BLOGS ARE REALLY just points of entry for conversations. Even the simplest post can lead to comments that build on one another and go in unexpected directions. Something as innocuous as a landscape photo essay can transform into a religious debate.
It’s a stoke to see (and moderate) the evolution of comments around a post when this happens. But when a piece either gets popular enough, or if it’s thought-provoking enough, or even if you get one person with hurt feelings (or someone just plain out of control) in the mix, the whole conversation can devolve into a shitstorm. People begin attacking each other or the author personally. Some take the ultimate ‘weak-ass’ route and threaten to sue. It’s ugly and tedious to deal with, but it’s also something you can take a kind of pride in dealing with–you know you’re being read.
With that in mind, here are some thoughts our whole team had on dealing with comments:
Have a stated moderation policy.
As Andy Hayes notes, “There is precedent for bloggers being successfully sued for comments on their blog, so clearly reserve your right to remove or edit libelous, profane or otherwise unacceptable content.”
1. Don’t use ALL CAPS to show you’re pissed.
2. Don’t say “sweetie”, “honey”, or “dear”.
3. Don’t imply “you think this because you are a [woman, man, from this country, dog-
4. Address the ideas and the writing, not the writer.
5. If you’re angry about a piece or a comment, take half an hour or longer, then go back and re-read it. Often, the material will come off in a different way. Then respond.
At Matador we have a liberal policy towards letting voices be heard. We let most comments stand unless they’re outright hateful or spam.
As Julie Schwietert notes, there’s a distinction between censorship and fostering good conversation. “I don’t view deleting inflammatory, hostile, or non-productive comments in the back end as censorship, especially when those comments are made by someone who wants to hide behind the relative anonymity that the Internet can provide.”
Shut down comments if necessary.
If it’s your site, then it’s your territory. Some people may view this as censorship, but it’s still your right to take down comments if a conversation has devolved completely. A good idea is to simply leave a note stating what happened as clearly and transparently as possible.
Address mistakes or issues that people bring up.
Make a mistake in the article? Fix it. Were you wrong? Admit it. Everybody makes mistakes, so take it constructively (even if the commenter is less than professional about it).
How do you deal with out of control comments on your blog while still trying to maintain and promote good conversation? Let us know in the comments.