The Comments Debate:
At the end of August, NPR announced it was joining the likes of The Toronto Star, Mic, and Reuters in closing down their comment sections. The increasing number of publishers closing down comments on their articles is due mainly to the staffing and financial burden it takes to keep up an active, and moderated, commenting experience. The rise of social media also plays heavily into this trend, with many news outlets encouraging their readers to move the conversation over to social media, instead of comments.
Whether to keep a commenting capability on-site has become an industry debate. On one hand, it is costly to create and maintain a community of active and appropriate commenters; on the other, removing commenting functionality can discourage reader engagement and push people away from your site to have these conversations on Facebook, Twitter, or other social media.
Many news organizations have noted how timely and expensive it can be to moderate comments; a necessary measure in the days of internet trolls and hate speech. Some sites have tried to automate comment moderation, but offensive comments often slip through the cracks. In an article for Medium, Bevan Lakay, community editor for News24, talks about the hits and misses of trying to automate moderation: “These guys were clever and quite meticulous. We banned one (offensive) word and the next day it would be a version of a different word. It was hard to keep up with it.”
At Legacy.com, our comments come in the form of Guest Book messages. Guest Book messages constitute a core component to what we do and who we are; they round out and complete every life story on our site. Moderating these Guest Book messages is an important service that we provide to keep Legacy.com a safe space to mourn as well as celebrate lives well-lived. In fact, we have been moderating Guest Book messages since our first entry in February 2000.
We call the team of people who sift through every single Guest Book entry Legacy.com’s “Guest Book screeners,” and over the course of the last 16 years, they have screened over 100 million Guest Book entries. Our screening process combines automation with a human touch to catch anything that one may deem offensive, inappropriate, or spam. Blocking expletives is just the beginning. We not only block swear words but also discern difficult family issues and prevent them from airing at this difficult time; from comments from mistresses to situations where the deceased is both a loving father and a convicted murderer. People can be incredibly clever in their meanness, from sending coded messages via their creative use of capitals to using phrases like “Good news!” that in another context would be entirely appropriate. To see examples of Guest Book comments that we have screened out in the past, click here. Our team members continually improve their skills and our screening processes to remain a step ahead and diligently ensure that each comment is sent with kindness to support the family.
It is our goal to provide a safe place where life stories live on, and that cannot be done without our visitor’s participation in Guest Book messages. For us, there is no question that the investment in our screening processes – and the people who keep our Guest Books open and growing – is essential. That investment is the heart and soul of our mission at Legacy.com.