Today, New Media Age reports that the Daily Mail is to stop actively moderating reader comments - and by coincidence, one of our commenters, John Steed, has also asked us to clarify aspects of our policy, which is similar, so this seems like a good opportunity to blog about how we deal with comments on our site.

The quick answer is that we don't read the comments on the stories, we just respond to those which are reported to us. So we do rely on responsible members of our community to bring our attention to the nasties - please take the time to report any offensive posts to us, and those which breach our terms and conditions will be removed.

Here are our terms and conditions. The clauses which relate most closely to comments are 9 to 12. Key statements are: "You are legally responsible for material you post or submit and you understand that by doing so you intend it to be published on the website."

and "You have not defamed any individual, corporation organisation or otherwise affected their legal rights. This may include but is not restricted to: comment which cannot be justified; facts which are untrue or unprovable; statements breaching an individual's privacy; statements which may prejudice a court case; images or statements which are obscene, pornographic or illegal; statements which are offensive on grounds of race, religion, creed, colour or which may incite hatred or disrespect in any third party; statements which breach the criminal law, whether or not known to be illegal; statements which may breach professional ethics or standards."

Commenters I have warned or banned often complain their freedom of speech is being breached. My first response to this is that freedom of speech in this country is subject to certain caveats, e.g. libel law, contempt of court and incitement to racial hatred. My second is if you want to rant and rave and offend people, then go set up a blog and do it there - that kind of behaviour is not welcome here.

Some stories won't have comments on them because they report on ongoing court cases, the risk of libellous comments being posted is too high, the thread has been taken down because it has been hijacked by those intent on being abusive, or sometimes simply because whoever is uploading it has forgotten to tick the allow comments box.

We do warn commenters if what they post breaches our terms and conditions, and if they persist, they will be banned. Common no-nos include:

  • Personal abuse, whether against subjects of stories, other commenters or Argus staff
  • Racism or hateful comments against other groups such as homosexuals and travellers
  • Speculating on the cause of crashes
  • Making crude jokes, especially sexually explicit ones
  • Contempt of court

As a general guide, I often tell people to think of the commentboards as an online version of a debating club where your gran's in the audience. Many people post comments which would be perfectly acceptable down the pub. But online, it's usually not at all obvious when you're joking, and the people who will read your comments might not find it funny even they do realise it's a joke.

John Steed's specific query was how we select which words to automatically ban. As far as I'm aware, there's no particular system to it, and words can be added to the list as and when we wish. The two words he's selected, which have innocuous meanings, are also commonly used as swearwords.

Note: the picture of a troll used to illustrate this story was taken from pagedooley's Flickr photostream.