For the purpose of our project we developed a set of 18 rules dealing with authentication methods, legal issues and data gathering, as well as specific rules related to what kind of language is not acceptable. As stated in a previous piece about the process that lead us to write up and publish these rules on the participating websites, each organisation wanting to change or set up a new way of engaging with its audience would have to consider and weigh in for itself which of the rules below it sees fit to apply with fairness, respect and transparency.

First off, the page where your set of rules is visible should start with a short mission statement, what is the purpose of your endeavour and why it matters. Then, one should try to have clear short rules, if possible grouped under categories for users to get a better grasp of what they cover.

Our rules touch upon several categories that were important for the newsrooms involved with the project: website authentication, rules against hateful or discriminatory speech, civility rules, legal liability rules, rules on moderation and data collection and usage.

Here they are:

Rules against hateful or discriminatory speech:
  • A free space is a safe space. Hate speech and incitement to violence will not be tolerated.
  • We discourage the spread of intolerance. We will not allow the victimization or denigration of persons or groups based on criteria that include, but are not limited to: race or ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, country or region of origin, religion, diseases or disabilities, socio-economic status. This can include, among others: demeaning epithets, statements that dehumanize, that incite to discrimination or proclaim the infe­riority of a group or of a person, based on their belonging to a group that is defined by the above-mentioned criteria or other criteria.
Civility rules:
  • Usernames that are vulgar or offensive can lead to temporary or permanent banning or the deletion of comments. The same goes for profile pictures.
  • Use civil language. Explicit words and expressions can be moderated, even if you use numbers, symbols, punctuation marks etc. in the comment.
  • The reasoning behind this rule is to have users consider how they would like to be addressed in an attempt to in­troduce some empathy for the others. The purpose is to discourage personal attacks as well as profanity.
  • We debate and combat, we do not attack gratuitously. We like debates and we do not mind critical or ironic comments. Still, harsh personal attacks, attempts to intimidate, threats or harassment of users or other persons (such as article authors, public personalities etc.) create a toxic environment. Such comments expose you to the risk of moderation, deletion or banning.

Other warnings:

  • To give everyone the chance to express themselves and prevent one or several people from hijacking the discussion, we promote the principle “one person, one voice“. We recommend that you post through a single user ID. If you post comments from several profiles, you may be temporarily or permanently banned or your comments may be deleted.
  • If you troll, you can be banned. Users that repeatedly post abusive content, using vulgar and/or aggres­sive language, which seems designed to inflame, take on the risk that their comments will be moderated or deleted and their ID can be temporarily or permanently banned. We addressed this type of problem head on in the commenting rules because it was signaled by the moderation team and by journalists as a recurrent issue. Some persons repeatedly post the same abusive comments to harass the moderators or annoy the other users. Others post the same comment over and over again (even under different articles) merely to make a point. Journalistic investigations have also revealed that, in the past, politicians have hired teams of commenters to flood comment sections with pre-designed comments attacking or promoting certain personalities (sometimes even libelous or highly offensive comments).
  • Express yourselves, but leave room for others too. Please do not post the same comment several times. Even if the message does not break the rules, publishing it repeatedly can trigger deletion or even the tem­porary or permanent banning of the user. Changing a word or some words without significantly altering the content of the message does not guarantee that it will be published more than once or twice.
Legal liability rules:

Some of the following rules are general ones related to how users should abide by the law, but those more specific will need more attention in explaining and enforcing, so those setting up the rules need to be aware of the local conditions of their country or of decisions of supra national courts that apply.

  • It is important to us that you can express your opinions and share information. We nevertheless en­courage you to use your judgment when commenting and not make accusations that you cannot support. Comments containing serious accusations that are not proven as true and for which there are no reasonable grounds indicating they may be true can be moderated.
  • Please do not use the names or images of other persons (for instance sportsmen or women, public perso­nalities, et. al.) in your username or user photo. Failing to abide by this rule can lead to banning or deletion of comments.
  • Comments must abide by the law, including legislation on intellectual property. Inciting illegal acts is not allowed either.
  • Please do not post personal information about others (users and not just users) and do not collect or save information about the other users. To protect the right to a private life, we can apply measures like moderation and banning. We also recommend that you do not post personal information about yourselves.


This part of the rules should be closely connected to the commenting system you are thinking of developingor implementing.  Whether it is a WordPress or Diqus plug in or a proprietary system (as we had for one of our websites in the project) one needs to address the way the commenting can be done on the website.

  • We recommend that when you create your user ID you use an email address that you regularly check. You may be contacted by our team.

Data collection and usage:Data collection and usage:

Although these rules were inspired by terms and conditions found on virtually all websites, one still needs to align these rules with the local laws of data collection, protection and usage.

  • We reserve the right to temporarily or permanently ban a user that seriously and/or repeatedly breaks the community rules.
  • By posting a comment, you commit to respecting the rules that we established on this page. If not, your comments can be moderated (by eliminating inappropriate words/phrases, with *** or through other met­hods) or deleted. Please keep in mind that these rules can be updated and consult them periodically.
  • By filling out the personal data for logging into this website, you are agreeing that your personal data be stored and processed by the owner of the website and that you receive in the future information about us, offers, promotions, ads and direct marketing. By publishing this comment, you are giving us permission to use its content and the accompanying information. Thus, you give the owners of the website an irreversible, permanent, global and sub-licenseable license to retain, store, reproduce, translate, modify, delete, publish, distribute, create derivative products from this information, in any form, through any medium or existing technology or technology that will be developed in the future.

For conformity, add contact details so that users in your community can contact you easily.

In addition to what we decided to moderated, we also needed to make clear what we didn’t want to moderate, for various reasons (these were internal norms decided with and enforced by the moderators’ team, they were not made public):
  • Negative comments about the publisher and/or the author of the article.
  • Off-topic comments.
  • Posting links.
  • Different opinions.


*The stats used to exemplify what other websites are stating in their rules of online engagement are all taken from our research report into the terms and conditions of 69 websites across Europe and the United States (published in October 2016) that can be further accessed and downloaded from the Less Hate, More Speech blog.


How to set up the system within the newsroom


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