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Columbia Missourian

DEAR READER: New Missourian commenting procedure hopes to remove spam

By Joy Mayer
November 18, 2011 | 1:15 p.m. CST

Dear Reader,

Your comments are an important part of the Missourian's journalism. When you choose to share your expertise and your perspective, you enrich the conversation that has naturally occurred around the news forever. (I'm fond of saying that "social media" has been around since people started mailing newspaper clippings and, before that, saying, "did you hear …".)

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The newsroom, and specifically the community outreach team, has been taking a look this fall at what kinds of conversations spring up on our website. Tom Warhover wrote a column last month about our approach to comments, and he's written in the past about why we ask you to use your real names when you post.

I'm writing today to tell you about the next phase of our evolution. We're going to add a step to the process for new commenters. As of today, when a user posts his or her first comment, the comment will be looked at by the newsroom before it is published to make sure it adheres to our policy.

This extra hurdle will, we hope, solve our problem with spam. Several times a week, new accounts are created on our site by people who are posting links to websites or advertising businesses. They often post the same thing under as many stories as they can in the time it takes the newsroom to notice it and delete their user accounts.

The spam degrades your user experience in a couple of ways. One, it's annoying. Two, it makes it harder for you to find the real conversation, among real people, on real issues. It's especially vexing to watch spam take over the "Latest Comments" feed on our homepage, as the picture with this column demonstrates.

This extra hurdle of waiting for moderation will be an inconvenience for new users, we realize. But we hope the payoff will be worth it.

As an added benefit of this new feature (which was programmed in by our IT staff this week), we can decide to moderate the comments of any individual users if we have reason to be concerned about what they might post. As the system worked before, users either could comment freely or were barred from commenting entirely. Now we have an intermediate step of moderating their comments before the rest of you see them.

If someone posts using initials rather than a full name, for example, we can invite them to update their profile and then have a way to double check that they've added a whole name before they comment again. Or if someone's comments have been flagged by other users or by the newsroom as containing personal attacks, we can check their new comments before letting them be public.

We hope conversation is one of the things you value about the Missourian and that this change will improve your experience. As always, we welcome your feedback.

Joy Mayer is the director of community outreach for the Missourian. She can be reached at mayerj@missouri.edu and at 573-882-8182.