From the Editor: Can our new commenting platform promote more online civility?
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Steamboat Pilot & Today is launching a new online commenting platform at 8 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 27. The new system offers a multitude of features aimed at increasing reader engagement by giving users the ability to follow news topics or reporters and the option to receive alerts when fellow commenters weigh in on an article.
Readers also will notice a change in access to commenting. Gone is the need to have a Facebook account to post a comment under an article. Now, people can interact with our news stories using their email account or any of their social media profiles, including Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
This new platform should make the commenting experience more user friendly, but equally as important, is the promise it holds to create a more constructive space for public dialogue.
As editor, one of my ongoing goals has been to foster a robust online comments section that represents a diversity of voices — a virtual version of the old-fashioned coffee shop where engaged readers come together on our website to discuss the top news stories and issues important to them and our community.
But creating that type of space has proved to be a challenge. Too often, comments turn negative and veer off topic. There are those who dominate or hijack the conversation and others who seem ready to attack anyone who expresses a viewpoint different from theirs. Rather than focusing on the issue or on facts, these commenters go for the jugular, usually in the form of an unwarranted personal attack.
Too many readers, who have good ideas and input to share, tell me they don’t comment on articles for fear of becoming the target of personal attacks. This trepidation has even extended to some people not wanting to be interviewed for a news article because of the same concerns. This isn’t OK, and it doesn’t advance our goal of creating a safe place where honest, constructive community dialogue can thrive.
As of Thursday, Feb. 27, 2020, Steamboat Pilot & Today has migrated to a new commenting platform, powered by Viafoura.
Find out what’s new and get answers to some common questions here.
This new platform also changes how we deliver desktop browser notifications. Sign up for those by clicking on Activate Now in your tray (click on the bell-shaped button in the lower right of your screen to pull up your tray).
Moderating comments requires time and resources, and that’s where our new commenting platform can help. Viafoura, our platform provider, uses artificial intelligence to assist with moderation, which means, over time, the system will begin learning our guidelines and moderation behavior, making the process of sorting through comments more automated and giving moderators more time to highlight the best conversations rather than refereeing the worst.
Our new commenting platform also allows us to enforce bans of varying lengths and automatically informs individuals as to why their commenting behavior violated our standards and required a ban.
It is our goal to use this new platform as a tool to make online conversations on SteamboatPilot.com more civil.
We’re not ready to suspend online commenting, like many media outlets have. Instead, we want to continue giving readers the opportunity to engage with our content and with our reporters. We believe readers’ comments add value and provide another way for people to weigh in on issues important to them. And when true engagement occurs between readers and the newsroom, these contributions can aid in the news-gathering process, translate into impactful stories and, ultimately, spur change.
By implementing the new commenting system, we’re launching an experiment in civility. With more advanced moderation tools, we hope to cultivate quality dialogue that adheres to the three main tenets of our commenting policy: start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
As with any pilot project, we’re sure there will be a few glitches, but we’ve tested the new system and think it will improve the overall commenting experience for our readers. We hope you’ll give it a try and let us know what you think. And to help readers better understand the new system of commenting, we’ve created a FAQ document that can be found here.
To reach Lisa Schlichtman, call 970-871-4221, email lschlichtman@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @lschlichtman.
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Editor’s note: This story was updated at 1:25 p.m. to reflect the reopening of Hwy. 131.