lukegilman.com : The Blawgraphy
Life of a Law Student, University of Houston Law Center

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Please note: I'm no longer updating this particular blog, but keep it around for archival purposes. Visit me at the current blog at www.lukegilman.com

Moderating Blog Comments – A Word from Your Sponsor

By: Luke Gilman | Other Posts by
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Kevin O’Keefe at LexBlog brought up an excellent conversation on Moderating law blog comments : The New York Times protocol. Comments are just a part of life in the blogosphere and even a local cable access blog like this one gets its fair share. The comments range from the silent majority, to the regulars, an occasional troll and a legion of spammers. Those new to blogging are sometimes shocked at what passes for civilized discussion. The advice your mother used to give you – that if you had nothing nice to say, not to say anything at all – has no adherents on the web. If anything the opposite is the default rule – if you only have something nice to say, why bother?

Netiquette of Comment Moderation

Basic netiquette renders even a personal blog like this one something of a communal area; there’s a tacit agreement among readers and writers of blogs of transparency and intellectual honesty that most bloggers feel requires them to allow space for other points of view, no matter how misguided. Essentially, by providing a mechanism for comments at all, I’m inviting this kind of community participation – and if I censor it, I make myself the worst kind of netizen; if people are going to take the time to write something, the implied agreement is that I won’t kill it. As a result, I’ll pretty much approve anything that comes from a real person, even if that person is seriously deranged.

The Blawgraphy’s Rules of Comment Moderation

Generally I will not approve:

  1. Anything in another language – mostly because I’m a dumb American and can’t read it.
  2. Content that is nasty, impolite or slanderous of another person – I’ve pretty much made myself fair game to a certain extent, but others have not and I feel no obligation to assist in that kind of conduct.
  3. Commercial language or incentive of any kind – if I don’t take money from advertisers why would I give it to you for free? I reserve the right to kill your comment or just strip out your offending commercial speech and leave the rest – the most offensive version of this to me is something like “Hey! Great Site!” from “Personal Injury Lawyer” with a link to hiremeasyourpersonalinjurylawyer dot com.
  4. Something that seems like it was meant for yours truly alone; some people don’t make the connection that this is a public forum and post very personal information or put their e-mail address in the body of the comment message. I will protect these people from themselves by responding through another channel or stripping out info that could be used by spammers, etc.

Other blogs, generally by virtue of their status or sheer volume in comment traffic do more editorializing in their comments. Marci Alboher’s post Some Comments About Reader Comments, which builds on the wider policy statement in the NYT Frequently Asked Questions About Comments focuses on providing “substantive commentary” in the comments – essentially treating comments as mini-article submissions for which they are the editors. In contrast, the Houston Chronicle seems to have no such policy, at least not that I could find; as a result try not to read too many comments there, lest I lose total faith in humanity.

Darren Rowse discusses the NYT policy in Comment Moderation – How Do You Do It?. Typical of the blogosphere, it’s the comments that have the most interesting information on different takes. See his full comment policy here. Law blogs with huge comment followings such as David Lat’s Above the Law and the Volokh Conspiracy are more likely to have to actively manage comments in order to salvage the conversation. Unsurprisingly, the Volokh Conspiracy has the best comment policy I’ve seen so far – click here and scroll to the bottom of the screen. More surprisingly, the closest thing Above the Law comes to a comment policy is the rather lawyerly terms of service with nothing around the comment form itself. Given that Above the Law gets my ‘law blog most likely to result in a lawsuit award’ due to the nature of the content it deals with (often embarrassing situations) and the general emotional maturity level of the commenters (8th grade gym class).

Dealing with Trolls

Most law student bloggers are aware of the Autoadmit fiasco (if not read here, here, here, here) where the fallout from comments (NB: forum not blog) have derailed the lives and careers of all involved – admins, commenters and the victims of the posts. Although there is generally no 3rd-party liability for web hosts, any blogger should be aware of troll culture (see The Trolls Among Us) and be wary of allowing unmoderated comments.

Behold the Power of Comments

I would hate to scare anyone off through this discussion of what can go wrong in comments; on the whole, getting comments is one of the most enjoyable parts of blogging. I continue to be amazed at the connective power of the blogosphere and the contributions that come in to open up the discussion in ways you hadn’t anticipated.

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2 Responses

  1. PT-LawMom says:

    Man, I want a troll. ;) Hahaha. Seriously, though, good post. I let 99% of my comments through and only ask that users register with some type of identity so that I can know when they comment more than once. I’ve only had one or two nasty comments and I’ve deleted them. Who needs the negativity? Perhaps it isn’t really promoting of free speech, but my blog isn’t about others’ POV as much as it is about mine (no kidding, right?).

    I’m surprised that your insightful posts don’t get more comments.

  2. lukegilman says:

    On trolls – since you’ve built it, they will come…

    I actually kind of enjoy the negative ones. Sometimes that’s how you know you’re doing it right. My favorite are the ‘speak of the devil’ comments when someone you’ve posted about suddenly appears, for instance the last one on this post – Jenkens & Gilchrist, Not So Fired Up Anymore (Must See TV)

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