1. Clarify the rules!

Clarify the rules for the debate and the debaters' own responsibility

The basis for all debate is that the participators are responsible for their own statements. This should be made clear to those who consider whether to take part in online fora where audiences are invited to share comments or opinions.

Many media outlets have guidelines similar to the following:
"You are welcome to continue the discussion of this article. Please take into consideration how you present yourself to others and which expressions you use. A rule of thumb: Don't write anything that couldn't have been cried out in a public place with many listeners. You must use your full name; false profiles will be deleted. Stay on topic, and show others respect and generosity. Harassment, threats and hateful messages will be deleted." (Nordlys)


"iTromsø wants an open, constructive debate. We consecutively remove postings that are racist, harassing, unethical or illegal. We encourage all participants to argue reasonably and to show respect for the opinions of others, and we reserve the right to exclude participants who disobey our rules for participation." (iTromsø)

NRK Nordland goes further, and impresses the responsibility of the debaters:

"Stay within the law. Any post that may be legally problematic will be removed (libellous remarks, copyright infringements et cetera). Racism, gender discrimination, ethnic harassment or other hateful expressions will not be tolerated. You are responsible for your contributions to the online discussion; Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation is not." (Our emphasis.)

Verdens Gang does the same:

"However, we would like to inform you that when writing a comment, you are personally responsible for its content, whether you post it at our website or within your own closed network of Facebook friends."

In Budstikka, the guidelines start with clarifying the individual responsibility:

"Budstikka informs you that you are personally, legally responsible for your comments to our articles. This is valid whether you comment through our website or through the newspaper's Facebook page. This also means that the commenter is not under any form of source protection.

We warmly welcome all readers to comment our stories. At Budstikka.no, we want engaging discussion. Budstikka routinely reads comments and moderates postings in the commentaries. We demand a respectful and reasonable tone, and ask you to stay on topic. Harassment, nasty personal characterisations, hateful attacks or threats will not be accepted. Spam and commercial postings will be deleted.

You must comment using your own name. You can alert Budstikka if you see comments you think are against acceptable debate practice. Participants who do not follow the newspaper's rules may face exclusion."

At diskusjon.no, it is made expressly clear that users of the forum are not automatically under any form of source protection. This is obviously correct, but likely also often misunderstood:

"As user of the forum, you are not automatically under any form of source protection, but the editor may enter prior agreement with the user on source protection or independently decide on such. Diskusjon.no will provide police or the judicial system with personal information if a court order related to (possible) criminal actions under police investigation, if such information is relevant. (…) You are personally responsible for the content of the comments you publish."

In our opinion, far more media outlets ought to impress the personal responsibility of those participating in the discussion, and also clarify that there is no automatic source protection connected to the option of commenting online. An idea could be to demand that the user checks a box for having read the guidelines for commenting, prior to being able to publish.

Further, Norwegian Press Complaints Commission has in some cases found clear guidelines for online commentary a mitigating circumstance. This is an additional reason why this can be significant.

Return til "Top ten tips"

Return to the main page of the guide