Frequently Asked Questions

The who and what of site moderation

  • Are comments screened before they appear on the site?

    No, although the site does use a standard filter that automatically replaces words and phrases generally considered offensive with asterisks. (If you think the automatic filter has been too aggressive in redacting something you wrote, please contact us to let us know.)

    SmartParticipation users are expected to recognize and respect that the purpose of this site is open, civil and productive public discussion about tough public policy issues. Although the moderators will intervene if necessary (see the next FAQ), everyone has a stake in maintaining this kind of atmosphere. So, if you see a comment you think violates the Site Use Guidelines, please feel free to speak up (civilly of course) by replying to that comment.

  • Can the moderators remove something I submit?

    Yes, if the content is really off-topic or violates the Site Use Guidelines. The moderators will make it clear whenever a comment has been removed. Someone who repeatedly or flagrantly violates the Guidelines may be banned from the site.

    Please don't include potentially sensitive personal information in your comments. If the moderators see this kind of information, they may remove it to make sure you didn't include it without thinking.

  • Who are the site moderators and what do they do?

    The moderators are senior CeRi researchers, students in the E-Government Clinic at Cornell Law School, and other students during breaks in the academic year. The student moderators are trained and supervised by senior CeRI researchers with professional facilitation skills and legal expertise.

    The moderators' main job is to promote informed and thoughtful discussion. They might ask commenters to give reasons or provide more details; answer questions or point people to additional info; or encourage commenters to consider other viewpoints or propose alternative approaches.

    Moderators are neutral. They do not advocate any particular proposal for dealing with NYC congestion, or support or oppose any particular viewpoint.

  • Why do moderators change comments made in all-capital letters to lowercase?

    In Netiquette, writing in all caps is considered to be shouting or yelling at other participants. Shouting is a violation of Site Use Guidelines. The Guidelines help create an environment where people can learn about and discuss even controversial proposals in a way that allows different viewpoints.

    Sometimes using all-caps for a single word or a few words is just emphasis. But when all-caps is used enough that it seems the equivalent of shouting, the moderators will change the type to lower case.

About the site and what's on it

  • Do I have to register to use the site?

    If you want to just read the site, no.

    If you want to make a comment or endorse a comment you must register with a username, password and email address.

  • Is this a government site?

    No. It's built and operated by CeRI (Cornell eRulemaking Initiative). CeRI is a cross-disciplinary group of Cornell University faculty and students from law, conflict resolution, computing and information science, and the social sciences. We collaborate with government agencies and others who share our interest in using the Web to improve citizen participation in public policy making.

    Learn more about the CeRI team and it's e-participation research.

  • Who writes the topic posts and other material on the site?

    The Topic posts are written by the SmartParticipation team of Cornell faculty and students working on the particular discussion. The team also writes the Learn Pages, basic site pages (such as Terms and Conditions and FAQs) and the glossary entries.

    Documents listed on the Testimony, Reports and Studies page are clearly marked with their author.

Site use tips and help

  • Content on the site isn’t displaying properly. What’s up?

    The problem might be on our end, but check a couple of things:

    1. Make sure you're using a recent version of your browser. (You can check this at

    2. Be sure JavaScript is enabled in your browser. The site can't be viewed or used properly without it. (You can check this, and get instructions for how to enable JavaScript if necessary, at this site.)

    3. If you're using a mobile phone, try a device with a larger screen. Although our site is responsive, sometimes the volume of comments makes viewing difficult on small screens.

    If you're still having problems, please contact us.

  • How do I change my password?

    On your Account page. Click the arrow by your username on the top righthand corner of every page.

  • What will you do with my email address?

    We'll use it if you need to recover your password. We may email you to let you know things such as: when someone has replied to or endorsed one of your comments; when there’s been some new development about the discussion; or when the end of the discussion is close. We may also ask you to fill out surveys that help with CeRI's e-participation research.

    We will not give out your email address to anyone, unless you've given us permission, and we will not use it for any reason that is not directly related to the e-participation events and research this site is part of. (For more details about how we protect your personal information, see Privacy Notice.) You can opt out of receiving emails from us on your Account page.

  • Have a question we didn’t answer here?

    Please contact us to tell us what else you’d like to know about SmartParticipation.