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Ask Anything: 10 questions with a WRAL.com Moderator

A WRAL.com moderator answers your questions about comments on stories, abuse reports and more.

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WRAL.com moderator
I know that it must be hard to let comments on certain issues that you do not agree with go through. How do you keep your personal feelings out of the matter and not discriminate? – Odellia, Hurdle Mills

Comments posted on stories come fast and furious. There are periods of time when I might see five or more comments posted per minute, each ranging from 10 words to several paragraphs.

Realistically, I don’t have much time to think about each and every comment that I read. On a given day, I might read more than 2,000 comments during my five-hour shift. My strategy is to skim and review each comment as quickly as possible while remaining mindful of the Terms of Service.

I read for particular words or themes, and will read the comment more closely if any words or themes catch my eye. Of course, as with any moderating position, I do see comments that infuriate me, make me laugh, make me scoff, or simply make me shake my head; but as a moderator, my job is not to pass judgment or discriminate based on my personal opinion.

I might not like hitting the “approve” button, but many times I must, regardless of my own personal opinion. Furthermore, I am one of five moderators and cover only about one-third of the open commenting time. Each of the moderators has her own stance on issues, but we discuss heated and unheated topics at length to ensure that we are on the same page.

As an employee of a news organization, does it frustrate you to see so much misinformation repeated in posts? Do you ever want to step in and correct someone when you see factually incorrect information? – Laura Tippett, Raleigh

Oh Laura! I sometimes wish I could simply edit someone’s comment for a mere typo or to correct spelling and grammar! But that isn’t my job, nor is it the job of any of our moderators or editors.

While the misinformation can be frustrating, I keep in mind that my interpretation of a particular story, especially the political stories, might not be someone else’s interpretation.

Occasionally, I do wish I could disapprove a comment simply based on the fact that it is factually wrong, but I can’t do that. For example, I see comments that are based solely on the headline or in which the member read the story wrong and is posting a comment based on his or her misread.

Luckily, the community will usually self-correct thanks to our diligent members.

How many times a day do you call people over and point at the screen and just get a good laugh from what someone has sent in?– Michael, Raleigh

Many times! Sometimes, the moderators will copy entire comments from our shift just to give a laugh to the other moderators who might not see that comment. The comments that give you a good chuckle most likely give me a good chuckle, too.

There seems to be a lot of ambiguity in how comments are judged. Is a comment automatically removed when someone clicks the "Report Abuse" link or does someone read it and decide first? – Randy, Raleigh
Comments flagged as abuse are put into a separate moderation queue and reviewed on an individual basis. The GOLO managing editor determines whether or not to allow the comment to remain on the site or to remove it.
I imagine political blogs are quite popular for you these days. Where do you draw the line as far as people fighting amongst themselves and direct insults being posted, such as name-calling, rudeness, and the like? – David, Cary
Moderators do not monitor blogs. Those are handled solely by the GOLO managing editor.
In regards to comments on news stories, name-calling in general is not permitted under our Terms of Service. We do not allow name-calling, especially amongst members. We try to foster a community and like to allow a healthy level of discourse. That said, we do not allow direct insults hurled at individual members or the political machine.

I believe that as a regular reader of comments, one might be able to find a comment or two (or more) that you would deem an insult, but I can assure you, we have disapproved worse! You might notice that we tend to be a little more lenient when it comes to public figures, but our guidelines for name-calling still stand.

I thought about being a moderator, too. I sit all day at a desk and a computer for my full-time job. Do you think I can be a moderator while at my full-time job? I already post on GOLO from work. – Chris, Durham

Chris, if your current job does not require any other computer activity, any telephone conferences, any productivity, or allows you no other interruption for at least a five-hour period, then I’m sure you could moderate while working at another job.

However, if your job calls you away from your desk for longer than 15 seconds at a time; requires you to carry on moderately intelligent conversation; allows you to be free from interruption; does not require you to type more than three words at a given moment; or if you appreciate getting up to refill your coffee cup, then I’d suggest sticking with only your current job and leaving moderating to the pros.

Moderating is a constant, steady flow that does not pause even for a short break from 7 a.m. until 10 p.m. Monday through Friday. Additionally, the moderators engage in regular, lengthy conference calls that allow us to regroup and set more detailed guidelines for particular stories.

What helps you determine what is allowed and what is discarded? Is it possible that some comments just get overlooked and never approved? – Jill, Fuquay-Varina
Jill, our Terms of Service established by WRAL.com give us the main backbone for approving and disapproving comments.
Some comments are easy to moderate as they are cut and dry. However, some stories are a little more heated and require additional discussion for moderation. In these instances, the moderators will engage in a discussion via e-mail and telephone to discuss specific examples and to apply the Terms of Service guidelines appropriately.

Every comment posted on a news story is viewed by the moderator. In my queue at any given moment, I might have comments submitted on up to 10 different stories. The moderator on duty reads each comment and decides to approve or disapprove.

Comments might slip past us during an overly busy time, and as fallible humans, we of course approve or disapprove comments inappropriately, but comments do not get overlooked. Each comment submitted is reviewed by the moderator on duty during the open commenting time.

You say you don't let your personal beliefs cloud your job, but as a group you are hardly consistent. Why? – John Ragan, Efland

John, I’m sorry that you feel we are “hardly consistent.” Our goal is to be as consistent as possible in all cases. The moderators engage in regular conference calls and correspond continually via e-mail to discuss comments on the news stories.

Because each of the five moderators is different, has different backgrounds, is from different parts of the country, is from different racial backgrounds, and has varied levels of experience as moderators, our interpretations of mild terms and words may differ slightly.

In fact, given the nature of some conversations or stories, moderators may chose to disapprove something off-topic or some generalization differently based on the story at hand. The details of each story help us determine which of the Terms of Service should be applied to each comment.

Perhaps your belief that we are hardly consistent is not based on your perceived consistency, per se, but simply because the comment was not approvable based on one word or phrase, or the story you chose to post your comment on.

Our top three reasons for disapproving comments are:

  • Using improper language, even if that language is masked with a @ or $ or # or used in an acronym;
  • Name-calling, particularly in the political arena (most often adjusting or adding letters in a politician's name), and;
  • Comments that are simply off-topic.
I can't quite figure out what "standards" you have for the WRAL.com feature. Some posted comments are both very negative and even derogatory. Lots of my very mild "humor" is rejected. There is nothing like what I send on your GOLO. Puzzling, since I send the exact same dumb humor comments to many, many other sites and all take them. – Mike Lewis, Chapel Hill
Mike, to gain a better understanding of our standards, please review the WRAL.com Terms of Service, which can be found at the bottom of every news story.

Comments that state a member’s opinion without any offending terms and without generalizing are approved, even if those comments may be perceived as “negative” by someone else. I often see comments that could be read as sarcastic and humorous or could be read as racist or derogatory, depending on the reader.

Because typing does not afford us the ability to express emotion openly, I would most likely disapprove such comments as I have no idea in what context the comment was made. Additionally, comments that poke fun at other users, even in jest, will not be approved.

As you know, WRAL.com is moderated. Comments on many news sites are not, so of course any comment you make might be “accepted” by default as there is no oversight.

There is a difference between comments posted on news stories and content and comments posted on the main GOLO site which houses our online community. Content within the GOLO community is generated by members of the community and is not moderated before it’s posted.

The GOLO managing editor relies heavily on the community to report abuse and is a bit more lenient about the content posted.
Why does WRAL.com/GOLO operate on a double standard? Many times I have seen a situation where a word in a headline or article is a "flagged" word that can't be put in a comment. How can you discuss a topic if you can't talk about it? It also makes it hard to quote a line of the article in order to respond to it. – George, Raleigh

George, our comment filters are designed to keep choice words from appearing in comments. In general, if a word is filtered, it will not be approved by the moderators, either, if used in an inappropriate context.

Unfortunately some of the most offensive words we see have double meanings, so those words are filtered out. I can only recall a handful of headlines/stories with this issue. We have been working closely with the technical team and have discussed the words added and taken out of the technological filter at length.

The technological filter is site-wide and cannot be changed or modified from story to story. Direct quotes from the article will be approved, assuming the quote is exact. In the few cases that I recall of words in the headline or story being filtered due to double meaning, most of our members have not had any problems coming up with acceptable alternatives.

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