What Happened to the Comments?

We’re turning off the comments for a little bit. Here’s why.

Psychologists don’t recommend trying to address trauma while you’re still in danger. Step 1, get out of danger. Step 2, deal with your mental health. What’s different about 2020 is that there’s no way out. Climate change, racial injustice, an air-borne pathogen that has many of us trapped in our homes and others of us risking our lives in order to pay the bills — they’re all here to stay for at least the foreseeable future. So, we have to find a way to live through it.

What does that have to do with the streets.mn comment section? A lot, really.

We know how valuable many of our readers find the comment section. We prided ourselves in the fact that they were much better than other corners of the internet (even if that may be a low bar). Sure, folks can get a little explain-y sometimes, and people disagree with varying degrees of passion. But for the most part, they were manageable for our volunteer moderators and added value to the conversation.

After six months of living our lives in a drastically different way, people are on edge. I see it at home, at my job (which I’m also doing from home), and at the grocery store (the only other place I go besides my home). I know my temper has gotten shorter and shorter as the pandemic has droned on. It’s not a coincidence that the comment section has become harder to moderate and added less value over that same time period. We’ve lost writers because of it, and other writers express similar concerns. And our volunteer writers are what makes streets.mn exist.

What does this mean for our commenters?

Starting today, all new posts will default to having the comments turned off. Writers will be able to opt-in to comments if they’d like, but we’ll be asking them to take a slightly larger role in managing the conversation. We have only a couple moderators, and they’re all very tired. We’ve tried unsuccessfully the last few months to recruit folks for this unglamorous job.

If you have a response to an article, and you’re not able to comment on it, please consider writing your own article. We really want to hear your well-researched counterpoint about the best way to help our unhoused neighbors, how much you do or don’t miss your commute, or how you would have laid out the street grid in Saint Paul differently. You can learn about becoming a writer in the Write section at the top of the website.

Is this forever?

No, we hope not. At our most recent board meeting, one board member pointed out that if we can’t handle our commenters, what are we doing? We’re taking a breather (and giving our moderators a break) while we figure out how to keep the conversation going in a more positive, collaborative, and supportive way. We’re going to talk about what to do in more detail over the next month, and make a decision how to move forward at the October board meeting.

How can I help?

I’m so glad you asked! Any comment section will always need moderation, so please consider volunteering to be a moderator, if you can commit to a couple months of actively moderating. You can contact us if you want to help out. You can also give suggestions in the comments on this post, which we will leave open. Please remember, as always, to follow our comment guidelines: comment from your own perspective, be respectful and aware of your own privilege, and have an attitude of learning. We want everyone to feel welcome here, and you are a critical part of making that happen.

Thank you.

Hannah Pritchard

About Hannah Pritchard

Hannah Pritchard is a pedestrian and bicycle engineer at MnDOT. Bicycle commuter, bassoonist, and cat enthusiast, Hannah has been part of the streets.mn board since 2016.