Comments – Striking a Balance Between Healthy Moderation and Despotism

Comments - Striking a Balance Between Healthy Moderation and DespotismI never thought that I’d get to use the word “despotism” in a WPMU article. Actually, I’d never thought about whether or not I would, but if the question had been asked of me, I would have certainly thought it unlikely.

On the other hand, I do tend to wander onto some pretty strange paths at times, so I shouldn’t be that surprised. The point is, I am rather pleased with myself for shoehorning despotism into this post. I am even more pleased with myself because it is actually relevant.

Do You Use a Comment Policy?

The inspiration for this post came about after I read through this recent article over at Weblog Tools Collection. Given that I rarely read through blog comments, it was rather ironic that I found myself reading every single one on this occasion.

I do not have a comment policy at my own blog. Not a published one anyway – I certainly have what I suppose you would call an “implied” policy, which aligns almost perfectly with Weblog Tools Collection’s:

Comments will be accepted if they meet the following conditions:

  • The comment is not spam.
  • The comment is not left solely to drive traffic elsewhere. (Yes, this is spam.)
  • The comment is not widely off topic.
  • The comment is not obscene or profane.
  • The commenter has left a real name or proper screen name. (“Cheap Lawn Chairs” and “Joe @ MyCellPhoneTips.blah” are not real names).

Moderation is a Delicate Process

Commenting is a delicate thing – you want to encourage conversation. I will generally tend to avoid deleting a comment if at all possible – and there are times at which I am not totally comfortable with my decisions.

To be more specific, there are two types of comment listed above which I often struggle with – where the decision to delete or not becomes purely subjective:

  • The comment is not left solely to drive traffic elsewhere.
  • The commenter has left a real name or proper screen name.

The problem is, a comment may sometimes straddle the line between being useful and seeming like it has been left only to drive traffic elsewhere. Similarly, someone might leave quite a valuable comment, but provide a name that is a blatant attempt to positively affect their website’s rankings.

Invariably, the “borderline” comments are left on my blog, and it tends to bug me. But on the other hand, I don’t want to alienate a potential reader by deleting their comment. There is always the chance that they are being totally genuine, and if they are a commenter, they are more engaged than the average reader. They’re not exactly the type of person you want to piss off if you want to run a successful blog.

Despotism – Better than Acquiesence?

I honestly cannot decide which is the better course of action for my blog – ruthless moderation based upon a strict comment policy, or a more laissez-faire attitude that involves letting “borderline” comments pass through the system unmolested.

I think I am leaning towards laissez-faire. Ultimately, does allowing somewhat suspect comments (as described above) actually effect the enjoyment of your blog for other readers? I don’t think so (although I would welcome reasoned arguments to the contrary). When it comes to deleting comments that may be spam, but it is difficult to tell, I think you are wandering into the territory of serving yourself, rather than your readers.

And that, my friends, is a slippery slope.

Creative Commons image courtesy of dok1