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What are the rules on HTO?

By Scott Tibbs, March 12, 2015

What are the rules for conduct on HeraldTimesOnline? Are there any rules at all, or is it governed only by the whims of the moderators? The Herald-Times needs to clarify what exactly is and is not allowed in story comments, because the rules (or at least the enforcement of those rules) are a jumbled mess - and have been for years.

The following paragraph is the "comment guidelines" posted under each article:

We do not permit obscene, libelous, harassing, racist, hateful, offensive or violent language or images. Further, we will not allow personal attacks on news sources, other commenters or our staff. Our moderators will determine what constitutes civil criticism and what is a personal attack.

I've had a number of comments deleted on HTO, and while many of my comments should not have been deleted under HTO's published guidelines, in all honesty the majority of those deletions were deserved. Therefore, I have resolved to be a better commenter, and have been careful to stay within the established comment guidelines. Those guidelines are vague but not unreasonably so. The only word I would object to is "offensive" because virtually anything can be offensive. The problem is not the guidelines themselves, but the enforcement of those guidelines.

The old comment software sent a notification any time a comment was removed. That feedback was very useful in determining what the moderators will and will not allow, but that option that does not exist with the new (vastly inferior) software. Because of this, there is no way to know when a comment was deleted unless one is carefully following the thread. Sometimes, a comment can be deleted several days after it is posted and the discussion has long since ended. So as part of trying to be a better commenter, I asked when was the last time I had a comment deleted.

As I pointed out in my letter to the editor that was rejected, I posted a comment back in December that homosexuality is a sin and rebellion against God. That comment was inexplicably removed, despite the fact that dozens (if not hundreds) of similar comments remain, and the fact that the Herald-Times has chosen to publish a number of letters to the editor and guest columns saying the same thing - usually in a much more harsh tone than my comment.

The H-T editor explained that he would not run LTTE about the operation of HTO, despite the fact that letters have been printed about that topic in the past. It is obvious why my LTTE was rejected: The Herald-Times knows that under their policy, and the past enforcement of the policy, there was no justification for deleting my comment. Publishing my letter would have been a public embarrassment to them as my letter exposed that the moderators are deleting comments they disagree with instead of enforcing their rules consistently.

In fact, I had multiple comments deleted on the old HTO comment systems for quoting the text of articles published in the print edition or using laguage that was specifically approved by the Herald-Times' editor.

Obviously, HeraldTimesOnline.com is the Herald-Times' private property and they can do with it as they choose. The H-T can publish (or not publish) anything they choose, and they can allow (or not allow) any comments they wish. But if the Herald-Times wants to pretend there are fair, understandable and consistent comment guidelines for paying customers, they need to make those comment guidelines clear and enforce them consistently.