Beyond Comments: Building Better Conversations

Saturday, February 27, 2016, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
MIT Media Lab, Building E14, 3rd floor atrium
75 Amherst St., Cambridge, MA 02139

Presented by the Knight Foundation, the Future of News initiative at the MIT Media Lab, and The Coral Project.

Event hashtag: #beyondcomments
Event Etherpad:

Click here to read our Code of Conduct.

About this event

Beyond Comments is an invite-only event about the role of the media in developing online community spaces beyond the comment box, in order to strengthen democracy, journalism, and civic engagement.

The event will bring together a diverse group of online thinkers, writers and practitioners to share information and make concrete proposals to improve online community spaces.

These proposals will form part of the research of The Coral Project, an open-source effort from Mozilla, The New York Times, and The Washington Post, funded by a grant from the Knight Foundation, to build new and better community tools.

The event’s goals are as follows:

  • Define some of the needs of, and problems faced by, different people who participate in, follow, abandon, or ignore online communities hosted by media companies
  • Create better understanding of those challenges which cut across disciplines and industries
  • Create a shared knowledge base of original/unusual approaches to these challenges
  • Keep discussions focused on practical actions that people and companies can take after the event
  • Start an ongoing conversation about how future collaborations can evolve

We will use group discussions, lightning talks, games, and prototyping sessions to achieve these goals.

Who’s invited?

We’re inviting people involved in journalism, activism, and online and offline communities on a local, regional, and national level, as well as frequent commenters on local news sites. And you. You can sign up for tickets here. (Update: tickets now sold out)

Also let us know at if you’d like to apply for financial support. We have funds available to encourage a diverse range of attendees.


MIT Media Lab
MIT Building E14, 3rd floor atrium. (Map to E15:
75 Amherst St, Cambridge, MA 02139


Marriott hotel accommodations, at a discounted rate of $129 a night, plus tax, are available. For more information, call Marriott at 1-800-228-9290 no later than Friday, Feb. 5 to receive the discounted rate for the MIT Media Lab Future of News Room Block. Or book online here.

Schedule (subject to change)

Saturday, February 27

8.30 a.m.: Registration + light breakfast

9.30 a.m.: Welcome from the organizers  

9.45 a.m.: Lightning talks
Brief talks (6 minutes each) focused on unconventional/inspiring work in online communities

Aja Bogdanoff, Civil Comments
Andrew Haeg, Groundsource
Nicholas Diakopoulos, University of Maryland
Bianca Laureano, The LatiNegrxs Project
Eric Gilbert, Georgia Tech
J. Nathan Matias, MIT

10:45 a.m.: Break

11.00 a.m.: Panel + group discussion on practical actions that can be taken to reduce online abuse in a community

Jamie Nesbitt Golden, Co-Editor of Hood Feminism, Contributing Reporter for DNAInfo Chicago
Jason Lemieux, developer of Postmatic, a technology which allows for commenting via email
Whitney Phillips, author of ‘This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things: Mapping the Relationship between Online Trolling and Mainstream Culture’
Adria Richards, DevOps engineer focused on increasing productivity, communication and digital equality in the workplace
Jim Walsh, regular commenter on the Boston Globe site

Moderator: Sam Ford, Fusion

12.00 p.m.: Lunch (provided), discussion tables plus games of The Coral Project’s Cards Against Community

1 p.m.: Panel + group discussion on defining best practices in online community spaces

Joseph Reagle, Assistant Professor of Communication Studies at Northeastern University, author of ‘Reading the Comments: Likers, Haters, and Manipulators at the Bottom of the Web’
Emily Goligoski, user experience research lead at The New York Times
Mónica Guzmán, 2016 Nieman Fellow studying how news organizations can better engage and leverage online communities
Amanda Zamora, senior engagement editor at ProPublica

Moderator: Anika Gupta, MIT

2.15 p.m.: Small group prototyping
Small, interdisciplinary groups design possible solutions/improvements/hacks for specific user needs in online communities

3.30 p.m.: Group presentations

4.30 p.m.: Lightning Talks 2
Brief talks (6 minutes each) focused on unconventional/inspiring work in online communities

Cynthia Peacock, The Engaging News Project
Benjamin Goering, Livefyre
Amy Zhang, MIT
Dan Whaley,
Leonard Bogdonoff, 18F

5.00 p.m.: Closing statements

5.30 p.m.: Mingling and drinks at Mead Hall, 4 Cambridge Center, Cambridge, MA 02142

Code of Conduct

Your safety is important to us. This is our public commitment to doing all we can to ensure it. Please read this; printed copies will be made available at the event. 

Until the event begins, we consider it a working document. If you have suggestions or feedback, please email

We expect everyone at the event to abide by this Code of Conduct.

MIT Media Lab and The Coral Project are committed to providing a welcoming and harassment-free environment for participants of all races, gender and trans statuses, sexual orientations, physical abilities, physical appearances, and beliefs. We’ve written this code of conduct not because we expect bad behavior from our community, but because we believe a clear code of conduct is one necessary part of building a respectful community space.


Event participants agree to:

Be supportive of each other. Offer to help if you see someone struggling or otherwise in need of assistance (taking care not to be patronizing or disrespectful). If someone approaches you looking for help, be generous with your time. We have people at the event from different disciplines and walks of life, please remember that we all have ideas to share.

Take care of each other. Alert a member of the conference team if you notice a dangerous situation, someone in distress, or violations of this code of conduct, even if they seem inconsequential.

Be collaborative. Involve everyone around you in conversations, and group exercises. Give others room to speak, especially those who speak less frequently. Encourage the opinions and advice of everyone around you.

Be generous and kind in both giving and accepting critique. Critique is a natural and important part of our culture. Good critiques are kind, respectful, clear, and constructive, focused on goals and requirements rather than personal preferences. You are expected to give and receive criticism with grace.

Be humane. Be polite and friendly in all forms of communication.

Be open. We hope this conference offers people the opportunity to interact with others whose experiences are different from their own. Go out of your way to understand other people’s values and  perspectives. Ask questions instead of announcing verdicts. Never assume that your situation is universal, do not fall back on hierarchy when making decisions (for example, during group discussion or prototyping.)

Respect people’s boundaries.

Do not make it personal.

Unacceptable behavior: We are committed to providing a welcoming and safe environment for everyone. Refrain from demeaning, discriminatory, or harassing behavior and speech. Harassment includes, but is not limited to: deliberate intimidation; stalking; unwanted photography or recording; sustained or willful disruption of talks or other events; inappropriate physical contact; use of sexual or discriminatory imagery, comments, or jokes; and unwelcome sexual attention.


How to report a problem
If you feel that someone has harassed you or otherwise treated you inappropriately, please alert any member of the conference team in person, via the team phone/text line that will be posted prominently at the event, or via email at

If any attendee engages in harassing behavior, the conference organizers may take any lawful action we deem appropriate, including but not limited to warning the offender or asking the offender to leave the conference.

(If you feel you have been unfairly accused of violating this code of conduct, you should contact the conference team with a concise description of your grievance; any grievances filed will be considered by senior members of Mozilla’s Coral Project team and MIT Media Lab.)

Above text is licensed CC BY-SA 4.0, adapted from the SRCCON code of conduct and The Coral Project code of conduct.


Matt Carroll, Future of News Initiative, MIT Media Lab
Research Scientist, MIT Center for Civic Media

Matt Carroll (@MattatMIT) has run the Future of News initiative at the MIT Media Lab since 2014. Before that, he worked at the Boston Globe for 26 years, most recently as a database reporter, finding stories hidden in data. He also was a member of the Globe’s investigative team, which won a Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for its coverage of the Catholic priest sexual abuse scandal. Their prize-winning work was recently showcased in the movie ‘Spotlight.’

He also founded and runs Hacks/Hackers Boston, a 1,300-member meetup that educates journalists about digital and technologists about media.

Anika Gupta, Graduate Student, MIT CMS
Class of 2016

Anika Gupta (@DigitalAnika) has experienced the newsroom from multiple perspectives, having worked as a science and tech reporter, a web editor, and a product manager, mostly for large news organizations. She’s drawn on that diverse background to inform her Master’s research at MIT, where she focuses on online comment moderation, with a particular focus on diversity and emotional labor among comment moderators. She graduates from MIT in May 2016.

As part of her Master’s program, she works as a part-time researcher in the MIT Design Lab, where she designs and participates in large-scale user-experience design projects. She’s especially interested in interdisciplinary collaboration, and started the New Delhi chapter of Hacks/Hackers while living and working as a journalist in India for five years. She did a bachelor’s in journalism at Northwestern University.

Andrew Losowsky, Project Lead, The Coral Project

Andrew Losowsky (@losowsky) drinks a lot of tea. He has sipped various cups while working as a senior editor at The Huffington Post, a member of a skunk labs team at NewsCorp, and a John S. Knight Journalism Fellow at Stanford University.

He oversees the team on The Coral Project, a collaboration between Mozilla, The New York Times, and The Washington Post to create open-source tools and practices for newsrooms of all sizes, in order to build better communities around their journalism. He is also an adjunct professor at The New School and co-director of The Museum on Site, a community public art project.

Sydette Harry, Community Lead, The Coral Project

Sydette Harry (@blackamazon) is an avid internet commenter on anywhere that will give her a password. She has worked in cultural arts, tech and project curation, and her writing has been on, Salon, and The Toast.

Greg Barber, Strategy and Partnerships Lead, The Coral Project

Greg Barber (@gjbarb) has made a career of startups within news organizations. When not working on The Coral Project, he’s focused on community, interactivity, personalization, and alternative storytelling as director of digital news projects at The Washington Post.

Knight Foundation
Future of News Initiative
The Coral Project

Contact Us

We welcome feedback on any aspect of this event and conference. Feel free to reach out to us through Twitter (@coralproject), or email Matt Carroll at, Sydette Harry at, or Andrew Losowsky at