Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 25 May 2016

The Readers' Editor Guide to online commentators

By Paul Connolly

Published 10/11/2012

Never read the online comments on your own articles. It's like sitting down the pub at chucking-out time, eavesdropping on the witterings of drunks and taking them as serious reflections upon yourself.

A wise old journalist told me that once. Well, at least he sounded wise, after four pints of stout.

He was right, of course. Many commentators have a unique experience to share, a great way with words, or a keen ability to cut to the quick of an argument.

But a small number go out of their way to be nasty, mocking, hateful and supercilious. I'm not sure why - I guess it's a coward's power trip; easy to do when you're hiding behind a pseudonym.

This is not to be confused with the likes of 'trolling' - a term that has come to mean the practice of deliberately targeting abuse at grieving relatives. (Extreme trolling and other 'grossly offensive', or 'indecent, obscene, or menacing' messages are likely to be a criminal offence under the Communications Act 2003.)

The internet is basically human nature in bytes - it brings out the best in us and it brings out the worst in us, too.

The Belfast Telegraph's online Comment section is not 'moderated', or monitored, but our commitment is that legitimate complaints that are reported to us will be quickly investigated and, if appropriate, action taken.

This may include removing comments, or banning certain users. If you have an issue, don't hesitate to use the 'Report' button and explain to our Digital staff why you think the comment should be removed.

So what is the secret of effective online comment? I'd say it is to stick to the facts and the arguments and refrain from personal attacks.

Or, as Mick Fealty of the Slugger O'Toole website so elegantly puts it: Play the ball, not the man.

So, having spent years reading our Comment section, and with tongue firmly in cheek, here's the Readers' Editor Guide to online commentators:

The Clearly Drunk/Stoned: Often spotted by a long line of single keystrokes, caused by falling asleep on the keyboard;

The Smug: Try to win arguments by being condescending;

The Stirrers: Light the blue touch-paper, sit back and enjoy the fun;

The Conspiracy Theorists: These people can work Roswell/Jews/9-11 into anything. Absolutely everything is part of a vast conspiracy;

The Ulster Bigots: YouTube, in particular, is full of this foul-mouthed brand, who specialise in 'slabbering' about the 'other side';

The Polite and Logical: They're right, they can prove it and they're nice about it. This is the most difficult category of all to deal with.

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