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

3 Responses

  • When we were talking about SOPA, PIPA and ACTA and the freedom of the web, I read a comment somewhere. Izt was to this effect: We talk about the free web and censorship, but we, the bloggers who pertain to stand up for the free web, are censoring comments all the time …

    It got me thinking. I had no answer, and I still don’t. All a question of perspective? Is it that easy? I wonder …

    • Censorship is generally accepted as an act by government, not private parties. If you run a government site it would be one thing, but if your sites are private or even business sites, “censorship” simply isn’t the right word.

      Moderation is a more appropriate term for what we perform as content authors and managers. Moderation requires you to act in the best interests of the forum, which is essential to repeat visitors as well as to general appeal. NOBODY wants spam on their sites, and it should be removed promptly if even allowed to make it to publication.

      As far as the topic at hand – I agree with pretty much everything, Tom. Laissez-faire is the better method, as long as you address all the spam. ESPECIALLY if you allow “second post free”, since someone can post a “nearly” legitimate comment, then follow that one with hundreds of spams as soon as it bypasses the filters and even human eyes. On some of my sites I’m now implementing Disqus in order to avoid the labor required to moderate things myself. It doesn’t give me the range of options I like from Comments Plus, though, so it’s not my preferred option.

      • Design Lord, Child of Thor

        David, Shawn – thanks for your comments. I think we’d probably be getting bogged down in semantics by discussing whether bloggers “censor” or “moderate”. I actually think you both have a point though – David in that there can be a certain hypocrisy amongst bloggers when it comes to overzealous moderation, and Shawn in that moderation (to a subjective standard, admittedly) is a must when it comes to running a blog.

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