Off-topic comments are some of the hardest to moderate. Removing them is an important part of keeping discussions on track but, at the same time, we need to stay flexible. Doing so allows new, potentially illuminating lines of thought to emerge. But, more than that, it lets a community develop as people talk about themselves, their interests and anything else.
Off-topic comments, in that sense, can be about community building and transparency in equal measure.
Keeping things on track
Here’s what our community standards say about off-topic comments:
Be on topic
Keep comments relevant to the article and replies relevant to the initiating post. We reserve the right to delete off-topic comments to keep threads on track.
For example: in an article about the policy response to climate change, comments about the science of climate change will be considered off topic.
We want to keep discussion on the content in our articles. That often means removing comments that are on a similar or related topic. This is especially important if the topics being discussed are contentious or attract passionate comment.
For example, an article about a renewable energy policy in Australia can quickly become about the specifics of nuclear energy elsewhere or about population growth. Both subjects are tangentially related but can also, quite easily, lead to entire discussions being derailed.
In such cases, we’ll intervene and remove comments.
Community management isn’t just about removing comments. Allowing room for a community to grow and evolve is equally important and that means letting its members get to know each other.
Our off-topic space is one part of that. People can go there to discuss anything they like. But another part of our approach is acknowledging that not all off-topic comments necessarily need to be removed.
I look at the context in which an off-topic discussion is being had. Many of them are innocuous: two people talking about a song their conversation reminded them of, for example.
That’s off-topic, yes, but it’s unlikely to cause any damage to the discussion and it lets two commenters get to know each other better. That’s important. I may encourage those involved to stay on-topic but I doubt their comments will warrant removal.
We want The Conversation to be a place for intelligent, illuminating discussions but we also want our site to be home to a community. That means acknowledging when to draw a line and when to be flexible.
There’s no easy way to do that; it’ll always be contextual. That makes moderating off-topic comments complicated but, really, we hope it’s a complication that helps make The Conversation a better place to be.
Authors: Cory Zanoni, Community Manager, The Conversation