By Shereen Siewert, Publisher

Wausau Pilot and Review

In the past two weeks our Wausau Pilot and Review social media presence has grown exponentially as more people are interacting in an open exchange of opinions on our stories. While that’s been largely a good thing, there’s also been a downside, and we’d like your help in getting a handle on it.

We absolutely value comments, feedback and interaction with our readers and consider the discussion on our Facebook page a vital democratic force, providing a platform for public voices in our community. Civil, robust discussion and an open exchange of opinions without harassment or name-calling is a crucial part of our mission. Uncivil comments polarize readers and change the way they understand a story. Unfortunately, there are a vocal few that have sullied the experience for everyone else, and it’s a bigger problem now than ever before.

In the past, we eliminated comments on our main page but continued to allow free-flowing commentary on Facebook without a great deal of intervention, in part because monitoring the hundreds of comments that readers post to our Facebook page is a job too big for any one person. It is an enormous task for our small newsroom.

Today, we are doubling our efforts to make our Facebook community a resource for community conversation, debate, opinion, reaction and questions.

To make this happen, wee need your help. We can’t possibly monitor comments 24/7, though we pledge to do a better job of it than we have in the past. That’s why we’re not only asking you to follow these guidelines, we’re asking that you help make sure everyone else follows the rules, too. (Keep scrolling for information on how to report posts directly to Facebook.)

Here are the rules we have in place for Facebook commenting:

  • We strongly encourage users to read the article and be familiar with it before posting.
  • Off-topic posts will be removed, and commenters who regularly post off-topic comments will be blocked. Comments that bear no relation to the story will be deleted.
  • We encourage readers with firsthand knowledge of subjects in articles to contribute their perspective and the join the conversation.
  • Do not resort to personal abuse. You may disagree with the content of an article, with the reporter or with other readers’ comments, but do not attack anyone personally. Do not libel or defame anyone or violate their privacy. We welcome questions for our journalists as much as we encourage interaction among readers, but name-calling and insults will not be tolerated.
  • Avoid hate speech. Racist rants or defamatory statements about any group will be deleted. Discriminatory language based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, economic status, religion or culture are not allowed. Such comments tear at the concept of civil discourse and diminish public confidence in our publication. In short, it hurts us all. Especially offensive violations of this guideline may result in an immediate ban.
  • Do not use threatening language.
  • Focus on issues, not individuals.
  • Posting for the sole purpose of trolling or disrupting the community is not permitted. Such posts will be deleted. Creating multiple user names for this purpose is not permitted.
  • Do not post spam or advertising of any kind; violators will lose their registration and be unable to comment again.
  • Do not report comments as abusive simply because you disagree with them. Report them only if they violate these guidelines.

We reserve the right, using our good judgment, to delete posts that we consider violations of these guidelines. We’ll be spending some time over the weekend combing through and removing prior comments that violate these rules.

If you see a comment that violates Facebook’s community standards, we urge you to report it directly to Facebook. To the right of each comment, you’ll see three dots. Click on that, and follow the instructions that you’ll see on the page. Facebook will review the comment and remove those that violate their standards.

Internally, if we see a post determined to have violated the guidelines, it may be blocked. A blocked post will be displayed to the user who posted it and to that user’s Facebook friends, but no other users will see it. Blocked posts can be unblocked if there is sufficient reason to do so.

Users who commit serious violations of these guidelines will be blocked from submitting future comments as well, without warning. We reserve the right to block a commenter after a single violation if it is particularly offensive, or if the commenter is clearly using a fake identity. Limiting access to our Facebook page is not, as some people have asked, a violation of your right to free speech. That applies to governments, not private businesses.

Your comment will appear automatically unless it contains a word that is not allowed by our word filter, or contains a URL.

News organizations are not required to host online comments, but they’re expected as part of their journalistic responsibility. In fact, in 1947, the U.S. Commission on Freedom of the Press, also known as the Hutchins Commission, said that a “forum for the exchange of comment and criticism” is one of five requirements “society is entitled to demand of its press.” We’re happy to do that. But we won’t allow it to be a cesspool that demands so much of our time to monitor that we’re forced to shut it down.

Thank you, and enjoy expressing your opinions.