By Monte Sahlin, September 14, 2016:     One of the purposes of Adventist Today is to provide a “free speech area” for our readers. The primary way this is provided is through the Comments feature at the end of each article.

Recently several major news organizations have stopped allowing comments on their Web sites. There is one main reason; people tend to act their worst when they believe they cannot be held accountable. And the cost of maintaining basic decency on commenting systems is huge, often requiring multiple moderators and expensive software. Much more than Adventist Today can possibly afford.

There is, however, a great deal of evidence that well managed comments are good for news organizations and their Web sites. So, at Adventist Today, we have spent nearly a year looking for a solution to managing our comments that is useful and within our budget.

We think we have found it in Civil Comments. Here is paragraph from their User Guide:  “Civil” does not mean necessarily mean “nice.” Comments, particularly on challenging topics, need room for disagreement and debate; even passionate debate. We don’t all have to agree, but we must be able to disagree without personal insults, harassment, and abuse.

We agree completely, as do most of you! Civil Comments, amongst all the current commenting and forum software, takes a completely new approach; the commenters crowd source our moderation.

When you login (yes, a login is required) you can use Email, Facebook or Twitter. Once you are logged-in and you click the “Submit” button on your comment, you will be presented with Civil Comments “secret sauce;” you have to moderate two existing comments.

You will be presented with someone else’s comment and will be asked to decide whether or not it is a “good” comment. This designation is completely up to you. However, most definitions of a “good” comment include traits like it is germane to the article being discussed and it advances the discussion.

Next you will be asked whether the comment is “civil.” Again, this is completely up to you. The definition is provided by Civil Comments; the comment is “without personal insults, harassment, and abuse.”

Someone will no doubt ask, “Why do I have to rate comments?”  Here is the answer from the Civil Comments User Guide:   “Your ability to rate other people’s comments is integral to your participation. Civil’s algorithms work behind the scenes to cross-check your ratings against those from other users; if you aren’t rating accurately, you risk your own comments not being published. Plus, it’s fun, and it helps make the comments a lot more interesting. Everyone’s tired of the old “ur a moron” comments. With Civil, you have the ability to help build one of the best comment communities online.”

To put it another way, if you want to use the Comments feature on Adventist Today to publish your opinion, we ask that you help us with the work of moderating. We are a volunteer organization, not a commercial business. We are a community.

Over the next couple of weeks, we will be implementing this new commenting system on our Web site. All the comments on the older articles will stay! You just won’t be able to make new ones on those old articles, except for a few cases where the ongoing dialog is clearly still underway.

By next week, all the new articles will have only the new Civil Comments feature available. (Should Adventist Today ever decide to stop using the new system, we will move the comments to their correct articles in the current storage system at that time. Nothing will be lost.)

Again, here is the User Guide for Civil Comments. You are free to read it and refer to it at your leisure.

Also, several of our staff will be watching the comments on this article closely for several weeks. If you have questions or encounter problems, please post here and we’ll do our best to get back to you quickly.

In addition, you can email us at civil@atoday.org with questions or problems if you don’t see them answered here. We are also open to suggestions as we move forward. The creators of Civil Comments has proved remarkably responsive and helpful.

We are really looking forward to watching our commenting community grow!

Monte Sahlin is the CEO of Adventist Today. You can send an Email to him at our regular Email address — atoday@atoday.org — by simply putting his name in the subject line.