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Keeping It Robust But Civil Online

Working To Weed Out Offensive Posts

By STEVE CARVER

June 29, 2008

Mayor Eddie A. Perez and some other Hartford leaders have raised a concern about offensive comments by online readers at www.courant.com. We have listened to their concern and that has led us to focus even harder on ridding the site of hateful comments while preserving a forum for vigorous discussion and debate.

The message boards are managed electronically by a company called Topix, a website that compiles news items from thousands of websites and hosts conversation forums in every city in the United States. On Tuesday, I set up a meeting that included Editor and Vice President Cliff Teutsch, Vice President/Interactive Chris Morrill, Online Editor Jeanne Leblanc, Metro Editor Andrew Julien and Topix CEO Chris Tolles to talk about how we can achieve a better environment for civil discourse on our site.

At The Hartford Courant, we believe in fostering open dialogue with our readers and communities. It is difficult at times with the relatively new technology that Topix uses to encourage robust and meaningful discussion while simultaneously enforcing a strict code of civility. The system is not perfect, but it is a valuable one that we continue to review and adjust as we move forward.

We do not promote or advocate racist hate speech, and we have taken steps to rid the site of such derogatory comments. In fact, the authors of these inappropriate comments are frequently called out, or "red-flagged," immediately by people around them. Given the new concerns, the newspaper's editors will continue to find ways to achieve a better balance so that debate stays vigorous, but also civil.

In addition to existing controls, we developed the following action plan to be put in place immediately:

The Courant and Topix will assign more staff to delete inappropriate posts.

Topix will set up a system to automatically e-mail The Courant's Web staff when a comment is flagged for abuse more than once.

We will hold calls weekly with Topix to monitor progress and discuss areas that need more work.

We will have the ability to review all of a user's posts at one time.

The Courant's message boards have prompted lots of conversations about civil discourse in society and been part of the inspiration for the forum "Hartford Cares," to be held in Bushnell Park on Monday evening. But you are our best ally in keeping the online conversation civil. We urge readers to alert us to offensive posts by hitting the "Report Abuse" button when you spot them. We will review those posts quickly. We may not always agree on whether a post is abusive: These can sometimes be tough calls. But let's keep talking, and improving the dialogue.

Steve Carver is president, publisher and chief executive officer of The Hartford Courant.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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