Every once in a while we get questions regarding comments. Usually people are wondering why we have them—because they’ve read a comment or two they didn’t like (for a variety of reasons). In general, here’s what we think:

Comments are such a tricky thing, and it’s tough to watch negative comments pour through from folks who lack tact or correct information. So we completely validate when our community members feel frustrated when toxic discourse erupts on our social media channels. It hurts, and we want to reach out to help people learn how to seek truth and how to engage in healthy dialogue.

But, it’s also important to remember that allowing commenting on our news stories, Jay’s blog, and other outlets is extremely intentional. While some of the comments make us want to throw a shoe across the office or just shut them off entirely, here are some things we try to keep in mind when reading through the online conversation:

People were talking before comments. Positive and negative feedback in regards to our news and messaging isn’t new. Before comments, we would mostly get vague feedback that was often hearsay. Now we can hear directly from our constituents. This is why we allow comments without logging in. We want to respect the fact that sometimes anonymity is required for an honest critique (although, we also recognize that sometimes it is used to hide behind when making hurtful comments).

Listen to what people are saying about Bethel. We try and pick out when visitors are making comments about what’s going on in the Bethel community. Sometimes they say things that don’t jive with our theology (personally or as an institution) or our personal political leanings. Sometimes they’re just plain being rude—which can be hard to ignore. But we try to move past the negativity and perk up when they’re actually talking about what’s happening at Bethel to see what we can learn.

Discover what we can learn from those voices. It’s true that visitors don’t always tell us what we want to hear, but even the negative posts can give us valuable information. Perhaps they point out an instance where we weren’t thorough in our research on a news story. Perhaps they help us realize that the public holds some misconceptions about who we are. Both of these things are helpful to know. They show us opportunities to communicate better.

Finally, in most cases, the community self monitors. Ultimately, it is largely the commenters themselves who look bad when they post something that is inaccurate or demeaning. When this is the case, the conversation tends to self-monitor. People from multiple perspectives start joining the conversation to hold others in the online community accountable. While it doesn’t fully restore peace, it often brings a sense of balance to the community.

When self-monitoring isn’t enough, we do engage in the conversation as an institution. In general, we’ll get involved when there are comments that:

  • Contain personal attacks
  • Use profanity
  • Are significantly off-topic
  • Are clearly spam

In addition to moderation, there are also times when we engage experts on the subject matter to respond. Jay Barnes, Kathleen Nelson, and Deb Harless have all responded at times to comments within their area of expertise.

All that to say, it can be tough to see negative comments and feedback on the Bethel site. It’s hard and painful to watch people hold such bitter views of their fellow brothers and sisters. But it also shows us why we’re here as a university—to be and prepare world-changers, Christ-followers, truth-seekers, learners, reconcilers, Christ-followers, and salt and light. It reminds us why we come to work everyday, doing our small part to build up thoughtful and informed followers of Christ to go out and love the world.

If there are questions about our approach or response, we’d love to hear from you. Post a comment below or send us a message at web-services@bethel.edu.

P.S. Shout-out to Kelsey for helping come up with this.