How to moderate online newspaper comments and forums while staying sane and not getting sued

Like Slashdot.

Okay, so maybe I don’t read it anymore, and maybe I never read it much to begin with, but when I just logged in to see what the comments look like these days, I was offered a chance to fulfill my duty to “meta-moderate.”

Nose around Slashdot a little bit, and you’ll find that every comment comes with a rating between 1 and 5, 5 being the highest. If you don’t want to read irrelevant, unfunny, redundant, style-free, or obvious commentary on the stories, just crank up the minimum rating level you’ll tolerate and scroll away.

I appear to have set my rating at 4 back when I briefly lurked around Slashdot to write this story about a year ago.

So why doesn’t everyone do it like this? Well for one thing, I’m not sure they know how, but hey, neither do I. It’s far more complicated for me to explain than it is for you to read about it, of course.

What’s the point of all this?

Well, as online newspaper folks, we need to come up with systems that allow readers to actively participate in the conversation through something a little more immediate than a letter to the editor, but we don’t want bulletin boards and article comments degenerating into a flamewar.

Are we really going to hire interns to watch over public forums to ensure that no one is offended, defamed, or libeled? Is that even our responsibility? Okay, let’s assume it is, just for fun. Letting the users moderate themselves via a Slashdot-esque system frees our interns up to do something useful with their time (insert getting-us-coffee joke here if you like). More importantly, it gives the user commentary a degree of edited-ness it wouldn’t otherwise have. It’s not quite what Hemingway was talking about when he called it a “crap filter,” but you get the idea.

When Slashdot gave me the chance to “meta-moderate,” I was asked to read 5 or 6 comments and asked whether a rating of “funny” or “off-topic” or “insightful” was a fair classification.

Even the crap filter has a filter — again, the users take care of all this ugly business, and every single post is available to be read, if you just turn your crap filter down…but who would?

[tags]newspapers, slashdot, comment moderation, bulletin boards, flamewars[/tags]