If you read comments at the end of articles or blog postings — even at some of the respected newspapers and magazines — you have surely discovered more than a few inappropriate and sometimes distasteful remarks. Sometimes people leave these comments anonymously — individuals who do not understand why websites invite visitors to share thoughts and ideas. Sadly, many unfiltered remarks are permanently attached to websites — personal indiscretions (digital footprints) waiting for the whole world to discover. Even leaving an anonymous comment is not particularly secure, though many people — kids and adults — think they are off the hook and hiding when they leave comments without a name attached.
Read a short post and watch a video on newspaper comments, uploaded by the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard. Some newspapers sites, such as the Boston Globe, have updated their policies and now post a short and succinct comment policy that tells users what the publication expects from comment writers.
Helping your child avoid public website blunders, not to mention future humiliation, is one reason to discuss commenting etiquette on a regular basis. Children don’t know or they forget that all comments leave digital footprint trails, little paths of information that last much longer than a child’s pre-adolescent and even teenage years.
Confusion arises because many children first encounter commenting opportunities in places where adult supervision is scarce. As a result an impulsive idea can beat out good common sense even when a child knows better. Bottom line — response and commenting areas are not places to leave nasty, sarcastic, rude, or hateful conversation.
As a part of the ongoing family conversations on digital life issues, a focus on appropriate website feedback will help children develop website “street smarts” and help them to grow into more perceptive judges of what is appropriate (and what is not). Moreover, because most digital comments will be posted on a permanent website, available for years to come, children (and adults, too) need to think about writing well no matter where they upload comments. Read The 10 Commandments of Commenting. Another great source to help children and their parents think about writing high-quality comments is at Mrs. Yollis’ Class Wiki – How to Teach Commenting Skills.
We want children to become accomplished connected learners who expertly use digital resources to increase their knowledge and understanding, but they need to recognize that comment sections are common areas where people share information and thoughtfully examine differences of opinion. Check out this article, A 5-Minute Framework for Fostering Better Conversations in Comment Sections, published on the Pointer Institute blog written by and for journalists who are thinking about reader responses.
My favorite quote in this article? “The very best filter is an empowered, engaged adult.”
Rarely are comment forums set up as digital playgrounds, and this is a concept that children and yes, many adults, need to understand.