexts); extreme or contextually-inappropriate profanity directed at an individual; and ad hominem arguments (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ad_hominem)."
- "In other words, comment on the content, not on the contributor.
- "Q: Why are comments on articles and blog posts closed after a few days?
- "A: The main reason is that we want to ensure conversations are relevant and topical, which makes sense considering so much of what we publish on the site is related to or inspired by contemporaneous events. In order to keep conversations fresh, we generally close them after a couple of days, or whenever the conversation strays too wildly off topic. This also enables us to be more effectively involved in all current conversations, because we're not spread so thinly."
- "Q: Why do you have moderation on this site? Isn't it in opposition to the idea of free speech? Don't you see the hypocrisy in your censorship?
- A: Of course it would be lovely if we didn't need to have anyone looking out for the quality of conversation on the site. But the fact is that as a big media organisation we have a responsibility to maintain the quality of content which appears on our site and so we employ a small team to monitor and manage community participation.
- "The aim of moderation is not censorship, but ensuring that the community participation areas of the site remain appropriate, intelligent and lawful."
- "Q: Why don't moderators just remove the bit of a comment which is objectionable, rather than deleting the whole thing? It seems a bit heavy handed!
- A: Because moderators aren't editors. Participants should bear in mind that even if only one little bit (or line, or paragraph) of a comment is problematic, the whole comment will be removed. This is partly to avoid moderators editing your contribution to remove the offending bit (which might inadvertently change the meaning) but also to encourage contributors to think carefully before posting."
- "Q: How do moderators decide what stays and what goes?
- A: Moderators use the Community Standards as the basis for any moderation decision, combined with the context of the conversation, as well as reports and complaints from the community. In cases which are open to interpretation or aren't clear-cut, we may err on the side of caution but we try not to be heavy-handed."
- "Naturally, with any human-powered system, mistakes can be made. Having a clear policy and regularly reviewing moderation processes helps to keep these to a minimum, but there will inevitably be some that slip through. We're sorry if this happens: we are working to improve the consistency of moderation across the whole site."
- "It's worth noting that this isn't the same as differences of interpretation, which are an universal side-effect of any text-based communication, but something that everyone - moderators, authors and users - have to contend with. The vast majority of decisions made by the moderation team are sound and therefore we ask our community to support the authority of these decisions, even if you don't necessarily agree with every single one of them."
Los Anegles Times
The Los Angeles Times states on its website that its "User Content Posting Rules" is:
- If the photo or video depicts any children under the age of 13, you affirm that you have written permission from the child's parent or guardian to provide the photo or video.
- Do not provide User Content that:
- contains copyrighted or other proprietary material of any kind without the express permission of the owner of that material.
- contains vulgar, profane, abusive, racist or hateful language or expressions, epithets or slurs, text, photographs or illustrations in poor taste, inflammatory attacks of a personal, racial or religious nature.
- is defamatory, threatening, disparaging, grossly inflammatory, false, misleading, fraudulent, inaccurate, unfair, contains gross exaggeration or unsubstantiated claims, violates the privacy rights of any third party, is unreasonably harmful or offensive to any individual or community.
- violates any right of latimes.com or any third party.
- discriminates on the grounds of race, religion, national origin, gender, age, marital status, sexual orientation or disability, or refers to such matters in any manner prohibited by law.
- violates or encourages the violation of any municipal, state, federal or international law, rule, regulation or ordinance.
- interferes with any third party's uninterrupted use of latimes.com.
- advertises, promotes or offers to trade any goods or services, except in areas specifically designated for such purpose.
- uses or attempt to use another's Registration Account, password, service or system except as expressly permitted by the Terms of Service.
- uploads or transmits viruses or other harmful, disruptive or destructive files, material or code.
- disrupts, interferes with, or otherwise harms or violates the security of latimes.com, or any services, system resources, accounts, passwords, servers or networks connected to or accessible through latimes.com or affiliated or linked sites.
- "flames" any individual or entity (e.g., sends repeated messages related to another user and/or makes derogatory or offensive comments about another individual), or repeats prior posting of the same message under multiple threads or subjects."
New York Times
The New York Times allows comments on selected stories. At the foot of the comment window it states that "Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive."
A FAQ page on its policy states that "our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we have created a space where readers can exchange intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information. While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can."
"What kind of comments are you looking for?: We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments – either by the same reader or different readers. We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence and SHOUTING," it states.
It also states that "Comments are either approved or they're not. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article or in the "Comment of the Moment" blog feature. In those cases, we may fix spelling and punctuation."
It also encourages commenter's to use their real name or initials as "we have found that people who use their names carry on more engaging, respectful conversations. However, we recommend against using your full e-mail address on security grounds."
Its more detailed rules, which primarily set out the legal terms of contributions, also stated that:
"You agree not to submit inappropriate content. Inappropriate content includes any content that:
- infringes upon or violates the copyrights, trademarks or other intellectual property rights of any person
- is libelous or defamatory
- is obscene, pornographic, or sexually explicit
- violates a person's right to privacy
- violates any local, state, national, or international law
- contains or advocates illegal or violent acts
- degrades others on the basis of gender, race, class, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, disability, or other classification
- is predatory, hateful, or intended to intimidate or harass
- contains advertising or solicitation of any kind
- misrepresents your identity or affiliation
- impersonates others".
Articles and resources
Related SourceWatch articles
- "Adbusters.org Comment Policy", Adbusters website, December 2009.
- "Conditions of Use", Australian Broadcasting Corporation, accessed January 2010.
- "Community standards and participation guidelines: 10 guidelines which we expect all participants in guardian.co.uk's community areas to abide by", Guardian, May 7, 2009.
- "Frequently asked questions about community on guardian.co.uk: Everything you've ever wanted to know about community on guardian.co.uk", Guardian, May 7, 2009.
- Los Anegeles Times, "Terms of Service", accessed February 2010.
- "Frequently Asked Questions About Comments", New York Times, accessed January 2010.
- "Discussion Policy", Washington Post, accessed January 2010.
- "User Discussion and Submission Guidelines", Washington Post, accessed January 2010.
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