I want to seriously talk to you about the responsibilities of hosting comments on your blog. It’s fun and it’s a great thrill to get a response to something you’ve written, but it also has responsibilities, both by you and the comment poster. We can’t control the comment poster, but we can control our response to the comment. That is our responsibility as a website owner and/or administrator.
Dealing with comments means identifying and dealing with unwanted spam such as comment spam or inappropriate or off-topic comments. You may, or may not, have a responsibility to respond to comments, so it may add more to your site’s workload. Then there is the debate of what comments should stay or be removed dependent upon your site’s policies and standards. There are a lot of questions to be asked and answered, and with all things, it begins with a plan.
The Debate Over Deleting a Comment
In a moment we will cover the issues of comment spam, but let’s look at the times when you are faced with an inner debate over allowing a comment to remain on your site or deleting it.
In order to support your debate before it starts, it helps to have a general policy on comments and privacy. By allowing comments on your site, visitors should know you will protect their privacy by not showing or using their email address, even though it may be required for commenting. You also need to set some ground rules and/or guidelines for what you will allow or not allow on your site.
We are really open about a lot of our comments, but few of our topics attract controversy. Commentary, sure, but not great debates. If your site invites such debates, be clear about what you will tolerate. Name calling might, or might not, be encouraged. Only you can decide how far you will allow specific topics, language, accusations, negative talk, or arguments. Whatever your limits are, make sure they are in your Comments Policy.
Still, even with such policies in place, site administrators are often faced with the choice of “to delete or not delete”. That’s the hard part.
Here are some tips to help you write your Comments Policy and answer some of the inner debate issues over comments on your site.
- Is it appropriate?
- It’s up to you, as the site administrator, to decide if the comment is appropriate. But what does “appropriate” mean? If the topic at hand is about travel photography and the comment is about how stupid the power company is, that would be an inappropriate comment for the topic at hand. Or appropriate might mean offensive language or accusations that are unnecessary and just “wrong” in the situation. It is up to you to decide what “appropriate” means, and you need to be clear about why.
- Does it help?
- Clearly a comment about the stupid power company on an article about photography doesn’t help the subject. If the comment is on topic, encourages more discussion, teaches, or provides helpful information, it should stay. If it kills the discussion and doesn’t provide any help to the topic, why bother? Delete it.
- “Offensive” is one of those nebulous words that means different things to different people. For some, offensive means profanity, while for others, it may mean any comment that goes against their personal beliefs or opinions or site content and purpose. It could also mean slander or derogatory intent. Again, you have to decide, but whatever you deem offensive, get rid of it.
- Will it hurt someone?
- This seems to be a simple criteria to evaluate. If a comment says something mean and nasty about someone, then it probably should be deleted. But if it says something mean and nasty about President Bush or a famous or public figure, then it might not directly hurt them. The good ole freedom of speech and rights to say anything you want against anyone in the public eye might entitle you to leave the comment, if your site caters to such discussions. But what about prejudice and racial slander? Jokes about ethnic or religious groups may hurt someone, too, even if not directed at a specific person. Your post or article might be about the Muslim dominance of terrorist groups and someone may make a comment about how horrible Muslims are. While that might apply to your topic, it is a sweeping judgement against all Muslims and you have to decide if it is appropriate, offensive, and acceptable or not.
- Will it encourage offensive or off-topic discussions?
- Many site administrators enjoy the repartee of the debate on their site, but if comments will foster negative and offensive discussions, inciting a riot on your site, you might not want that. Angry debates and accusations may lead to off-topic comments and a whole lot of trouble you might not want. Or you might want that. Only you can choose to delete the comments or close the discussion.
- Freedom of Speech vs Censorship
- Your Comment Policy may need to tackle this issue, but only if you need to justify your moderation, editing or deleting of comments, or absolute control over your site’s content. The courts haven’t gotten into violations of freedom of speech and censorship over comments on websites, but that is probably in our future. Right now, you, as the site owner, control the content on your site and only you can set up your standards, guidelines, and ground rules. If freedom of speech and censorship rights are important to you, then say so and set the rules for your site accordingly.
- Time Waster Comments
- While not as politically important as freedom of speech, offensive nature, or incitement to riot on your website, you still have to decide if a comment is a time waster for you and/or your readers. If the comment is helpful, fine, but if it is a waste of space on your site, adding only fill and no value, then it might not be worth leaving in place. Eliminating time wasting comments saves space in your database and on your site, and can speed up the access of web pages, though by small amounts. A lot of time wasting comments, though, can add up. Again, look at the intent, value, and contribution the comment makes to the topic at hand. If it is a time waster, consider getting rid of it.
- Can you sleep at night?
- Early on, I sometimes left comments on my site that then kept me awake at night. I debated and thrashed in my mind about the worthiness of the comment and the comment poster’s intent. No more. I have to look at that comment on my site for a VERY long time and if it bothers me enough to interrupt my daily activities, including sleep, it’s GONE. I trust myself to know what is best for me and there is no comment on my site worth agonizing over. It’s my site and I have the power of the delete button under my control. So do you.
Do not make excuses, justifications or defend your removal of a comment. It only calls attention to it. Just do it. It is your site, your policy, and your peace of mind. You will have to look at the comment on your site for a very long time while the commentor may be off elsewhere having forgotten what they posted on your site. You control what appears on your website. Make it the BEST you have to offer and encourage everyone participating on your site to do the same.
Responding to Comments
Not every comment posted on your website requires a response, though at first, you may want to respond because it is SO exciting to get feedback. Monitoring and responding to comments, though, can become time consuming and obsessive.
First, determine when a response is necessary. A comment without a question needs no response, usually. A comment that makes a statement that is totally off-base may need a response to keep thing on track and topic. If you wish to encourage discussion, then your response will help direct the flow of the “conversation”.
Second, determine WHY you are responding. Is it because there is a question, or because you want to correct their supposition? Or is it because they piss you off? Remember that comments are simply letters combined into words on your website. They have no emotions behind them unless you give them power. Words hurt, but they hurt with the power our assumptions, expectations, and imagination give them. If they really make you angry, delete them without a response. If you want dialog on your site, even if it makes you angry, then you need to understand and accept that, and compose your words wisely.
THINK before you respond.
Consider your response carefully. Take time to evaluate the BEST response. Do not let your temper get control. Remember, this is your site and you have the power to control what appears on it. And that responsibility and power means controlling your comments as well as theirs.
Lastly, consider the value of responding. Just like with comments, does your response add to the conversation or information? Does it help? Is it appropriate or offensive? Will it hurt? You can post your response and then delete it later if you regret it, but think before you respond.
Before I make it sound like comments are hard work and horrible, let me add that comments are wonderful. They provide interaction and communication between you, the site owner, your work, and the audience. Not everyone will respond to everything you post, but when they do, it’s a thrill.
Some sites specialize in generating content that encourages discussion and they have tons of fans who bombard their sites with commentary, compliments, and discussions. Others discuss their day-to-day activities and enjoy it when someone says, “Been there, done that” or “That helped, thanks!” Review sites are dependent upon them, seeking people’s comments on the subject and helping others get a feel for the product, service, or subject before deciding for themselves.
Don’t run from comments for fear of comment spam and the increase in workload. While our site doesn’t demand commenting for our content to have value, many ideas for articles have come from people’s comments on our site. Comments add color and flavor to a site. Comments are good things.
- What is Comment Spam?
- How NOT to Comment on Comments
- Editing Your Blog Comments
- Mean Spirited Comments and Blogging
- You Must Be Logged In To Comment
- One Year Anniversary Review: Comments on Comments
- Battling Comment Spam: Human Versus Human
- I’m Winning the Battle Against Comment Spam
- Special Guide to Weblog Comments
- Nominated for 9Rules – Not Worthy
- I Love It When You Say Nice Things About Me
- Delaware Supreme Court Extend First Amendment Protection to Online Comments
- Imprisonment for Annoying People Online
- Comment Live Preview Placement
- Your Comment Has Been Moderated – Stay Tuned for Approval
- How to Handle Tough Questions (and Comments) from an Audience
- Monitoring Blog Comments
- What is Comment Spam?
- Calling All Stupid Comment Spammers
- Do You Care Enough To Keep Your Blog Comment Spam Free?
- Blogging Challenge: Comment on 10 Blogs
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