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After our ethics board meeting Tuesday, I shared the comments of blogger Toni Anne. Several board members agreed she expressed well the spirit of our new site. We don't want to create strict rules. We salute readers like Toni Anne who have something to say and want an outlet for expressing themselves. We're not trying to squelch her concerns about local businesses' customer service.
 
Toni Anne's comments serve as a fairly good guide for how to proceed with online moderation. To elaborate, here is a summary of Tuesday's board discussion:
 
We agreed with the philosophy of taking a light approach to moderating VictoriaAdvocate.com. Most online readers recognize that people posting on our site are responsible for their own comments. We'll delete comments or photos only if they clearly cross the line.
 
We went through the list of reasons why we might delete comments flagged by readers: pornography; objectionable language; unfair attacks on a business or individual; spam; copyright infringement; racism. We discussed expanding racism to hate speech in general, but several board members pointed out that this can be difficult to define, but, as Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart's said about pornography, we'll know it when we see it.
 
Almost on cue, an online reader later Tuesday flagged a comment as racist. In an e-mail exchange among board members, we agreed the debate about illegal immigration can easily tilt toward racism, but we didn't see the need to delete this particular comment. Some of us might strongly disagree with the comment and consider it racist, but in the online world we have to give up some of our traditional role of gatekeeper, just as we can't control what people say over the back fence to their neighbors.
 
So far, we've been pleased by how responsible our readers have been. We expect that will continue. In my experience, at least 95 percent of people want a constructive conversation. What we're watching out for is that small minority who try to ruin the experience for everyone. We'll rely on the online community to police itself.
 
I'll post next about another topic we discussed at our meeting: the use of anonymous sources. We want to be as transparent as possible with all of these decisions. Let us know what you think.