Everything in moderation

Published March 20, 2009

The BBC Internet Blog featured a three-part post covering all the details of their moderation process regarding comments, emails, and forums. It’s a fascinating look at why they have to do what they do, and the editorial decisions behind blocking some of the more questionable content.

The first part takes a closer look at defamation of character and how the law dictates what can be published and what can’t. In regard to the process of raking through comments that tick all the wrong boxes, Paul Wakely says:

This isn’t an easy job, particularly where users are referring to - and sometimes extrapolating from - stories they’ve read in newspapers or on other websites. Just because something has been published elsewhere, is no defence to a libel action.

The second article in the series is more focused on how comments can affect ongoing court proceedings:

Many people do not realise that criminal proceedings become active as soon as someone has been arrested, so when the news breaks of a high-profile arrest, that’s the point at which we have to consider contempt of court when moderating.

There’s no question that reading a particularly emotional comment can change your opinion on a subject, or at least have an affect on how you regard the topic in question. This is a tricky thing to balance, and I don’t envy the BBC one bit!

The third and final part of the series takes a look at how to restrict information when you are being forced to do so.

In print, television or radio complying with these restrictions is easy, but when anyone with access to the internet can publish content, once that information is available somewhere, distribution becomes easy and instantaneous.

The biggest complaint, on glancing through the comments, is not so much whether the decision is made not to publish one’s thoughts, but how long it takes to make the choice. As one commentor puts so succinctly:

Does it really take an hour and a half to read a dozen words?

Upon reading the blogs, it would seem it doesn’t take that long to digest a comment, but the time is spent working out whether the content is allowed on the site or not. Given that the BBC can be held responsible for what is published, no matter where it comes from, it’s understandable that they want to take their time and proactively moderate. However, to encourage conversation, and further the social aspect of the site, I think speeding up the process is the only way to make users feel more involved.

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