Several times over the past four years we have publicly raised the idea of more closely moderating our comments section. The issue always generated discussion, and the feedback has helped guide our actions. However, the site has grown to be so large that the number of problematic comments has gotten out of hand, and we’ve heard repeatedly from readers that they chose not to engage in discussion because of the unsavory tone our comments section sometimes takes.

That’s a problem. It might seem counter-intuitive, but it’s clear that taking a hands-off role in commenting is actually creating a chilling effect on the conversation.

So, in the last few months, we’ve been deleting and banning with a heavier hand, and taking note to ourselves what it is about those comments that we find unacceptable. From those notes, we’ve developed a list of broad themes. Before we add them to the template, we thought it only fair to put them up for discussion here. Tell us what you think.

Comment policy:

Sheepshead Bites is intended to be a tool to find and discuss local information. Commenting is moderated to ensure that all comments are constructive and fair. While negative comments are allowed, this is not a forum to indiscriminately bash Sheepshead Bites, other readers, local businesses or public persons. Therefore, the following policies have been implemented:

  • Comments should be relevant to the post’s contents.
  • Critical comments should be specific, relevant and constructive.
  • No personal attacks, either to businesses, agencies or people discussed above or to other commenters, are allowed under any circumstance.
  • Intolerant comments against a person or group’s race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender or age will be removed.
  • Removal and/or banning is at our discretion. If you disagree with a comment’s removal, you may e-mail us directly using the contact button at the top of this page. However, we will not engage in a debate about our terms in the comments section.
  • Any violation of the rules above may lead to the user being permanently banned.

Related posts

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/lisanne001 Lisanne!

    I especially agree that discussions about deletions should be done privately. The purpose of a comment section should be generally to respond top the content of what was written. Public discussion of administrative matters detracts from the discussions taking place that have more direct relevance.

  • ES

    *applauds*

    That’s all I have to say.

  • NSF

    Fair and balanced; unlike Fox News!

    • ShadowLock

       psh, fox news is full of failure and deception.

      • ES

        And yet, still #1  in the ratings.

        • levp

          Although this fact reflects more on the quality of our society, rather than the quality of FNC programming.

          • Stan_LS

            Right. Because the Florida teen shooting fiasco has shown how credible ABC, NY Times, etc., are. Please. MSNBC got Sharpton on their payroll as he incites/”reports” from location. Awesome.

          • levp

            So Fox News is good because others are just as bad?  Awesome.

          • Stan_LS

            No, it seems that others are good just because Fox News is just as bad. After all that’s the channel that gets singled out.

          • levp

            I didn’t force them to call themselves “fair and balanced”.

          • Stan_LS

            CNN – “Most Trusted Name in News”. Your point?

          • levp

            What, you mean all those iReporters with cell phone cameras are not to be trusted?! CNN 20 years ago was, indeed, the most trusted name in (TV) news. Just like MTV does not qualify for the name of their channel anymore, either.
            Still does not change the original point about Fox News.

          • Stan_LS

            Doesn’t change the original point about your fixation on Fox when others, as you pointed out, are just as bad. I suppose that also doesn’t change the original point that such fixation “reflects more on the quality of our society, rather than the quality of FNC programming.”

          • levp

            Others do not call themselves “fair and balanced”, hence the fixation. By the way, I freely admit my highly partisan opinions are exactly that, unfair and biased. They should have character to admit the same.

          • Stan_LS

            Ok, thanks for your unfair and biased outrage.

          • ShadowLock

             for the record, the fact that i cannot reply to the next string of comments is kinda annoying…..  I can only Like it….. sounds like a knock off of facebook, Atleast give me a Dislike button, or a Kick in the nuts button!

            :/

          • http://www.brucebrodinsky.com Bruce B

            They all stink … Why is any news network so terrified of being balan
            ced?

            I applaud this stated policy as lOng as its done fairly, and from what I’ve seen, it has been.

        • ShadowLock

          They are #1?    they must be lying to you!

          Sheepsheadbites is #1!  Like a BOASE!

  • http://www.njluxurymotors.com Arthur Borko

    Can we still bash the MTA?

    • http://www.flickr.com/photos/lisanne001 Lisanne!

       Nicely, Arthur. Consider that a challenge.

      • http://www.flickr.com/photos/lisanne001 Lisanne!

         Oh I am so clever. Too bad we’re not allowed to “like” our own remarks.

  • TbWSWB9p2fM9

    A great move in the right direction!

    I’d hope that community members would post civilly knowing that Sheepshead Bites will only last so long as its editors can focus on investigating and reporting the news.

    Babysitting the forums, I’d guess, is a thankless and time-consuming task which takes away from that goal.

  • Kon

    I think you should give 1 warning before banning someone.

    Give a few examples of what is considered an intolerant comment. If I say “There is no god?” is that an intolerant comment. If someone says “There is a god” is that an intolerant comment? If someone says “Religion is a cancer to the human race” is that an intolerant comment?

    • http://www.nedberke.com Ned Berke

      There’s absolutely no way we can cover absolutely every possible violation of these terms and all the grey areas in between. It all depends on context, and, like pornography, I know incivility when I see it. And, no, there will be no warnings. Having your comments deleted previously is warning enough. 

      • Kon

        I am sorry to say this but you are going to be a lot of comments often when you post articles about stuff like the “Sheepshead Mosque” and “Politics.”

      • us citizen

         Ned  , You are a fine job considering all the craziness that abounds

        • us citizen

           doing a fine job   sorry for the typo

  • Andrew Kent

    The only problem here is the proverbial slippery slope and chilling effect.  Is bashing a bible-thumping homophobic group like the Westboro crazies religious intolerance?  Is calling a politician a self-righteous imbicilic asshat a personal attack?  And what about all those tried and convicted thieves, murderers, perverts and other contemptible miscreants?  Aren’t they fair game for our unbridled vituperative invective?  What we say shouldn’t defame anyone or hurt their feelings, but we should never be afraid to call  the plays as we see them.

    The challenge here is to distinguish between “fair comment,” no matter how colorful and sarcastic, and hate-motivated slurs with no redeeming intellectual value.  And, of course, we should refrain from flaming our fellow comment posters, no matter how offensive or imbecilic their comments may seem, as doing so will only lower the quality of the discussion.

    • ES

      I wish I could “Like” your comment multiple times.

    • http://twitter.com/Lostinservice Lostinservice

      I only disagree with “What we say shouldn’t … hurt their feelings” since people take things personally without reason. It’s no metric by which to judge the value of a comment, but that’s trivial since as Ned has pointed out there won’t be a set of rules to cover every situation. I propose one rule: “Try not to be a huge jerk” and defer to Ned’s judgement when to delete comments because he’s been pretty good about it so far. Corollary to rule 1 is if Ned does delete your comment, don’t be an asshat and complain about it in the comments and get in touch with the SHB mods privately. That’s it. It’s a framework, not a rule set.

    • http://www.brucebrodinsky.com Bruce B

      Arthur, I hope your humor is not subject to deletion :)

  • Local Broker

    So if you do a review of a restaurant but i think its nasty and the guy behind the counter is a d-bag i shouldn’t comment?

    • http://www.flickr.com/photos/lisanne001 Lisanne!

      Just say you had a bad experience, and that you felt that the counterperson was inattentive or rude, or both. Or whatever other polite adjectives describe the circumstances.

      You can be effective while maintaining some decorum in doing so.

  • MrArtTuro

    I am a fan of the serious nature of Sheepshead Bites,  but I am also happy to see the irreverent and ‘Brooklyn-ese-like’ tawk and discussions that sometime ensue. 
    The banter and interesting opposing viewpoints, stated with style and moxie add to the character and fun of reading this Brooklyn blog and the comments.  The less restrictions and censoring the better.  Ned, you often shape a new item in an interesting, even sarcastic way. Will you curtail that style due to political correctness and perspective over-sensitivities? It is part of the charm of SB.  Letters and comments often provoke and shine a light on the fun aspects of it all.  I, once again, for one, am NOT happy with the idea of a repressed, censored and restricted conversational flow.   Who’s getting hurt by a little spunky chat?   C’mon now, we live in the area of disgraced former Sen. Carl Kruger and sushi/pharmacy propagation ;  can we not have a local place to vent, steam and joke?
    Stay back editor,  let the talk flow freely.
     
    ‘Like’ this if you agree, dear readers.

    • http://www.flickr.com/photos/lisanne001 Lisanne!

      We’re not talking about flippant or mildly irreverent. the concern here is that the lines of civility have been crossed, and too often. If this was a private forum, and the participants were comfortable with each other generally, a lot more latitude could be allowed. But this is a public website, read by a diverse group of people. Some of the characterisations that have been made by commenters  have been insensitive to the extreme, and in some cases, directed towards specific individuals. Allowing such content does not make the comments more lively, they merely alienate some of the readership. Sheepshead Bites has grown because it concerns itself with the entire community. Remarks made disparaging member of various groups that live here, arguments which dissolve into personal attacks, and generally insensitivity should have no place here.

      We’re capable of knowing the difference between acceptable and unacceptable discourse. Being more sensitive to the effect that our words might have on others should not cause us to find less satisfaction in contributing our thoughts, and even our wit, to the content of these pages.

  • subway stinker

    I have consistenly objected to the needless vulgar four letter words that some of the bloviators on this site resort to when they run out of ideas. I didnt see anything in your propsed rules that deal with those readers who have the vocabulary of a 12 year old. Also, what prompted all those posts about Fox vs. CNN? Totally off subject and irrelivent.

    • http://twitter.com/Lostinservice Lostinservice

      Well this is an open thread, the post is just a starting point and not the only topic you can discuss.

    • ES

      NSF just likes to throw brickbats against Fox News any chance he gets. No biggie. I think we’re all used to it by now.

      • http://www.brucebrodinsky.com Bruce B

        Doesn’t NSF stand for nothing suckslike fox?

  • Bugg

    The 1st Amendment is supposed to protect all speech, especially that which is unpopular. There’s a PC part of our country that wants to limit speech if offends certain protected groups.

    That’s nonsense. Part of life is seeing and hearing things you don’t like, may not agree with and make you uncomfortable. i agree with Bill Maher on practically nothing, but on this he is correct-enough with the speech codes trying to limit people from being “offended”. Grow up and deal with it. Also sotp spending your time looking to be offended. And crazy idea-instead of calling something “___phobic” or “hate speech” without thinking, get a cogent argument in response.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/22/opinion/please-stop-apologizing.html?_r=2

    • Truthteller

      I agree with Bugg.  When you make a comment and you know its the truth, but whoever moderates these posts doesn’t like it.  It is deleted. 

      I have posted the truth here a number of times and it has been deleted.

      Shame on you.  Bet you delete this too………..

    • Andrew Kent

      The First Amendment protects us from government censorship, but not from the private editing of responses to a proprietary blog or other publication. Newspapers do this routinely with letters to the editor, and nobody complains. Yes, political correctness can go too far, but, in this age of cultural sensitivity, many once common slurs and attitudes are simply inappropriate in a publicly read forum. A blog is a bulletin board for the exchange of ideas, not a bathroom wall. I suspect that most problematic posts will be deleted due more to form than to content, so the challenge will be to post creatively and respectfully, as if you were among friends at a dinner table.

      • Bugg

        “Cultural sensitivity”-who is the arbiter of that? Who’s sensitivity? Who’s attitudes?

        Look, if someone wants to write the “f” word 40 times, fine, delete it. Profanity in a limited context can make a point. But in excess it merely shows the person has a limited point of view, if a he ahs one at all.

        But when you move on to discussing PC attitudes and sensitivities, you’re giving up the ghost that certain viewpoints will be verboten here. And that is not a free and open exchange of ideas and opinions, rather a limiting of them.
        As as to the dinner table, apparently yours is at Buckingham Palace rather one thsn any of us has dined.

        Or drank.

        • Andrew Kent

          Profanity can be presented just as effectively with asterisks, and people will get your point.  But any prudent person would be offended by the “N word”, antisemitic remarks, and other epithets that are no longer welcome in civilized conversation.  As for sensitivity, just be sensitive to peoples’ feelings.  I mean, would you tell Helen Keller jokes in front of a blind person?  Intellectually honest criticism of another’s views is fine, but name-calling, or tarring entire groups with the broad brush of bigotry, lowers the bar for everyone.  Just use common sense, and common decency.

    • http://www.brucebrodinsky.com Bruce B

      Bugg, I agree with u all the way, but it still doesn’t give u the right to demand that SB publish your post. You can exercise free speech on ur own blog or in the street

  • http://www.brucebrodinsky.com Bruce B

    Bottom line is, its not my site. If he wants to delete posts its his right. If I don’t like it it’s my right to not read or participate. I don’t have the right to require SB to publish my posts.