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Engaging the audience

Matthew Eltringham Matthew Eltringham | 08:29 UK time, Wednesday, 23 July 2008

We tried something new the other day (Monday) on Have Your Say by revisiting an old idea from the early days of the web. We invited two contributors to Have Your Say to participate in a debate about the future of the Anglican Church and respond to questions and comments from the audience.

Have Your Say guest moderator MarieMarie and Sam had differing perspectives on the ongoing row over women bishops and homosexuality in the clergy and we wanted to give them and the HYS audience an opportunity to discuss those views online.

Although the debate was reactively moderated we tried to keep it away from the fairly predictable arguments about atheism and whether or not God existed. And we also chose to run it just for a couple of hours to focus the discussion.

It was an extended webchat by any other name and you can judge for yourself here if it was a success.

Have Your Say guest moderator SamWe certainly felt that the debate benefited from the involvement of Sam and Marie, the tone was robust but not abusive and it allowed for some genuine discussion about the issues. Quite a few contributors put straightforward questions to the pair, which they were able to answer directly. They both enjoyed the experience and would have continued for longer than the two-hour slot.

It was our first experiment in trying to find new ways of engaging the audience and evolving a more dynamic and more thoughtful approach to HYS. But it won't be our last.


  • Comment number 1.

    Sounds like a great idea.

    Using reactive moderation may well be why it was succesful - the full moderation on HYS is very poor. There have been some very lively threads on HYS on the rare occassions they have put it on reactive moderation.

    Hope you can keep future events on topic - I could see that being tricky if you use reactive moderation.

  • Comment number 2.

    I noticed that during the `What has been your costliest mistake?` HYS that the moderation was much stricter than usual, the usual political opportunists were directed to post to a more appropriate topic, and this made the whole range of posts much more interesting to read. More of this please, even though some will fail to see the point and complain.

    With the Anglican debate the atheist viewpoint was (rightly) aired too; if you want debates to attract particular interest groups why not advertise them in advance and make it clear that the moderators will exclude those not on topic?

  • Comment number 3.

    I just tried browsing through it, and I have to say I found it very difficult to find any interesting posts amongst the usual ranting.

    Don't be discouraged from trying new things, but I'm not convinced you've found the right way yet. Maybe a threaded discussion will work better?

    Various other websites have threaded discussions, where you can vote each response up or down, and you can choose to ignore all those under a certain level (e.g. anything scoring under 5). Maybe this would help sort the good comments from the ranting (although I have a horrible feeling people will just vote down the stuff that doesn't match their point of view)

  • Comment number 4.

    I though the moderation on that debate was atrocious. Any comment that didn't agree with the Christian status quo was deleted instantly, yet ominously the usual racial hatred towards muslims that every HYS degrades too were allowed to stay on.

    Belief in God and racial hatred... Heinrich Himmler would be at home on HYS.

  • Comment number 5.

    LOL. God simply doesn't exist and you've really wasted your time!

  • Comment number 6.

    This will only work if the question is one that people are interested in.
    I would be more interested in questions about the EU referendum, the smoking ban, the restrictions in general that are being inflicted on this country.
    When we can have our say on such topics the HYS is buzzing.
    Why on earth are the PMQ's cut so short.
    People are interested and have a lot to say on this topic.

  • Comment number 7.

    #4 makes a valid point. And I would love to know why the moderators deleted my post, which merely made the point that the Bible treats eating shellfish just as harshly as homosexuality, and asked what I thought was the perfectly reasonable question why the conservatives focus on homosexuality while ignoring shellfish-eating. I used no bad language, didn't libel anyone, and I'm blowed if I know how it broke the house rules.

    Is it possible that the moderators let a pro-Christian bias interfere with sensible moderation?

  • Comment number 8.

    Sound idea, but I don't think it was a big enough jump from the usual HYS debacle. IMHO what HYS really needs is:
    - Threading. You can't have a decent conversation without it, you just get people shouting their own points of view.
    - All reactive moderation. Some of the blog's comment sections have this, and they're much better to use than the ones that don't since comments don't stack up awaiting approval for hours.
    - Scoring based moderation. With the exception of things that could get the BBC into legal trouble, nothing should be off limits; it should be made easy to ignore the nutters, but it never helps to censor them.

  • Comment number 9.

    I think more of it should be "Reactively Moderating" and then have it made it easy for the moderators to complain if it needs to be done...

  • Comment number 10.

    I too was disappointed in the Anglican Church debate. None of my posts appeared, yet I was making a carefully reasoned point about the logical impossibility of people with different interpretations of archaic texts ever finding a way of deciding which is 'true'.

    It should be possible for the AC to define a minimal set of core beliefs using natural language and agreed definitions of words, but it would never happen in real life because the desire to win the argument any maintain eh power-base is too strong!

    I find that many posts that are allowed on HYS are political or religious rants which I feel quite offensive. Very few try to get to the core of the problem through evidence-based reasoning and logic. Are these being rejected because they are 'too intellectual' or use inaccessible language?

  • Comment number 11.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 12.

    I agree with jon112uk - the forums are much more lively and useful when they are reactively moderated. The whole point of the forums is that they provide moment by moment comment on issues in today's news. Often comments that I've put up and I think are reasonable and pertinent are held for up to two days while they are "awaiting moderation". This is particularly annoying when you read the particular forum and find post after post using it to attack the government or Gordon Brown. The moderators ought simply to watch the run of posts, and rule-breaking or irrelevant posts out immediately. Surely these forums will be used as an archive in years to come, as to what people at the time thought about these controversial issues, but excessive moderation undermines this function.

  • Comment number 13.

    I would love to see a choice in readers recommended,
    not recommended would fill this role.

  • Comment number 14.

    "It was our first experiment in trying to find new ways of engaging the audience and evolving a more dynamic and more thoughtful approach to HYS. But it won't be our last. "

    It was a great idea and I think that it worked well. However, HYS still has some serious structural problems that could be quite easily fixed.

    1. Increase the number of reactively moderated topics.

    Nobody likes having to have everything they say approved by a nameless beaurecrat before it can be seen and more popular topics will have a massive queue of comments waiting to be moderated so the debate can end before a sizable chunk of the comments have even been looked at. Only those that are flagged as unsuitable by the readers would have to be referred for moderation.

    2. Give reasons for rejections.

    ...and "This comment broke the house rules" is not anywhere near specific enough. Responding to someone asking how anyone could describe Israel as having lost the recent Lebanon invasion, I pointed out what their goals were, what Hezbollah's goals were and how Israel had failed to achieve their goals whereas Hezbollah had succeeded.

    The only reason I can think that it might have been rejected was that I ended it with "It's not [katyusha] rocket science." - I thought that was light-hearted banter, apparently not. The problem is that unless you tell people specifically how they have broken the rules, they will never know your interpretation of the rules or how to avoid getting rejected.

    3. Change the way comments are recommended.

    At the moment, only the first few comments have any real chance of being recommended as fast moving topics never leave a post near to the front long enough to get many views whereas the first comments to be recommended get reinforced by being displayed first in the Recommended Comments tab. This could be improved with the ability to "un-recommend" a comment, or maybe a graded recommendation system.

    4. Allow external links

    On a global warming topic, I saw someone complaining that if scientists really had a theory about global warming, then why didn't they published it. I tried to respond by linking to the IPCC site and explaining that the current consensus view can be downloaded for free.

    A verifiable false statement was allowed to stand whereas a post that showed it to be false and answered the demands of the original poster was rejected for containing a link. Obviously you can't take responsibility for anything external, but it would be quite easy for the site to automatically send any comment with a link in it to a moderation queue to confirm what it is instead of outright rejecting the comment.

    5. Lack of threading and the 500 character limit.

    Obviously you don't want people knocking out a rant this long on HYS, but not having any way to refer to and respond to a specific post means that you end up having to use half the character allocation re-typing someone elses post so that you can give what you are saying context.

    This really doesn't engender debate and topics just degenerate into competitions to come out with the most popular soundbite.

  • Comment number 15.


    Your point 4 is spot on:

    I've had very similar problems with comments being rejected on HYS debates refering to Israel. On one I asked why was a story in which 10 palestinians were killed by a HAMAS bomb factory detonating accidentally barely mentioned while two Palestinians killed by the Israelis was top story?

    That apparently 'violated house rules', although I can't find a rule where implying BBC bias is an offence.

    Even on the blogs I had a comment deleted because I described Craig Charles and the Hamiltons as 'the best known victims of a false rape allegation'.

    Apparently that was libel!!! HOW? Its a simple statement of fact.

    I have stepped over the line once or twice, but when a perfectly reasonable comment gets pulled with no explanation its quite annoying.

  • Comment number 16.


    I must agree with your perspective on HYS debates, the BBC seems to have a pro-Palestinian angle on any story 'breaking' from that small region of the Middle East.

    This is often reflected in what comments are deemed acceptable to be published, and those that are deemed unacceptable.

    The remarkable debates that occur whenever Europe is discussed on the HYS, show quite clearly that the majority of BBC viewers would like more European centric discussions, but does the BBC ever listen?.

  • Comment number 17.

    In a debate over the issues of whether or not to have gay/women priests/bishops in the Anglican church it is quite right to delete off-topic posts like those supporting atheism as they add nothing to the topic in question.

    I agree with MonkeyBot5000 on one thing. The 500 charachter limit is ridiculously low, it is often nowhere near enough charachters to present an informed and well constructed point or argument. For me there should be a MINIMUM of 500 charachters (this will deter the common sound-biter from putting worthless attacks and comments as it forces some proper thought) and a maximum of at least 2000.

  • Comment number 18.

    "Any comment that didn't agree with the Christian status quo was deleted instantly, yet ominously the usual racial hatred towards muslims that every HYS degrades too were allowed to stay on.

    Belief in God and racial hatred... Heinrich Himmler would be at home on HYS."

    You're clearly looking at a fantasy HYS

    Islam is a RELIGION not a RACE!

    Any attempt at posting evidence from the Koran that Mohammed was a wife beating paedophile gets rejected.

    And besides, Himmler was a pagan.

  • Comment number 19.

    I would agree with the comment above that the moderation on HYS is appalling.
    There seem to be three ways of moderating comments that are not to the(personal?) liking of the moderators.

    A) reject the comment.
    (for this to happen one of more of the stated rules must have been broken)

    B) Publish comments in the middle of the night on page 47.

    C) keep comments "pending" moderation for several days and then close the debate and delete what was left over.

    I wonder who will be moderating this?

  • Comment number 20.

    500 characters is enough. Democratic choice means that 100+ word posts may win a preference - I support a researched point.

    Some rebuttals don't need prolix.

  • Comment number 21.

    What do you do when your audience tells you something you don't want to hear? Like it doesn't trust you and thinks you don't tell the truth half the time? In my case you censor it, hope it will give up and go away.For the first time on a BBC blog, two topics that were previously taboo were allowed to be mentioned and posted. Of course they didn't generate much interest, they are no longer topical after more than one year off the headlines.

  • Comment number 22.

    Fiona Bruce should be the new Parky !!!

  • Comment number 23.

    Homosexuality and crimes against humanity.
    see google : " un procés de Nuremberg à faire à casablanca contre Othmani et said Benbiga ".

  • Comment number 24.

    I agree with others that moderation is appalling on HYS. For a start those comments that stay near the top of the thread for any length of time will attract more recommendations than any other without necessarily being the "best" comments.

    Why does the thread put the latest first instead of the other way around? Why are rejected comments not kept (blank) on thread showing their status and why? Why does the system not place comments on particular messages subbed to the relevant comment as in the original HYS?

    Why, when subjects are about to be cut do the moderators suddenly spring into action with loads of zero rated messages posted? Is it not possible to keep the recommendation selection running?

    And why are many subjects on HYS banal whilst other, more controversial subjects ignored?

    HYS should be lively and involving - a little more like these blogs often are.

  • Comment number 25.

    "And besides, Himmler was a pagan."

    No he wasn't.

    As with all the nazi's he had some weird fantasy's involving the nordic gods, but belief in God was mandatory for SS men. 'Church, Kitchen, Children' were the cornerstones of nazi family life.

    In any case if you think its a 'fantasy HYS' to say that the most recommended posts bash Islam you clearly haven't been on it much recently.

  • Comment number 26.

    "We only ran it for two hours". Great! Some of us have to work for our living, and can't spend all day listening to the BBC and browsing their web site.

  • Comment number 27.

    Thursday night August 7 BBC's news broadcast to the United States on public television spent most of its time reporting a Mexican prison for women where they were allowed to keep their infants and toddlers until they are six years old. This audience disengaged himself after about the first 15 minutes of that rubbish as you Brits call it. My mistake, it took me 14 and a half minutes too long to act.

  • Comment number 28.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 29.

    I agree with JonUK in #1 regarding the moderation.
    I wrote 2 articles criticising the BBC for failing to celbrate the Team GB successes DURING the Olympics (they now can't get enough of them as filler), and focussing too heavily on the Jamaican sprinting successes and Michael Phelps.
    I was in no way offensive about these Olympians, whose achievements have been excellent, just critical that 2 days after the swimming events the hour long highlights show was sending a bloke out with a life size cut out of Phelps. Meanwhile Chris Hoy became the most successful Scottish Olympian ever.
    I'm English (not a Scot living in England), but must admit to living near the velodrome in Manchester which has been the hub of our cycling teams success.
    Despite being careful not to breach ANY of the BBCs rules, neither post was published.
    The moderation must be improved (probably breaking an unwritten BBC rule here) so that open, free and honest debate can take effect. Without it, these threads will become as dumbed down as BBC news coverage, and as pointless as their constant remaking of Jane Austen/ Charles Dickens books.

  • Comment number 30.

    Hi peops, ive had 3 posts removed cos i slagged off d milliband the snake. With regards to god, it seems to me now that the church body seems to forget about him altogether sometimes, in making its decisions!

  • Comment number 31.

    The last news from morocco concerns the more great affairs in morocco to be diffused on BBC .News.
    see internet : " The great affairs in morocco".

  • Comment number 32.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 33.

    This morning's "Something Understood" was a wonderful refreshing piece. lets have more like like this. Gertrude Lawrence was truly inspirational

  • Comment number 34.

    Matthew Eltringham:
    I think that the Have Your Say is an important service; and anything that will engaged the audience is always important..

    ~Dennis Junior~

  • Comment number 35.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.


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