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Civility First: A quest to keep our comments section kind

Our comments section is about to get a little bit nicer.
Our comments section is about to get a little bit nicer.

Our comments section has its moments of glory, instances of brave citizens discoursing civilly despite a national education debate dominated by divisive misconceptions.

But too often, it’s ugly down there. Too often, comments include personal attacks and deliberate deceptions.

And so we embark on a niceness campaign. Down the road, we are open to making more major changes, such as asking commenters to log in with a registered verified identity or creating a community policing system where other commenters can vote comments up or down a la Gawker.

Another idea is to change the structure so you can respond right underneath other readers’ postings and flag comments you find inappropriate. We hope you will share more ideas.

For now, we have drafted a recommended list of principles to govern our most basic (and, at present, only) moderation decision: Do we allow a comment to be published, or do we delete it? (Right now, given our editorial capacity, every comment that the WordPress computers don’t flag as possible spam is published immediately by default. For more on the spam catchers, see #4 below.)

Most of these principles we already follow in an ad hoc way, but we want to codify them. The list is below. Please share your feedback. Once we’ve got something we all like — or at least, most of us like — we’ll publish it permanently on the site.

Draft GothamSchools Community Policy

We encourage vigorous debate and welcome constructive criticism of our coverage. However, we do reserve the right to moderate these discussions and occasionally will delete comments that violate our community policy.

1. No obscenity, vulgarity, profanity, racism or sexism. If you think something might cross the line, it probably does. Disagreement with people’s arguments is fine, but personal attacks — including on other commenters and GothamSchools writers and editors — will not be tolerated. We tend to agree with Jon Stewart that Nazi analogies are rarely appropriate. We reserve the right to judge what crosses the line.

2. Do not impersonate a person you’re not and do not “sock-puppet.” This should not come as a surprise, but we can see your IP addresses and e-mails, so we know if you’re doing this. If you post as Cathie Black or Joel Klein, we will delete your comment unless we can verify that you are actually Cathie Black or Joel Klein. We follow this definition of “sock-puppeting” as the New York Times defined it: “the act of creating a fake online identity to praise, defend or create the illusion of support for one’s self, allies or company.”

3. You’re welcome to post under a username that allows you to retain anonymity, but we encourage everyone to use their real names and e-mail addresses (which are not shared publicly). We feel the same way about this matter as does the New York Times, which writes in its comment policy: “We have found that people who use their names carry on more engaging, respectful conversations.”

4. To prevent the comment threads from filling up with spam, our site automatically places certain types of comments in moderation. If your comment includes more than two links or is over 300 words, chances are that our site will think it’s spam and one of us will have to approve it manually. If you post a comment like this in the middle of the night or on a weekend, please don’t fret if it’s not approved right away. We are probably asleep or otherwise engaged in our off-line lives.

5. If you have a correction or a criticism of our coverage, the fastest way to reach us is by email. We do read the comment threads (though often not immediately) and will occasionally respond, but commenting isn’t the most efficient way to get our attention.

6. Help us flag violations! If you believe that another commenter has violated our policy, the best way to let us know is — again — to send us an e-mail.

7. We very rarely block a reader from ever commenting, but sometimes we have no other means of maintaining civility. Should you take it upon yourself to violate the comment policy multiple times, we will contact you and ask you to stop. If you continue, we will block you.

8. Please DON’T POST IN ALL CAPS. Some sites will delete your comments if you do this and, while that seems a bit extreme to us, using all-caps does make you sound like a crazy person. Good spelling and grammar are also appreciated.

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