Photo: THOR
Help us make our comments better and get a chance to win a Sweet Adeline Bakeshop gift certificate. Photo: THOR

As news organizations around the country continue to grapple with the tenor of their comments sections, we at Berkeleyside are turning to you, our readers, to help us increase the civility and relevance of the vital community voices on our site.

We’re holding a giveaway to encourage readers to stick with a single online identity. And, beginning Jan. 1, we will no longer allow guest comments.

A $50 gift certificate to Sweet Adeline Bakeshop goes to one lucky reader!

Though it is separate from our news coverage, we believe the comments section provides valuable insights into how community members think about issues of importance in Berkeley. While we do hear from readers who say they are put off by the tone of certain commenters, others tell us they find the comments section entertaining, engaging and much more focused than those on other news sites. We think it can be even better.

People have so many different ways of communicating, and a wide range of comfort levels as far as tone, so we know there are bound to be a variety of responses to reader posts. We want to create a place where a broad swath of the community feels comfortable sharing their views, which we hope can be done with respect and positive intention. But we can’t do it without your help.

In 2013, we made some significant changes to our commenting system by requiring all comments to be reviewed by an editor prior to publication. We will be the first to admit it’s not a perfect system. Because four of us share the duty of reviewing and approving comments, there can be variation as far as what appears on the site. We do try our best, however, and our goal is to try to respect and protect freedom of speech while maintaining as much as possible a civil atmosphere.

As 2015 draws to a close, we are taking some new steps we hope will further improve the quality of comments on our site. Starting Jan. 1, 2016, comments from “guest” users will no longer be allowed on Berkeleyside.

What does this mean? People who would like to comment will have to create an account or log into an existing one. Our commenting system, Disqus, offers several options. Users can create an account through Disqus, or simply login with an existing Facebook, Twitter or Google account. We know we may lose some commenters this way, but we’re hoping that those who wish to participate will be willing to take this small extra step.

Commenting on Berkeleyside will require users to log in starting Jan. 1. Image: Disqus
Commenting on Berkeleyside will require users to log in starting Jan. 1. Image: Disqus

We are not requiring users to post with their real names. We believe pseudonymous posts can provide value as long as those commenters contribute civil, relevant discourse. In addition, the task of verifying real names is one that we simply cannot take on in a comprehensive, effective way.

So here’s our holiday ask of you: If you do not do so already, please pick a consistent online identity and stick with it. We hope you’ll avoid “guest” or any variations on that theme. We think this will help improve the sense of community on the site, so people will be able to recognize other posters and have a sense of their perspective over time. This does not have to be a real name, but we ask users to pick a single identity for commenting on Berkeleyside.

We are also asking users to pick an avatar, a picture of some sort, to represent you. It doesn’t have to be a picture of you, just an image that you like. We hope this, too, will create a stronger sense of community than the current default Disqus image allows.

Depending on how you create your account, the method for adding an image will be different. Using Disqus, just visit your profile page. Other methods may automatically pull in the profile picture you use with those accounts. We will attempt to provide technical guidance as time allows. (Email if you need help.)

As an incentive, we are launching a contest to give away a $50 gift certificate to Sweet Adeline Bakeshop to one lucky reader.

The rules of entry are simple. Step 1: Create a Disqus account or log into an existing account (Disqus, Facebook, Twitter or Google) to comment on our site. Step 2: Make sure there is an avatar or profile photo associated with your account. Step 3: Make a comment below this post to let us know you’re game.

Though we do not require it, we very much appreciate when users link a real email address to their account should we need to get in touch about moderation-related questions, or if other issues arise. (If you win the contest, for example!) We will never share or sell your information.

The deadline for the contest is Dec. 31 at 11:59 p.m. In January, we will randomly select a commenter from the qualifying posts below — which must include an account and an image — to receive the prize.

We look forward to hearing your thoughts in the comments section below.

A few broad reminders about commenting on Berkeleyside

As we said earlier this year, we truly want to keep our comments section as open and free as we can manage, while balancing that desire with our hope for this to be a civil forum where differing voices feel they can be heard.

Our comments policy describes what we hope to see from the community. If you’d prefer not to read the whole thing, please note three key points:

  • Stay on topic. Don’t hijack threads, repeat yourself or post generic talking points.
  • If you disagree with a comment, address the issue, don’t attack the person.
  • Be cool. Don’t post insulting, bullying, victim-blaming, racist, sexist or homophobic remarks.

Further, if you see a comment you think violates our policy, please let us know. You can email us to ask us to have another look. You can also flag comments using the tools providing by Disqus. This will generate an email to us, and we review all flags.

As we note in our comments policy: “When you see bad behavior, don’t reply. It encourages the bad behavior by acknowledging it, consumes your energy, and wastes everyone’s time. Just flag it. If enough flags accrue, action will be taken via moderator intervention.”

Help us keep comments on Berkeleyside civil (01.07.15)
Commenting on Berkeleyside: Introducing a new approach (10.10.13)
The Berkeleyside comments policy (10.10.13)

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Berkeleyside staff

Berkeleyside is Berkeley, California’s independently-owned local news site. Learn more about the Berkeleyside team. Questions?...