Discussion Guidelines - African Business Magazine

Discussion Guidelines

Questions about editorial and community approach

Q: Why is it possible to comment on some articles but not others?

A: We welcome and encourage debate and interaction around content we publish, both on our site (via comments) and off it (via Twitter, Facebook etc). In general we want to open comments up on our material wherever possible, but time and attention is finite (particularly in moderation resource) and we’ve learned from experience that some subjects and types of article attract less constructive or engaging debate than others. With that in mind, we have devised some general operating guidelines for which articles we should prioritise commenting on.

Comments will generally be open on blog posts, features which are discursive and likely to engender thoughtful/insightful/collaborative responses plus multimedia interviews, events, roundtables and conversations, where the content is clearly discursive itself or user participation is part of the story.

Comments will generally not be open on content which is sensitive for legal reasons (e.g. where there’s a high risk of libel or contempt), or editorial reasons (could include: announcements of deaths, breaking news, stories about particularly divisive or emotional issues). In addition, where a number of threads are already open on a specific topic or story, we try to keep commenting to a single thread, to make it easier for people to find and follow the unfolding conversation.

There are always exceptions to both these generalisations, of course!
In short, where comments are likely to add value (for us and other readers) in terms of additional insight, perspective or knowledge, and where we have time and resource to be involved in the conversation, we try to ensure commenting is turned on.

Q: Is there anything that I can’t say in my comments?

A: We ask everyone interacting on the African Business website to abide by our community standards and participation guidelines. These set out clearly the main behavioural and social norms for the site, but in general we want this to continue to be a safe place for stimulating discussion about issues and we welcome community participation which supports and extends this. Contributions which are deliberately offensive, off-topic or otherwise troll-like are likely to be dealt with in line with these community guidelines. Please be careful about deciding to add personal information such as contact details to your comments: remember this is a public conversation.

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.
In other words, comment on the content, not on the contributor.

Q: Will my comments be moderated?

A: All community interaction is subject to some level of moderation, in order to ensure the spirit of the community standards is upheld. In general, we post-moderate community interaction, which keeps the conversation lively. However, because of the sheer quantity involved this unfortunately means we can’t guarantee all comments live on the site are appropriate or in the spirit of the community standards.
While African Business website staff try to keep an eye on all community activity, we rely on our users to report abusive, offensive or otherwise inappropriate comments when they appear by clicking on the “report abuse” link which appears next to each comment. This alerts us to problems and areas of concern to the community, which means we can make the space better for everyone: we’re grateful for your help with this.

Q: Will authors reply to my comments?

A: We encourage authors to participate in the discussions sparked off by their articles, when feasible. Obviously, for various reasons, this isn’t always possible. But remember that African Business website staff (including moderators) do regularly spend time in the community areas of the site and will ensure that any particularly interesting/funny/insightful comments are highlighted to the author.

Q: What control do authors have on comments?

A: None. Authors can’t moderate comments on their own (or anyone else’s) articles. If an author wants a particular comment removed, they need to make a complaint via the report link (as above) and it will be assessed by the moderation team in due course and dealt with accordingly. The moderators work closely with editorial staff to determine and maintain an appropriate, context-specific community environment, informed and supported by the site-wide community standards.

Q: Can I link to my own blog?

A: We encourage contributors to the Guardian website to include links to content which is revealing, relevant, informative and/or provides more background or context about a particular perspective, situation or topic. That means it’s OK to link to specific posts on your own blog when it’s appropriate, given the guidelines above.

However, regular linking to any site without providing context or adding value to the conversation (e.g. at the end of every comment) will probably look a lot like spamming, and may cause comments to be deleted.

Q: Who owns the copyright of comments I have posted?

A: This is covered in point (6) of the African Business website Terms and Conditions which states that by posting any text on the site you are agreeing to “grant us a non-exclusive, perpetual, royalty-free, worldwide licence to republish any material you submit to us in any format, including without limitation print and electronic format”

Questions about moderation process & activity

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 you allow discussion of moderation in comment threads?

A: Because then the conversation could be derailed into talking about moderation rather than the established or initial topic.
If you have suggestions or questions about any aspect of moderation and community participation on the Guardian website, you can write to community.suggestions@theguardian.com or cif.moderation@theguardian.com (as appropriate).

Q: Why was my comment removed?

A: Comments are removed by moderators if they go against the Comment Policy guidelines, which every participant on the site is bound by.

Q: How would I know if a comment was removed?

A: When comments are removed by moderators, a marker is automatically left in the conversation thread to say that something has been removed.

Q: Why don’t you give a public reason for removing a comment? It would at least give a clue to why something had been deleted.

A: Unfortunately we don’t have the facility or resources to do this at the moment. In most cases, a comment author should be able to easily determine what the problem might have been by consulting the Comment Policy standards.

Q: Do you pre or post-moderate comment threads?

A: We reactively or post-moderate nearly all comment threads, which means that comments generally appear on the site before they’ve been seen by the moderation team. This is different from other community sites you may be used to, and can have the effect that comments appear on the site which may later be removed.

The only exceptions to this are certain special series or articles which may contain extremely sensitive content, such as Blogging the Qur’an. In these cases, all comments are pre-moderated before appearing on the site.

It’s important to bear in mind that the ability to post a comment doesn’t mean it’s automatically OK: we reserve the right to remove comments at any time which do not appear to be in the spirit of our community standards & participation guidelines.

Q: I’ve spotted a bad comment. Why hasn’t it been removed?
Q: I’ve spotted a problem – how do I report something as abusive?
Q: Why hasn’t [user name] been banned for what he/she said?
Q: How come [one comment] was removed, while [another one] is still on the site?

A: Our moderators work in two main ways: keeping an eye on conversations across the site in a general fashion and responding to abuse reports made by community members and other visitors to the site.

We’d like to do more of the former, but at any moment there can be several hundred active conversations taking place and needing to be monitored on the site. So unfortunately, we don’t see every problematic comment or abusive user straight away, and in some cases we might not spot such issues for a while.
Because of this, we also rely on our users to report abusive, offensive or otherwise inappropriate comments when they spot them, by clicking on the “report abuse” link which appears next to each comment. These abuse reports then go into a notification queue to be dealt with by the duty moderators.
Don’t rely on someone else to tell us about an issue if you spot one: it only takes a moment to send a report.

Q: If you click on ‘Report Abuse’ is the comment automatically deleted?

A: No. When you click on ‘Report Abuse” the comment goes into a report queue to be viewed by a duty moderator, who will then judge whether it contravenes the community standards.

We never remove a comment just because it’s been reported, even if it’s been reported dozens of times. However, it’s worth noting that the more abuse reports something gets, the higher it appears in the report priority queue, and so we’ll probably get to see it sooner.

Q: Why don’t you leave bad comments up and let the community decide whether they were bad or not?

A: We actually only take down a very small percentage of comments left by users (about 1%) and of those, there may be a variety of reasons for removal.

In some cases, items are removed for legal reasons, so it wouldn’t make sense to leave them up in public. In most other cases, when comments have been removed because they are offensive, abusive or threatening, we feel that the overall community and editorial experience would suffer (not to mention flame-wars would be prolonged even further) if they were left up.

For that reason, if a comment is perceived to be in violation of our community standards, we remove it from the site entirely.

Q: Why don’t you just take down comments that pose legal problems, and let the community deal with everything else? If we could all see when people are being nonsensical or otherwise troublesome, that would help us argue against their positions from an informed perspective.

A: While it’s easy to imagine that the majority of contributors to the African Business website conversations would give short shrift to anyone coming to the site in order to troll authors, abuse other commenters, post racist, sexist or homophobic remarks, or otherwise “act out”, unfortunately, experience has demonstrated that disruptive commenters can derail, negatively impact or wreck conversations despite everyone’s best efforts.

An important part of the moderators’ work on the African Business website is to strive to make the community a welcoming forum for enlightened debate, and at times this will involve removing comments, but these removals will always be in line with the community standards.

Q: Can you tell me why my comment was deleted?
Q: Can you tell me why another poster’s comment was deleted?

A: The answer is probably that something you posted was perceived to contravene the Comment Policy, which govern the activity of everyone who contributes to this site.

Sorry, but lack of available resource means we’re not in a position to discuss specific moderator actions or queries about deletions.

Q: Why am I unable to comment on this article?

A: You need to be logged in to post comments, so that could be it, though you are usually prompted to log in if for some reason you’ve been signed out.

Q: Why don’t you remove comments containing bad language?

A: We do remove some particularly strong uses of bad language, but on the whole we allow swearing in comments since we don’t want to impose a double standard on commenters: our writers are permitted to swear in articles. We will remove swearing when it is directed towards other community members in an abusive fashion, or if it is gratuitously offensive.

Q: How do I know if my comment is legally risky?

A: Legal issues that apply to editorial content on the Guardian website will also often apply to comments posted in discussions. These may include libel and defamation, privacy and breach of confidence, contempt of court and copyright violations, among other things. If you want to read up on media law, you might start here or here.

It is not safe to assume that you are avoiding legal risk because you are quoting material already published elsewhere, are only linking to problematic material rather than quoting it, or are hedging claims by saying ‘allegedly’. Remember to think carefully about how you present claims you make, and whether they are supported by reliable and reputable sources. Generally it is better to express things as your own personal opinion and avoid statements of fact. But please also bear in mind that moderators may have to take a precautionary approach to comments that appear risky: we can’t test every comment in a court of law.