Protect Your Blog From Jerks, Asshats & Yourself


So, funny thing.

I was in the middle of an interesting post yesterday.  I had just been to WebmasterWorld and stumbled across a thread about an article from called Slimed Online. The article dealt with two Yale law students who had their reputations dragged through the mud thanks to some unsavory message board conversations.  One girl was (wrongfully) accused of having Herpes, another was reported to have slept her way into law school and then there were rumors that were even more offensive than those combined.  I was all set to start a conversation about the role of moderation in online communities and how important it is.

And then all hell broke loose on our own blog.

A disagreement arose. Accusations were made. F-bombs were dropped. Tantrums were thrown. And I sat back and watched as my less-than-two-week-old baby was defamed. It was the perfect example of how a community can go from respectful and above board to potty-mouthed and somewhat childish in record time.  Yey us!

The situation did add some context to the story, though. And it made me think about things differently.

So the question  is, how quick should you be to moderate? When you’re the owner of a blog, a forum, a social network, etc, when do you get to tell your community to STFU? When does their right to speak their mind intersect with your right to run a healthy, riot-less community?  And what’s my responsibility? Can I let people see that I’m angry or do I have to play it cool as the owner of the house?

I think it’s a fine line. Personally, I hate any kind of moderation. Maybe its the journalist background, but it never sits well with me. I don’t ever want to edit someone’s words. I don’t want to delete comments. I don’t want to get in the way of your ability to be outspoken.  I happily give you the right to call me an idiot and to show me every one of my faults in excruciating detail. However, I don’t give you the right to make baseless attacks. I won’t let you upset everyone else just because you’re having a crappy day. I won’t let you hurt the community that we’re working to build here. I want this to be a place for conversation and debate. Not a place for people (or myself) to act like asshats.

So that means laying out some ground rules for the blog. And once that’s done, it means stepping up to enforce them, even though I don’t want to. I didn’t do such a good job of that yesterday. The fire sparked, grew and burnt out of control before my hands could stop shaking.  But I’m a little okay with that. I know it just represents the passion in the air. But as moderator of this community, I still could have done a better job getting the conversation back on track.

If you’re the one in charge of that blog, social network, forum, newsletter, whatever, it’s your job to establish your own line. You have to make it known what you’ll allow and what you won’t and then enforce that. You can’t let people have their way in your community because its your name on the line. Your blog isn’t an open forum. It’s your house. What goes on inside paints a picture of who you are.

The owners of that law message board dropped the ball when they didn’t step in to end the attacks being made on those two law students. When you allow people to throw dirt in your home, it opens you up to lawsuits and headaches that no one wants to deal with. People are watching their online reputations more than ever before. When your blog is holding a conversation that defames someone else, all eyes are going to be on you for hosting it and allowing it to happen. They’re going to want to know why you didn’t take action and why you allowed it to happen. No one wants to censor their visitors, but you also have a duty to keep the conversation productive.  You brought everyone to your site. Now you have to take some ownership of that, of its success and its failures.  It may suck, but it’s also your job.

Comments about the role of moderation in communities are welcome. Comments about he said/she said, who was out of line yesterday are not. Consider yourselves moderated. ;)

Your Comments

  • Ryan Douglas

    After watching all the comments flying around yesterday I’m happy to hear you’ve implemented a policy about moderating blog comments.

    It was all such a good read I subscribed today.

  • Joe Hall

    Great post, and follow up to yesterday. I am curious to see what others thoughts are here. I have run social networks and blogs in the past and have always found it hard to find that line that needs to be drawn. But Lisa, I think you are on the right path seeing how you are creating a dialog about this issue as a follow up. I think that shows a level of maturity that is often times missed by many blog/community owners.

  • Yael K. Miller

    I found this through @designmeme on Twitter.

    I’m curious about your comment policy. You linked to it in this post but I can’t find it on your overall site navigation. If someone found your blog but not this post, how would they find your comment policy?

    Will you link to the comment policy at the end of each post?

  • Yael K. Miller

    Alright, I just noticed that a link to the comment policy is above the submit button. My eyes rushed right past it and I just clicked on the submit button. I told suggest that you put the comment policy above the leave a comment box.

    Also, why don’t you have a subscribe to comments plugin? It would enhance the comment conversation so that people don’t have to come back to check the site to see if someone’s added a comment, they just can look at their inbox.

  • Rae Hoffman

    @Yael I’m happy where the comment policy is at the moment. I think it is in the most visible place possible for most since you have to look at the submit button to submit and it is directly above it. The comment subscriptions are coming – everyone has been yelling at me over that one. ;-)

  • Mike

    Like your new policy. But I think the “Don’t be a jerk” sentence should be in bold, and maybe a little larger.

  • Stuart Robertson

    I think having a comment policy on your blog is good advice, and something most people (including myself) overlook.

  • Bob Hays

    I agree with what you wrote, and I think using the term facilitator instead of moderator might provide additional insight into options for redirecting on-line conversations.

    Have fun! – Bob

  • Virginia Nussey

    I’ve seriously learned so much about blogging this week. Be open – check. Control flame wars – check. Foster rewarding relationships that make you think outside your comfort zone – check. (And that was not sarcastic. Okay, just checking.)

  • Michael D

    Wow, I missed all the activity yesterday. Sometimes I feel like such a misfit outsider.

    Well, for whatever it’s worth I like comment policies, and I like when they reflect the mindset of the author/s. It should be bold and reflect your style. Reading your policy, it looks straight on to me, could even use more snark.

  • andrew wee

    Re: moderation of blog comments – I see a blog as private property (ie yours) and first amendment rights to free expression do not apply.

    Having said that, the bulk of bloggers do allow a free exchange as ideas, the key being the comment being on-topic and relevant to the discussion.

    Where history and personal agendas factor into a comment, I’m of the tendency to just wipe them at the root and be done with it.

    While it might be fun to do a comment debate/discussion/war over 50+ comments, my time is more valuable, so I go for the simple and efficient solution.

    Maybe I might be missing out on the blog buzz/social media goodness, but that’s a hit I’m willing to take.

    Live long and prosper.

  • youfoundjake

    When ever I hear about comment moderating, I think about what matt cutts went through on his blog with a certain troll that ended up monopolizing the threads, andultimately disctracting from the thread, to the point that the user was blocked..and having to imagine what matt went through as a highly visible google employee and balancing the reputation management.
    But for the good of the community, it had to be done.
    If you disagree about something or have a an issue with a post, express it respectfully, it has a better chance of being understood, and flame wars don’t erupt..

  • Olivier Amar

    Nice. I actually got so totally turned off by the mess with Sean yesterday that I didn’t even bother coming after Rae for dismissing part of my comment later on (by the way Rae I think you’re comparing apples to oranges).
    Keeping things clean is important. It’s nice to see you make the adjustment quickly. It’s encouraging to say the least :-) Keep it up. I love having a blog I can read on my phone that I don’t mind paying the 3G fees for.

  • KJ Rodgers

    “…when do you get to tell your community to STFU? When does their right to speak their mind intersect with your right to run a healthy, riot-less community? ”

    This is the question any free society has to ask themselves.

  • moritheil

    I would argue the matter is one of context. I, like you, am extremely leery of cutting in on the self-expression of others. However, as a practical matter, there comes a point (as with trolls) where one person’s self-expression involves destroying everyone else’s opportunities for self-expression.

    I do recall reading the the law student libel story when it first hit, and my reaction at the time was, “What were the mods doing?” It’s nice to know that I’m not alone in thinking that was an excellent example of a case where moderation is required.

  • agsanchez

    What about limiting comments on a social networking site regarding a pending lawsuit against our company? Obviously, WE can no longer comment or respond, but should we allow our community to continue the discussion without us?