Comment Moderation

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes —

NEW NEW YORK, 7 June — Hahah, I can’t stop myself! Yes, I know the Newbie Blogger Initiative ended a week ago already. What can I say, I’m a late bloomer… with more to say…

Really, Comment Moderation is mostly for the lucky few who manage to fly above the radar. If you comments are mostly a trickle, it won’t take much time or thought to deal with them. But The Internet is a strange place. You can be innocently minding your own business, and some stranger can still go off on you. Like the guy who sort of randomly dropped in just to tell me I’m a bitch. Or the person who went to the about page of the wonderful Mamafesto blog and essentially just started yelling. Weird stuff. You’ve probably seen worse.

The Patron Saint of this iRez blog, Charlie Nesson, has said that he favors a mix of Open and Closed, that he believes

All closed is a cave; all open is a desert.

I think he was referring to IP when he said that, but for me, his wisdom fits Blog Comments as well. Some blogs have a very tight comment policy. That’s too closed for my Free Culture sensibility. For me, if I really want to promote Civil Rights, then I have to try to have a little extra tolerance for hate speech. Not because it’s wonderful stuff, but because tolerating some of it is a reasonable price to me to let the community who visits here know that the opinions are real and diverse. With almost all censorship and moderation, the real damage is not the generally few books that are “burned,” but the many books that are never written in the climate of self-censorship, the climate of fear, that an authoritarian regime can so easily create. Yes, a nation can create a climate of self-censorship, but so can a Web2.0 platform, and so can a blog comment moderator.

Image of "Troll Dolls" as a visual pun / analogy to online Trolls

Even if you do choose to let some random hotheads say mean and often irrelevant things, too much “weird” commenting can hurt the community. Some readers might be driven away from commenting, others, instead of exploring new analysis of the ideas will use their time to defend you or explain to, or scold, the offender. Yes, defending your blog could be a community building experience in itself, but this can wind up being a lot of structural analysis at the expense of what your actual topic had been.

For me the line is between self and community. If a comment only bruises my ego, it should be left in, but if it hurts the small community we’re trying to establish here, then it belongs out. If someone has no contribution to make to the dialog and disrupts your community, you may want to leave them in to “prove” how open / inclusive you are, but that’s kind of like trying so hard not to be a chauvinist, that when you see a mugging in the street you don’t help or call for help because you’re afraid you’d be limiting the mugger’s right to “expression!”

The Internet is filled with Muggers, Trolls, Spammers, and lots of other creepers in trench coats. Don’t feel guilty for moderating them.

Image of a can of "SPAM" lunch meat, an analogy for online "SPAM"

Oh speaking of “spam,” everything I’ve been describing we might lump in with Trolling. Real Spam is a whole different thing and seems actually easy to address. This is simply peeps trying to get free links over to their junk sites from your place. It could come from robots or actual humans like Amazon Mechanical Turk workers. I don’t really have experience with spam on Blogger, and it seems like Tumblr’s architecture kind of precludes spam. On WordPress we get about 10 spam comments for every 1 real comment. The Akismet spam plugin seems to be pretty much 100% accurate at separating the spam comments from the real. And by this definition your troll comments all fall into the “real” category.

On WordPress SETTINGS > DISCUSSION, you can blacklist any words, including parts of URL’s and IP addresses that are problematic. By the way, on this panel you can also turn Comment Moderation on or off. You actually might want to turn moderation Off! This does not turn spam filtering off, so that haystack of spam will still go to your spam folder, not to published. And in our case, so far, in 3 years I’ve moderated ONE comment out. So bothering to hold comments or even just comments from new visitors is kind of overkill, at least here on iRez. We can just let comments thru. If some truly awful, hateful thing comes thru, having it posted for a few hours till it’s noticed seems fairly minor. You really only need “moderation” turned on if you’re being trolled. Again, “moderation off” just means the default is to publish comments right away which sort of enhances your discussion. It in no way prevents you from moderating a mean spirited comment after the fact.

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