Do you remember your first time commenting at Canes Country? Chances are, you had a reasonable opinion, and jumped right into the conversation.
But for many readers - some of whom came by once and never returned, and others who never even bothered to get into the conversation in the first place - their time at Canes Country ended before it ever began.
Recently there has been a lot of conversation regarding the Community Guidelines, both the changes to the guidelines themselves as well as how they will be administered going forward. In retrospect, we should have been more transparent in explaining in more detail why and how these changes are taking effect. Hopefully this will clear some things up.
I’ll start by not even bothering to mince words. The reason so many of you enjoy the site - the lively exchange in the comments - is also the reason that a good number of Hurricanes fans stay far away from our site. Jamie and I have both talked to many passionate Canes fans who have given up on Canes Country because they feel like they can't post a comment without the threat of some troll (or group thereof) ganging up on them and belittling them for their opinion.
That's what we’re trying to fix. The people who remain on the site, commenting regularly, never even notice that a problem exists, because these users who leave don't make a big scene of leaving; they never make a sound on their way out, and it isn’t until much later that we realize there’s even been an issue.
We have a small but devoted group of commenters, and the vast majority of what’s posted is perfectly fine. It’s the small minority that keeps our community from growing.
Some of you have asked if there's been a crackdown from the SB Nation management. In some regards, yes, in that SB Nation has attempted to improve the overall user experience and make the network inclusive for all readers by adopting global guidelines that address the most egregious behaviors across all sites – hate speech, prejudicial comments, gendered insults, and the like. But the overarching objective, from both SB Nation as well as Canes Country, is to offer a site where we can grow as a community of Carolina Hurricanes fans. We do that by becoming the best quality, most widely-read and influential outlet covering the team, and by making this site the one where more fans want to visit, engage, and become part of this hockey team's community.
We are not attempting to become the thought police or to tell you what you should believe and what your opinion should be. We are attempting to advise you as to how you should behave, asking that you focus your discussions around topics and not other people. "X doesn't make any sense to me and I don't agree with it" and "You're an idiot because you think X" may sound the same, but they have very different connotations if you're on the receiving end. Posts that attack the person holding the opinion and not the opinion itself are what fail to grow the community. Of course people should be prepared to debate their opinion, and disagreement is encouraged, even welcomed. But the line needs to be drawn there. Going beyond it, making people feel that they personally are not welcome at Canes Country because they hold a certain opinion, is too much, and that’s what we’re attempting to curtail.
As far as the no-public-discussion topic goes, there are multiple reasons why this approach is necessary. First, commenters are not privy to all of the information and context that the editorial staff and moderators have access to. We take privacy and confidentiality seriously and will not compromise that by taking information public. A byproduct of this commitment to privacy is that moderators are unable, both practically and ethically, to respond to actions in the comments, leading to a one-sided piling on. There are times that the moderators would love to be able to respond, but doing so would require divulging privileged information, and that’s a step too far for us.
The other reason behind the rule is to prevent flame wars from sparking like they did last weekend, where it becomes one big trollfest in the comments with users trying to bait the moderators like they're kids on an elementary school playground. Lest you think this doesn't occur, or only happens to other people, our senior editor and community manager has been a recipient of this type of behavior for years, unprovoked and unchecked, to the point where Hurricanes hockey almost lost an important hard-working voice and advocate. I don't intend to let that happen to her or anyone else. Why would a site willingly accept that sort of behavior if its goal is to bring more people into the fold?
I am always willing to discuss motivations or reasoning. I just don't think it's proper to do it on a public forum. Other SBN sites, as well as HF Boards (where many of you participate), have similar rules in place. In fact, HF Boards goes far beyond anything that I would be comfortable with: "Complaining on the forums is not permitted. Attacking or flaming a moderator via PM is subject to a Moderator Abuse infraction. Be respectful and considerate. Profanity and abusive conduct isn't tolerated. Dancing around the rules, purposely skirting them just to see us twitch will not help you out much, either. If a moderator gives you a specific instruction in a warning, and you blatantly disregard it, you are subject to being banned." (That’s less than half of the relevant guideline.)
Unfortunately, SBN doesn't give us many options in moderating; either we delete an entire comment, or we let it stand. That's it; there is no option to edit comments in-line, to move them, or anything else. So at that point, we have to choose one of three options. One, we shut it down and start deleting comments. Two, we let it go, and in so doing prove to anyone paying attention that we have no institutional control over the site, our guidelines are meaningless, and we cannot prevent anyone from behaving however they want. Neither of those is an optimal outcome, so the third option - nipping it in the bud before it becomes a problem - is the only plausible way out.
Additionally, if we delete a comment, all replies to that comment are also deleted, no matter how mundane or by-the-book they may be. This is a system limitation that we have no control at all over. There has been some chatter among the SBN illuminati to come up with a fix to that issue, and hopefully they will be able to do so sooner rather than later.
Again, put yourself in the shoes of a newbie to Canes Country, and the first thing you see on the first story that you read is people bickering in the comments about each other or about moderation instead of discussing the article or topic at hand. What’s your reaction going to be? Probably “why should I waste my time here?”, right?
Our email box - firstname.lastname@example.org - is always open. DM me on Twitter, if you prefer; it’s open to people who I don’t follow. We are emphatically not saying “don’t complain, don’t question, and just fall in line.” We’re asking you to not do so in public. This should be a black and white rule with no ambiguity.
I know that you are not likely to agree with every word of this. All I ask is that you respect the motivation behind it. It’s not to silence dissent, to create a vanilla site where there is no disagreement, or to turn this into a homer site where no criticism is ever stomached. If we ever went down that road, we wouldn’t be Canes Country anymore. Rather, all we ask is for you to be decent to one another, and when things start to go sideways, to deal with them as mature adults.
As always, my inbox is always open, and I hope you’ll continue to be a part of Canes Country. We don’t want to drive anyone - new or old - away from the site.
That’s why we’re doing this. And I hope now you understand why a little better.