Over the years, I’ve seen a big debate on whether it’s proper for a blogger to moderate comments, and it’s not likely to end any time soon.
I think there are really two separate issues at the heart of the debate over whether to moderate comments on blogs and websites. One is a smaller, more temporary problem. The other is a more far-reaching, permanent issue. But I think it’s the smaller issue that turns people off from moderating altogether.
First Issue: To moderate before a comment appears
I’ve encountered many bloggers who have their comment moderation set to “on” on their sites. This means that if I go to their site, find a post I really like and choose to leave them a comment, that comment won’t appear until they read it in advance and take an action to allow it to show. This is the traditional kind of moderation we hear about more often.
People who like this option are generally those who have the best of intentions: they don’t want spam to appear all over their site. A smaller percentage of those who moderate in this manner have concerns about inappropriate content, like profanity or vulgarity. By having moderation on, they argue, they can prevent that kind of distasteful content from appearing on their site.
Unfortunately, what this type of moderation also does is to reduce the chance that a real discussion will take place on your blog because it takes that much longer for a visitor to see other people’s comments and then chime in. The delay between the time a comment is left and a comment actually is approved to appear on the site, critics say, can cost you interaction and engagement on your site.
Can you imagine, after all, how little conversation there’d be on Facebook if every comment to every post had to be approved before it would appear?
I tend to side on no comment moderation before the fact, with the possible exception of a profanity filter that might either replace bad words with either a string of asterisks or hide the comment altogether until a moderator could see it. At least then, respectful conversation is happening as close to live as possible with disrespectful conversation being at least temporarily blocked.
Second Issue: To moderate after a comment has been left
Someone decides to leave a comment on your blog that’s particularly mean-spirited. It resorts to personal attacks though it sufficiently dodges a profanity filter that might otherwise get it hidden. It’s full of hate-speak. It attacks you — or, perhaps worse — a loyal reader of yours.
It seems that there are more bloggers who fear comment spam making its way to their blog more than they fear personal attacks or other inappropriate conduct. That’s what I don’t understand.
On my blog, I have rules when it comes to commenting. They can all be boiled down to two words: Be respectful. Yes, when there’s any question, since it’s my site, I’m the one who gets to decide what is and is not respectful.
That’s the way it is.
That’s the way it is — or can be — on your site as well. It’s the site owner, after all, who makes the rules.
Just ask Facebook, which has a list of “Community Guidelines” it requires all of its members to agree to before they can complete the creation of their account. Without clicking that little box indicating agreement, you don’t even get a Facebook account.
Freedom of Speech, you say? That’s for protest in public spaces and even that is regulated.
Freedom of Speech doesn’t apply to private property. I can’t just walk into your home and behave any way I wish: you have the right to demand I leave and you have the right to call the police and have me forcibly removed for trespassing.
There’s a big difference between disagreement and disrespect.
I don’t mind people who disagree with me. Believe me, there have been plenty of them over the years. Disrespecting someone crosses a different line. If you can’t be respectful in your disagreement, then, I don’t want to hear your point at all. When you can be respectful, I’ll listen. With great interest. There’s even a chance you might teach me something I hadn’t considered.
Respect is the first step.
So is the concept of moderating comments a problem? I think you have to decide what you are willing to accept and what you aren’t. More importantly, I think you have to decide whether you will allow someone else to attack you and your audience on your blog.
I’m all about discussion. Personal attacks can go elsewhere.
It’s worth noting, in fact, that it has nothing to do with which side of an argument one takes. It has everything to do with the manner in which that point of view is expressed.
Nothing more, nothing less.
So for me, moderating comments isn’t a problem.