The moderation team
Q: Who moderates content on this site?
A: The moderation team is responsible for moderation services on the Guardian website. There is a small pool of dedicated moderators employed by Guardian News & Media, rotating duties and coverage across all community areas.
Q: How do I become a moderator?
A: We advertise open Community Moderator (and other) positions within the community team when they come up, both online at jobs.theguardian.com and in the paper. If you’re interested in applying, it might be worth setting up a job alert on that site so you’ll be the first to know when a new role is advertised.
Q: Do you or would you employ moderators who already belong to the Guardian community?
A: We welcome applications from anyone with the relevant skills and experience. It’s definitely useful to have previous experience of participating in online communities & social media themselves, since that can help them to understand some of the motivations and social situations which can occur in online discussions.
Q: Do you employ moderators with a specific political or religious bias?
A: No. Moderators are not employed on the basis of any affiliation, and are required to enforce the community standards neutrally and consistently across the site, whatever their personal perspectives.
Although they sometimes need to make decisions which may be unpopular, their actions should not be interpreted as being revealing of pro- or anti- leanings apart from pro-[our community standards] and anti-[behaviour which goes against them].
Q: What hours do the moderators work?
A: We don’t publish specific hours of operation, but there is moderation coverage throughout the day and overnight, seven days a week. Obviously, some times are busier and some periods have more cover than others, so we ask community members to be understanding if we don’t always manage to deal with things straight away.
Q: Who moderates the moderators? Do moderators work for the editor of a particular blog or part of the site?
A: Our moderators are part of the central Community Team which is part of the Guardian website and reports to the Head of community and to Executive editor, audience.
All moderators work closely with editors and editorial staff across the Guardian website site and some have specialist knowledge or experience which means they work predominantly in one or more subject areas. However, the community standards, which the moderators are responsible for enforcing, are set centrally, although we consult with the senior editorial team when revising them. Additionally, the Community Team regularly reviews activity on the site with relevant editorial departments, as well as updating them on any policy or approach changes.
While site editors don’t directly influence moderation policy or daily process, moderation decisions are sometimes taken after consulting with editors who have specialist knowledge about particular subject areas.
Incidentally, we ask staff members and blog contributors (e.g. freelance authors) to report potential problems in participation areas using exactly the same method as everyone else. If a staff member spots an issue, they report it in the normal way to bring it to the attention of a moderator, who will then make a decision based on the usual criteria. Authors don’t moderate their own content.
Q: I have a complaint about moderation, how do I escalate it?
A: Unfortunately, the huge (and growing) quantity of user content on the Guardian website means that we can’t enter into correspondence regarding specific moderation activity, although all correspondence will be read. If you have suggestions or questions about any aspect of moderation and community participation on the Guardian website, you can write to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org (for moderation on Opinion articles specifically)
Editorial and community approach
Q: Why is it possible to comment on some articles but not others?
A: We welcome and encourage debate and interaction around content we publish, both on our site (via comments) and off it (via Twitter, blogs etc). In general we want to open comments up on our material wherever possible, but time and attention is finite (particularly in moderation resource) and we’ve learned from experience that some subjects and types of article attract less constructive or engaging debate than others. With that in mind, we have devised some general operating guidelines for which articles we should prioritise commenting on.
Comments will generally be open on blog posts, features which are discursive and likely to engender thoughtful/insightful/collaborative responses plus multimedia interviews, events, roundtables and conversations, where the content is clearly discursive itself or user participation is part of the story.
Comments will generally not be open on content which is sensitive for legal reasons (e.g. where there’s a high risk of libel or contempt), or editorial reasons (could include: announcements of deaths, breaking news, stories about particularly divisive or emotional issues). In addition, where a number of threads are already open on a specific topic or story, we try to keep commenting to a single thread, to make it easier for people to find and follow the unfolding conversation.
There are always exceptions to both these generalisations, of course!
In short, where comments are likely to add value (for us and other readers) in terms of additional insight, perspective or knowledge, and where we have time and resource to be involved in the conversation, we try to ensure commenting is turned on.
Q: Is there anything that I can’t say in my comments?
A: We ask everyone interacting on the Guardian website to abide by our community standards and participation guidelines. These set out clearly the main behavioural and social norms for the site, but in general we want this to continue to be a safe place for stimulating discussion about issues and we welcome community participation which supports and extends this. Contributions which are deliberately offensive, off-topic or otherwise troll-like are likely to be dealt with in line with these community guidelines. Please be careful about deciding to add personal information such as contact details to your comments: remember this is a public conversation.
Q: What do you count as “personal attacks (on authors, other users or any individual)“?
A: Exactly what you might imagine. The main things we want to avoid are (but are not limited to) vicious or persistent name-calling or accusatory comments; comments which attack the individual rather than the argument or the position; abusive or defamatory phrases (epithets, especially those attached to religious, sexual, racial, gender or ethnic contexts); extreme or contextually-inappropriate profanity directed at an individual; and ad hominem arguments (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ad_hominem).
In other words, comment on the content, not on the contributor.
Q: Why are comments on articles and blog posts closed after a few days?
A: The main reason is that we want to ensure conversations are relevant and topical, which makes sense considering so much of what we publish on the site is related to or inspired by contemporaneous events. In order to keep conversations fresh, we generally close them after a couple of days, or whenever the conversation strays too wildly off topic. This also enables us to be more effectively involved in all current conversations, because we’re not spread so thinly.
Q: Will my comments be moderated?
A: All community interaction is subject to some level of moderation, in order to ensure the spirit of the community standards is upheld. In general, we post-moderate community interaction, which keeps the conversation lively. However, this unfortunately means we can’t guarantee all comments live on the site are appropriate or in the spirit of the community standards.
While the Guardian website staff try to keep an eye on all community activity, we rely on our users to report abusive, offensive or otherwise inappropriate comments when they appear by clicking on the “report abuse” link which appears next to each comment. This alerts us to problems and areas of concern to the community, which means we can make the space better for everyone: we’re grateful for your help with this.
Q: Will authors reply to my comments?
A: We encourage authors to participate in the discussions sparked off by their articles, when feasible. Obviously, for various reasons, this isn’t always possible. But remember that the Guardian website staff (including moderators) do regularly spend time in the community areas of the site and will ensure that any particularly interesting/funny/insightful comments are highlighted to the author.
Q: What control do authors have on comments?
A: None. Authors can’t moderate comments on their own (or anyone else’s) articles. If an author wants a particular comment removed, they need to make a complaint via the report link (as above) and it will be assessed by the moderation team in due course and dealt with accordingly. The moderators work closely with editorial staff to determine and maintain an appropriate, context-specific community environment, informed and supported by the sitewide community standards.
Q: Can I have multiple usernames?
Setting up and using multiple usernames to try to fool people or subvert the moderation of the site will lead to a user’s account being banned completely.
Our moderators do keep an eye out for multiple usernames and will ban them when they spot them.
Q: Can I link to my own blog?
A: We encourage contributors to the Guardian website to include links to content which is revealing, relevant, informative and/or provides more background or context about a particular perspective, situation or topic. That means it’s OK to link to specific posts on your own blog when it’s appropriate, given the guidelines above.
However, regular linking to any site without providing context or adding value to the conversation (e.g. at the end of every comment) will probably look a lot like spamming, and may cause comments to be deleted.
Q: Who owns the copyright of comments I have posted?
A: This is covered in point (6) of the the Guardian website Terms and Conditions which states that by posting any text on the site you are agreeing to “grant us a non-exclusive, perpetual, royalty-free, worldwide licence to republish any material you submit to us in any format, including without limitation print and electronic format”
Q: What is defined as off-topic?
A: Off-topic refers to contributions which are not related to the specific matter under discussion. Obviously, this is contextually-flexible; sometimes conversations are wide-ranging, and so more things can be perceived to be appropriate, topical and relevant. In other cases, off-topic relates to the general subject area of a particular series or section (e.g. the media blog). While it’s always possible to introduce new topics into a conversation, they should at least bear some relevance to the primary discussion. Contributions will be perceived as off-topic if they veer substantively and wildly from the current conversation topic, either as an attempt to derail the conversation or as completely irrelevant.
Moderation process & activity
Q: Why do you have moderation on this site? Isn’t it in opposition to the idea of free speech? Don’t you see the hypocrisy in your censorship?
A: Of course it would be lovely if we didn’t need to have anyone looking out for the quality of conversation on the site. But the fact is that as a big media organisation we have a responsibility to maintain the quality of content which appears on our site and so we employ a small team to monitor and manage community participation.
The aim of moderation is not censorship, but ensuring that the community participation areas of the site remain appropriate, intelligent and lawful.
Q: Why don’t you allow discussion of moderation in comment threads?
A: Because then the conversation could be derailed into talking about moderation rather than the established or initial topic.
If you have suggestions or questions about any aspect of moderation and community participation on the Guardian website, you can write to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org (for moderation on Opinion articles specifically).
We occasionally create threads specifically to discuss moderation, but even then, we won’t discuss specific situations, cases or decisions in public, because we feel that’s inappropriate.
Q: Why was my comment removed?
A: Comments are removed by moderators if they go against the Community Standards & Participation Guidelines, which every participant on the site is bound by.
Q: Why don’t moderators just remove the bit of a comment which is objectionable, rather than deleting the whole thing? It seems a bit heavy handed!
A: Because moderators aren’t editors. Participants should bear in mind that even if only one little bit (or line, or paragraph) of a comment is problematic, the whole comment will be removed. This is partly to avoid moderators editing your contribution to remove the offending bit (which might inadvertently change the meaning) but also to encourage contributors to think carefully before posting.
Q: My comment didn’t break any rules – why was it removed?
A: In some cases, comments may have to be removed if they quote from or refer explicitly to an earlier comment which fell foul of the Community Standards.
For example, a comment which says “I can’t believe you said XXXXXX. I completely disagree!” where XXXXXX is an offensive, legally problematic or otherwise abusive statement, means that this comment just repeats it and so also needs to be removed.
Please try and avoid perpetuating issues by referring to them!
Q: How would I know if a comment was removed?
A: When comments are removed by moderators, a marker is automatically left in the conversation thread to say that something has been removed.
Q: Why are comments being removed with no marker left in place?
A: Exceptions to the marker rule occur when moderators remove duplicate posts, spam, or sometimes, when a comment or post is removed, it has been necessary to delete subsequent messages which refer to explicitly or quote from the original (removed) comment, in order to preserve some notion of conversational thread. In such cases not every deletion will be marked individually, as this then clutters the comments.
If your comment has disappeared with no marker left, it’s generally because it was referring to an earlier comment that has been moderated.
Comments about moderation will usually be treated in this manner, as they usually refer to moderation that’s taken place up thread.
Q: Why don’t you give a public reason for removing a comment? It would at least give a clue to why something had been deleted.
A: Unfortunately we don’t have the facility or resources to do this at the moment. In most cases, a comment author should be able to easily determine what the problem might have been by consulting the Community Standards.
Q: How do moderators decide what stays and what goes?
A: Moderators use the Community Standards as the basis for any moderation decision, combined with the context of the conversation, as well as reports and complaints from the community. In cases which are open to interpretation or aren’t clear-cut, we may err on the side of caution but we try not to be heavy-handed.
Naturally, with any human-powered system, mistakes can be made. Having a clear policy and regularly reviewing moderation processes helps to keep these to a minimum, but there will inevitably be some that slip through. We’re sorry if this happens: we are working to improve the consistency of moderation across the whole site.
It’s worth noting that this isn’t the same as differences of interpretation, which are an universal side-effect of any text-based communication, but something that everyone - moderators, authors and users - have to contend with. The vast majority of decisions made by the moderation team are sound and therefore we ask our community to support the authority of these decisions, even if you don’t necessarily agree with every single one of them.
Q: Do you pre or post-moderate comment threads?
A: We reactively or post-moderate nearly all comment threads, which means that comments generally appear on the site before they’ve been seen by the moderation team. This is different from other community sites you may be used to, and can have the effect that comments appear on the site which may later be removed.
The only exceptions to this are certain special series or articles which may contain extremely sensitive content, such as Blogging the Qur’an. In these cases, all comments are pre-moderated before appearing on the site.
It’s important to bear in mind that the ability to post a comment doesn’t mean it’s automatically OK: we reserve the right to remove comments at any time which do not appear to be in the spirit of our community standards & participation guidelines.
Q: When I post a comment, it says that my comments are being pre-moderated – what does that mean? Does that apply to everyone in the conversation?
A: There is a further exception to the overall reactive-moderation approach adopted by the Guardian website: in isolated situations, a particular user may be identified as a risk, based on a pattern of behaviour (e.g. spam, trolling, repeated/frequent borderline abuse), so a temporary filter can be applied to anything they post, which means that their comments will need to be pre-moderated before appearing on the site.
This is a temporary measure applied by moderators to a very small handful of people based entirely on patterns of actual behaviour, and should result relatively quickly in either their posting ability being suspended completely if no improvement is shown, or the filter being removed. The decision to do either of these things would, again, be based on that user’s behaviour and activity during the pre-moderation period.
Q: How do I know my account has been placed on pre-mod or I’ve been banned?
A: If your account has been placed in pre-moderation, any comments you post won’t appear on the site immediately, but will be reviewed by a moderator first. When you post a comment, a message will indicate that your comment is awaiting moderation.
If your account has been banned from participating in the community areas of the site, you will not be able to post a comment at all: the functionality is removed from the page altogether.
Q: I’ve spotted a bad comment. Why hasn’t it been removed?
Q: I’ve spotted a problem - how do I report something as abusive?
Q: Why hasn’t [user name] been banned for what he/she said?
Q: How come [one comment] was removed, while [another one] is still on the site?
A: Our moderators work in two main ways: keeping an eye on conversations across the site in a general fashion and responding to abuse reports made by community members and other visitors to the site.
We’d like to do more of the former, but at any moment there can be several hundred active conversations taking place and needing to be monitored on the site. So unfortunately, we don’t see every problematic comment or abusive user straight away, and in some cases we might not spot such issues for a while.
Because of this, we also rely on our users to report abusive, offensive or otherwise inappropriate comments when they spot them, by clicking on the “report abuse” link which appears next to each comment. These abuse reports then go into a notification queue to be dealt with by the duty moderators.
Don’t rely on someone else to tell us about an issue if you spot one: it only takes a moment to send a report.
Q: If you click on ‘Report Abuse’ is the comment automatically deleted?
A: No. When you click on ‘Report Abuse” the comment goes into a report queue to be viewed by a duty moderator, who will then judge whether it contravenes the community standards.
We never remove a comment just because it’s been reported, even if it’s been reported dozens of times. However, it’s worth noting that the more abuse reports something gets, the higher it appears in the report priority queue, and so we’ll probably get to see it sooner.
Q: It seems like you’re asking users to do your job for you by reporting problems. Why should we?
A: We believe that when all those involved in a community - hosts and members, creators and contributors - feel and take responsibility for maintaining an appropriate and stimulating environment, the debate itself is improved and all those involved benefit. We work hard to make and keep the environment constructive and convivial but we need your help to do so.
Q: Why don’t you leave bad comments up and let the community decide whether they were bad or not?
A: We actually only take down a very small percentage of comments left by users (about 1%) and of those, there may be a variety of reasons for removal.
In some cases, items are removed for legal reasons, so it wouldn’t make sense to leave them up in public. In most other cases, when comments have been removed because they are offensive, abusive or threatening, we feel that the overall community and editorial experience would suffer (not to mention flame-wars would be prolonged even further) if they were left up.
For that reason, if a comment is perceived to be in violation of our community standards, we remove it from the site entirely.
Q: Why don’t you just take down comments that pose legal problems, and let the community deal with everything else? If we could all see when people are being nonsensical or otherwise troublesome, that would help us argue against their positions from an informed perspective.
A: While it’s easy to imagine that the majority of contributors to the Guardian website conversations would give short shrift to anyone coming to the site in order to troll authors, abuse other commenters, post racist, sexist or homophobic remarks, or otherwise “act out”, unfortunately, experience has demonstrated that disruptive commenters can derail, negatively impact or wreck conversations despite everyone’s best efforts.
An important part of the moderators’ work on the Guardian website is to strive to make the community a welcoming forum for enlightened debate, and at times this will involve removing comments, but these removals will always be in line with the community standards.
Q: Can you tell me why my comment was deleted?
Q: Can you tell me why another poster’s comment was deleted?
A: The answer is probably that something you posted was perceived to contravene the Community Standards, which govern the activity of everyone who contributes to this site.
Sorry, but lack of available resource means we’re not in a position to discuss specific moderator actions or queries about deletions.
Q: Why am I unable to comment on this article?
A: You need to be logged in to post comments, so that could be it, though you are usually prompted to log in if for some reason you’ve been signed out.
We also close comment threads automatically after a particular period (this time limit is dependent on the section of the site: some conversations go on longer than others).
If the comment thread is still open and you are logged in, but still cannot post, you may have been barred from participating because of acting against the community standards.
Q: Why do you close comment threads? Why not just leave them open?
A: Closing comment threads after they’ve been open for a while (depending on section of site: see above) means that the conversations are kept relatively fresh and contemporaneous. It also makes it easier for our staff (both journalists and moderators) to keep an eye on conversations, which means they’re more likely to be able to participate, answer questions or effectively deal with any issues which may arise, depending on their role.
We occasionally close comment threads earlier than usual, due to scheduled tech work - a warning will be posted in advance, when possible. In some areas, we regularly have no option but to close threads earlier than anticipated when the conversation has ranged far off topic or descended into a messy flame war. Whenever possible, we’ll post a warning of early closure in these circumstances. We realise that this is not ideal (and we don’t like doing it) but we’re working towards a future in which this won’t be necessary. In the meantime, we appreciate your patience when this does happen.
Q: I’ve been banned from the site! Why?
Q: Why has [username] been banned?
A: We don’t like removing people’s ability to comment on our content, but in some cases when a pattern of abusive, trolling or offensive behaviour is demonstrated, certain users can be banned from using the site.
We hope this doesn’t seem heavy-handed, but we sometimes have to make decisions to block some users in order to improve the overall experience for everyone else.
Q: If I’ve been banned, can I come back if I say I’m sorry?
A: A user can be reinstated if the moderation team are confident that he or she understands the cause of their suspension, agrees to abide by the site’s community standards and will be able to contribute reasonably and sociably to the conversation in future. In such cases, it’s normal for the user to have a short trial period with limited functionality, before being returned to full user privileges.
Q: Why don’t you remove comments containing bad language?
A: We do remove some particularly strong uses of bad language, but on the whole we allow swearing in comments since we don’t want to impose a double standard on commenters: our writers are permitted to swear in articles. We will remove swearing when it is directed towards other community members in an abusive fashion, or if it is gratuitously offensive.
Q: How do I know if my comment is legally risky?
A: Legal issues that apply to editorial content on the Guardian website will also often apply to comments posted in discussions. These may include libel and defamation, privacy and breach of confidence, contempt of court and copyright violations, among other things. If you want to read up on media law, you might start here.
It is not safe to assume that you are avoiding legal risk because you are quoting material already published elsewhere, are only linking to problematic material rather than quoting it, or are hedging claims by saying ‘allegedly’. Remember to think carefully about how you present claims you make, and whether they are supported by reliable and reputable sources. Generally it is better to express things as your own personal opinion and avoid statements of fact. But please also bear in mind that moderators may have to take a precautionary approach to comments that appear risky: we can’t test every comment in a court of law.
Q: How do I add my own comments to an article or blog post?
A: At the bottom of most current pages on which commenting is enabled, there is a text-entry field above a button labelled “Post your comment”.
Q: Can I refer Guardian website content to social platforms like Facebook and Twitter, or bookmarking sites such as Digg or Reddit?
A: Absolutely! At the top and bottom of every article you’ll find a suite of other icons which enable you to do various things to the article, including print, email, share and clip it. Using the “share” icon, you can submit the article to a range of popular social bookmarking sites, while the “clip” icon pops the article in your personal Guardian website clippings file. Facebook and Twitter links (with number of shares) are at the top of each article.
Q: Can I edit my comments?
A:It’s not possible to edit comments left on other areas of the site, which is why we ask you to think carefully before you post.
Annoying as it may be to submit a carefully thought-out comment only to notice a glaring typo moments later, the problems with allowing comments to be edited would greatly outweigh the benefits.
Q: What HTML can be used?
A: In some interactive bits of the site (commenting on blogs and articles), it is possible to use limited HTML within comment fields. At present, these are:
Link: <a href=”website address”>Link text</a>
In all these examples, text should be inserted between the tags. For example: <b>this</b> will produce this result on the page.
Formatting buttons are provided above the comment entry field to help.
Q: What is a user profile?
A: A user profile is an aggregated view of all the comments left by an individual community member on the Guardian website. In addition to the automatically-generated list of your comments, you can add some basic personal information to this page, like location or interests, to help people understand the wider context of your contributions. If you are under 16, we recommend that you do not add personal data. User profiles all have addresses in the format: https://profile.theguardian.com/user/[username]
Q: Can I make my profile or comment history private?
A: Since all the comments in your comment history were posted in public (on the Guardian website), they are also public when they appear in the aggregated view on your profile page. You can’t make your profile private, but you can, of course, choose not to fill in any of the personal details there.
Your comments stand as a public record of your participation on the site: think Hansard, for commenters.
Q: Why do you ask for a real name on the profile?
A: We want to promote a culture of trust within our community interaction areas, and sometimes usernames can be a bit anonymous or mysterious and difficult to properly engage with.
Sometimes being anonymous is a good thing (and of course you still have that option) but if you want to add a name to your profile (might be first name, real name or what you might like to be known as) it can help others to treat you as a real person, and not just a weird username.
Q: I’m worried about identity theft. Doesn’t a Guardian website profile create a risk?
A: No. The personal information posted on your profile isn’t very personal - every field is optional, and you can be as vague as you like (e.g. Location could be “UK” rather than “King’s Cross, London”). If you put your birth date in, it isn’t ever revealed on the site, but your age is calculated from this information and displayed. There is no requirement to enter your real birthdate - in fact, some community members might welcome the opportunity to knock a few years off...
Q: Is it possible to send a message privately to another user?
A: We don’t allow posters to contact each other directly (and we will never pass on your email address or other details to a third party.)
Q: Is it possible to search for user content?
A: Yes, sort of. A limited search is available by going to the the Guardian website search page, typing your search term into the box and choosing the “Reader Comments” option before clicking Go. At the moment, only comments left on blogs, comment is free and articles are found in this search, but we’ll be integrating more community areas (e.g. Been There) over the next few months.
Q: What does the “recommend” link do?
A: If you think a comment is particularly worthy of merit or attention, using the “recommend” link will add a vote to it. The number of current recommendations any comment has attracted is displayed alongside. At the moment, recommendations are used to help editorial staff to choose featured comments (which appear on the front of Comment is Free, for example) but coming soon, recommendations will have other uses, too.
Q: Can I recommend my own content?
A: You cannot recommend your own comments. In addition you must be logged in to recommend a comment.
Q: What does the “clip” link do?
A: When you “clip” something, it gets added to your clippings page: a sort of scrapbook of saved Guardian website stories, galleries, videos and so on. Your clippings file can be found by following the link at the top of your screen when signed in, or by visiting theguardian.com/users/[username]/clippings
Q: What does the “link” link do?
A: Each comment has a permanent link, which means it can be referred to directly (rather than saying “it’s on this page and then about halfway down...”). If you right-click that link, you can copy the address to your clipboard, which can be helpful if you want to refer to it in your own comment.
Q: What does the “share” link do?
A: “Share” allows you to send content objects - comments, stories, galleries and so on - to friends, or to a social bookmarking and recommendation application.
Q: How do I upload an avatar picture
A: Click on your username in any conversation you’ve participated in, or on the “your profile” link at the top of every page on the Guardian website. On the left hand side of the page, underneath your name, there should be a square avatar picture (it may be the default grey one) followed by a link which says “Edit my profile”. When you click on this link, you’ll be able to select from a range of colourful avatar designs, or upload your own: just follow the instructions on the page. Don’t forget to save your profile afterwards.
Q: What are the technical specifications of the avatar file?
A: When you upload your image, it’s automatically transformed to the different sizes which are used on the website. The main size used is 60x60 pixels square. With this in mind, we suggest that you that you use a JPG, GIF, BMP or PNG image less than 700k or 500x500 pixels in size. Smaller/larger dimensions are OK, but they may not look very good on the site when they’ve been cropped and shrunk to the appropriate size. That means that if you upload an image that’s smaller than 60x60 pixels, it will probably look weird. We don’t process transparancy in a GIF or a PNG so it’s best to stick to JPGs.
Q: When will my new avatar show up?
A: We expect that in the period immediately following the launch, there’ll be a lot of images coming in, so it may take a while to work through the pending image queue. Please bear with us - it shouldn’t be a long wait.
Q: What happens if my new avatar is rejected?
A: If an image fails pre-moderation, your avatar will be reset to the default (grey) image. You can always try using a different image.
Q: What kind of image should I use for an avatar?
A: We’re hoping that avatars will reflect the real people who make up the community of users on the Guardian website, so using a picture of yourself is an obvious start. Some people may choose an image which represents but doesn’t directly depict them (e.g. a cropped picture of their eyes), or which says something about their background, perspective, values or interests (for example, a particular colour or symbol like a leaf, flag or a team crest).
We ask users to be respectful of copyright when selecting an image to use as an avatar (most images on the web are subject to copyright restrictions), and to ensure they have permission to use the image they choose - for both those reasons, it’s much better/easier to use one of your own images, where possible. We won’t accept any images which depict children or appear to be imitating another individual, or which otherwise fall foul of our existing community standards governing taste and decency, violence or illegal acts, and incitement or intent to cause offence.
Q: Can I use an animated gif?
A: No. They’re too distracting on the page.
Q: How do I complain about someone else’s avatar?
A: If you see an avatar which you think infringes copyright or is otherwise unsuitable, but which may have slipped through, you can alert the moderation team by clicking the “report abuse” link on each user’s profile (which you can get to by clicking on their username link). Just tell us what you think the problem is (the more specific the better) and we’ll take a look.
Q: Why are they so big?
A: The design of the avatars and comment layout is always being reviewed, but for launch, we wanted to make user avatars the same size as the author profile pic at the top of an article page - 60x60 pixels. In addition, we’ve been slightly constrained by the system we’ve used to implement this change, and the alternative was having avatar images so small you couldn’t tell what was on them. We decided slightly bigger was slightly better, overall.