How should you moderate blog comments?

When I talk to elected politicians, trying to persuade them of the virtues of becoming a blogger, the two most common concerns are, “how much time will it take?” and “why do I want to do something that will attract lots of eccentric or rude comments?”

The first is absolutely a sensible question to think about – blogging well takes time and you should know what you’re getting yourself in to. The fears behind the second though are often exaggerated or misplaced. In part I think this is because some of the most high profile political blogs have a very relaxed attitude to allowing through all sorts of comments, but not every blog has to be like that.

Coming up with a sensible moderation policy for comments is a wise move: if you don’t yet have a blog, it can help reassure you that comments can play a useful role without the drawbacks you fear, and if you do have a blog, deciding what rules to follow will help make your moderation sensible and consistent – always a good idea, especially if you are making swift spur of the moment decisions late at night! (Getting it wrong can also result in a new blog getting off to a shaky start, as the fuss over Derek Draper’s moderation policies on LabourList demonstrates.)

So what should your moderation policy cover?

Comment moderation categories

The key questions to think about are:

a. What, other than spam or libelous comments, will you block?
Almost everyone also moderates racist comments, but you need to decide how wide to cast your net; for example, what about more generally discriminatory comments? Libelous and discriminatory comments are a good starting point for any decision.

b. Do you moderate comments that just contain abuse?
Some blogs pretty much allow anything beyond what may be caught by (a). Personally, I take the view that some standards of behaviour are reasonable to expect from other people taking part on your own blog, and in particular because otherwise boorish behaviour can put off people who have valuable comments to make. It’s the same as with a public meeting: having one person in the corner shouting out their disagreement whenever anyone dares to voice their views will often put off other people from contributing. There is also some evidence that the behaviour of your commenters is likely to spiral downwards, with abusive comments encouraging more abusive comments and so on in a downwards spiral.

So you may well decide to moderate comments that just contain abuse, though perpare yourself for the almost inevitable complaint from someone that you are the worst censor since the invention of the written word just because you didn’t publish their comment saying YOU’RE A LOSER HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

c. Do you allow swearing or not?
Easy one this: yes or no?

d. Do you allow anonymous comments or comments under false names?
There are some decent reasons people may not wish to use their real name, such as an example I came across of a teacher who wanted to talk about politics in public with others, but also wishes to keep their views private from the children they taught.

I generally recommend that you allow people to post anonymously or using a pseudonym but draw the line at either people pretending to be someone they are not (e.g. a Conservative member pretending to be an unhappy Liberal Democrat – a bizarrely common past-time for some people on this site) or someone pretending to be several different people, all agreeing with each other and therefore presenting a false picture of actual public opinion.

e. Do you allow political opponents to comment?
As long as they don’t fall foul of whatever you have decided above, I would say ‘yes’ – politics in a democracy is about an exchange of views between people with different beliefs. It can be tempting to prefer a quiet life and not let opponents make comments critiquing your blog posts, but actually having your posts subjected to a fact-check from opponents is really rather helpful in ensuring you don’t end up repeatedly getting your facts wrong.

f. Do you pre- or post-moderate?
In favour of only allowing comments to appear once you’ve made a decision on whether or not to publish is that this way you can be sure that only comments that meet your rules are published. Against is that this delays the appearance of comments, and that tends to stifle the build-up of any debate between commenters, which – where it happens – really adds to a blog. You should also be aware of the legal angle that you are more likely to be liable for what someone has said in a comment if you are pre-moderating everything.

g. If you moderate a comment from someone for breaking these rules, do you subsequently block all comments from them?
Or do you block them all if they have been a persistent offender? Or do you moderate each comment on its own merits? Many people tend towards the middle view – the equivalent of banning someone from a bar.

One final tip: on most blogging systems, someone’s name can link through to a website that the commenter has specified. These links can help produce a sense of who the commenters are and a sense of community around the discussion, but you might want to be careful about checking which sites people are linking to as this can be a way that people try to sneak through links in the hope that you will miss them.

Note: this is an updated version of a piece I wrote last year. Many thanks to everyone who commented on that piece and gave me some good ideas for use in this much expanded version.

Previous posts with blogging tips and advice

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5 Comments

  • This seems to add up to ‘you are the host, you have the power to insist on reasonably good manners, and you should do so.’ Is that the tone intended?

    What manners are reasonably good will depend upon taste and context, I assume.

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