‘Your comments are being moderated’

All comments on the Saipan Tribune website are moderated. It says so, right there at the end of every story. Just a little below the section where commenters type in their comments. It has the heading “Disclaimer” and says “Comments are moderated. They will not appear immediately or even on the same day. Comments should be related to the topic. Off-topic comments would be deleted. Profanities are not allowed. Comments that are potentially libelous, inflammatory, or slanderous would be deleted.”

I just feel the need to point it out since many are so used to the comments section of Facebook that they expect the same parameters to apply. I am sorry to say that that is not so. On Facebook, comments appear as fast as your brain could process thought and type them into the comment section. Saipan Tribune’s comment section is slower and more deliberate, giving commenters that extra time to pause and rethink their profanities.

Also, as a small outfit, the Saipan Tribune does not have the luxury of robot engineers that perform algorithms and word evaluations to do its work for it. There is actually a person who checks whether a comment would be approved or not, whether a comment conforms with the Saipan Tribune policy or not.

And that means that, with an actual human behind a computer and weighing your every word, that person also has days off, breaks, and vacation time. Which means comments may or may not appear immediately. If the moderator is asleep, a commenter will have to wait for the moderator to wake up and see the pending comments before he or she can approve, edit, reply, delete or classify the comment as spam (which also means all comments from that commenter will not appear and are immediately categorized as spam).

The Saipan Tribune policy also requires comments to be related to the topic. The disclaimer informs commenters beforehand that off-topic comments would be deleted. Most comments are on point, so this part of the disclaimer is, shall we say, legalese that is somewhat akin to the warning “Be careful. Barbed wire is sharp.”

It is the latter part of the disclaimer that poses a perplexing dilemma to moderators. Many commenters are usually aware of the rule against profanities and try to go around the prohibition against the F words, the SH__, and MFs. It’s when commenters generalize that many stray into gray areas. Like saying that all (nationality) are filth. That family names like so-and-so are thieves. That whatshisface is a corrupt person.

Government and politicians are usually fair game for criticism and accusing the government of corruption is so pro forma that it no longer shocks or scandalizes anyone. It is easy to say the government or politicians are corrupt but when you accuse one specific person of corruption, doing it in the comment section is the least helpful way of doing it. It is an invitation for the Tribune to be sued and would therefore be deleted. You’d be better off filing a complaint with the Office of the Public Auditor. Go to the police. File a case. Better that than a libel case against the Tribune.

This is not intended to discourage people from commenting on our stories. We welcome all comments and criticisms, deserved or otherwise. But know the limits of what will fly. When you tell me that I am an egotistical blowhard, that’s fine. Comments like that usually do not trigger a red flag. Complaints about inaccuracies or bias in our stories are always welcome and we always try our best to correct our ways.

But when you allege something that has not been proven in court, that someone is a rapist or has a predilection for criminal activity, you are so in the middle of the territory of libel and slander that the fine line between acceptable and unacceptable comments is already far behind you. You are not merely flirting with the line; you are having a romantic relationship with criminal speech. Also, when you say that all Asian nationals (nudge-nudge, wink-wink) are filth, that is racism, not legitimate criticism. Or when you say that all citizens of one Southeast Asian country are mal-educated job-grabbers, remember that there are people who will be reading your inflammatory comment, evaluating it whether it is legitimate or not, and eventually approving it or deleting it altogether. And remember, those moderators could be citizens of a Southeast Asian country that are, in your words, mal-educated job-grabbers. So when you say they should all be blamed for your not having a job, are thieves to a man, and must all be deported, all it takes is a click of the mouse to approve or disapprove your comments. As has been pointed out by our legal eagles, your right to free speech ends where the Tribune being sued for slander begins.

Jayvee Vallejera Vallejera
Jayvee Vallejera is a 21-year journalism veteran and has been with Saipan Tribune for 14 years.

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Disclaimer: Comments are moderated. They will not appear immediately or even on the same day. Comments should be related to the topic. Off-topic comments would be deleted. Profanities are not allowed. Comments that are potentially libelous, inflammatory, or slanderous would be deleted.