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Editorial Approach

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

We welcome and encourage debate and interaction around the content we publish, both on our website (via comments) and off it (via Twitter, blogs 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 have 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 across the website, 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 is 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 comments to a single thread, to make it easier for people to find and follow the unfolding conversation.

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.

Is there anything that I cannot say in my comments?

We ask everyone interacting on the 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.

What do you count as “personal attacks (on authors, other users or any individual)”?

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; and ad hominem arguments (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ad_hominem).

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

Why are comments on articles and blog posts closed after a few days?

The main reason is that we want to ensure conversations are relevant and topical, which makes sense considering so much of what we publish on the website is related to or inspired by either contemporaneous or historical events. In order to keep conversations fresh, we generally close them after a couple of days, or whenever the conversation strays too wildly off topic. This also enables us to be more effectively involved in all current conversations, because we are not spread so thinly.

Will my comments be moderated?

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, this, unfortunately, means we cannot guarantee all comments live on the website are appropriate or in the spirit of the community standards.

While the 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 are grateful for your help with this.

Will authors reply to my comments?

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

What control do authors have on comments?

None. Authors cannot 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 sitewide community standards.

Can I have multiple usernames?

No. Our terms of use clearly state that users should not maliciously create additional registration accounts for the purpose of abusing the functionality of the website, or other users, nor seek to pass themselves off as another user.

Setting up and using multiple usernames to try to fool people or subvert the moderation of the site will lead to a user’s account being banned completely.

Our moderators do keep an eye out for multiple usernames and will ban them when they spot them.

Can I link to my own blog?

We encourage contributors to the website to include hyperlinks 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.

Who owns the copyright of comments I have posted?

This is covered in our 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.”

What is defined as off-topic?

Off-topic refers to contributions which are not related to the specific matter under discussion. Obviously, this is contextually-flexible; sometimes conversations are wide-ranging, and so more things can be perceived to be appropriate, topical and relevant. In other cases, off-topic relates to the general subject area of a particular series or section (e.g. the media blog). While it is always possible to introduce new topics into a conversation, they should at least bear some relevance to the primary discussion. Contributions will be perceived as off-topic if they veer substantively and wildly from the current conversation topic, either as an attempt to derail the conversation or as completely irrelevant.

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