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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

HTO moderation policy is hopelessly broken

Posted by Scott Tibbs at 4:00 AM (#)

The moderation policy on HeraldTimesOnline.com is hopelessly broken and needs to be rebuilt from the ground up with clear standards that eliminate "judgment calls" that are little more than the whims of the moderators.

On November 9, I made the following comment on HTO.

Saulter's win proved the voters are stupid, and deserve whatever they get. He's the chief financial deputy - there's no way this mess happened without him knowing about it.

This is why administrative positions should not be elected, because the voters are too stupid to pick them.

Congratulations, morons. You have the government you deserve.

My comment was harsh and maybe even uncivil, but it was a completely honest assessment of what I think about the election. I did not personally attack or insult any specific individual or call any individual person a name. There is nothing in HTO Terms of Service that would indicate such a comment is in violation of posting guidelines, but my comment was deleted on the whim of the moderators.

If a sweeping criticism of a wide swath of voters is the standard for deleting posts, then the Herald-Times might as well shut down HTO comments, because the mods will be doing nothing but deleting posts. In fact the standards that Zaltsberg established in his editorial months ago indicate that comments like mine would not be taken down.

A comment that calls out an individual commenter in what we perceive to be an uncivil or unfair way would be more likely to be taken down than one that paints all Republicans as greedy or all Democrats as liars, as comments have suggested in recent days.

Source: Zaltsberg editorial, 03/12/2012

The deletion of my comment was complete nonsense, and the moderators know it. So I called their bluff and reported every single comment that quoted the full text of my deleted comment. Rather than being adults and admitting they were wrong, the moderators deleted every single post that quoted mine.

Every. Single. One.

This is amazing. Literally amazing.

My post is not prohibited by HTO posting guidelines or the precedents established by previous HTO moderation decisions over the last several years. Virtually identical things are said each and every day on HTO, and are not touched by the moderators.

Zaltsberg admitted in an e-mail to me last week that "Whether to take down comments or leave them up is a judgment call." He further admitted that because of "fighting" between me an other posters, I am more likely to be deleted than others.

Deleting posts should never be a "judgment call." It should never be up to the whims of the moderators. The fact that Zaltsberg admitted that specific people are more likely to be deleted demonstrates that the moderation policy is hopelessly broken. Instead, there should be clear standards as to what is allowed to be posted and what is not allowed to be posted, and all of the moderators should be familiar with that standard.

The standard Zaltsberg established months ago is that posts attacking a generic group - Democrats, Republicans, voters generally, etc. - would be "less likely" to be taken down than attacks on specific individuals. That standard should be solidified and clarified. One possible solution is that no "uncivil" comments at all are allowed - including attacks on critics of the Community Reinvestment Act as "racists".

Another possible solution is that comments that target specific people are the ones that will be deleted while more generic criticisms/attacks are allowed to stay. Then, the moderators should be fully trained as to what is and is not allowed.

Like I said above, if HeraldTimesOnline.com is going to be deleting posts that generically attack large groups of people then there is no reason to have a comment section at all. Literally hundreds upon hundreds of posts virtually identical to mine in tone remain. My posts are deleted because there are no solid rules or standards and because I am being targeted for deletion.

Right now, the "standard" is the whims of the moderators, not any kind of concrete guidelines. That is simply unprofessional and disrespectful to paying customers. The complete lack of clear moderation standards (as opposed to soft and fluid "guidelines") creates far more work for the moderators than is necessary.

Finally, this business of "squabbling" between posters is a silly "pox on both houses." The vast majority of my posts and are issue-oriented and do not attack any specific poster on HTO. Do I defend myself when I am attacked? Yes, I do. But I am almost always responding directly to an attack on me, by name. I am attacked, often personally, then blamed for defending myself. The "pox on both houses" meme is intellectually and morally lazy. Using discernment and judgment is much more challenging.

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