A few weeks ago I took a break from most of social media, blogging, and reading most blogs. I think this is something all heavy users of the web should do from time to time. The best thing about the internet is that it puts you in touch with various opinions and a wide variety of information. But the downside of the internet is that it puts you in touch with various opinions and a wide variety of information. Sometimes it’s all too much. And as a voracious reader, I was consuming a high volume of information that was affecting me.
During my week and a half break, I mainly read the Washington Post and NY Times, the Daily Caller (don’t ask), and The Atlantic. I stayed away from all of the comment sections except for the ones at The Atlantic, in particular the blog maintained by Atlantic Senior Editor Ta-nehisi Coates. Well, actually, I strayed into the Daily Caller comment section ONCE and quickly learned my lesson.
Within about two days, I realized that The Atlantic is probably my favorite place to hang out on the web. But it’s not just because of the great writing, it’s because they do a really good job of cutting down on the filth people log online to spew and the Atlantic writers play a role in that. It makes for a greater web experience for all involved.
For that reason, I think more web sites should look at ways to implement some sort of comment moderation. I know that to some this may seem like censorship, but in going through comments on even higher brow sites like the Times, it’s amazing what people create accounts to say. I think a lot of those people probably aren’t even regular readers of the site content but log in to be mean about a particular subject. I think censorship of deliberate meanness is okay. Seems like papers are realizing how uncomfortable the lack of moderation makes some of us, CNN reports that more papers are are reigning in this atrocious behavior.
Some companies are even beginning to outsource their comment moderation and I’m seeing a growing use of Disqus which allows commenters to flag inappropriate comments and “like” substantial ones. I hope this is a sign that there is a growing desire among web users to monitor what’s said–the same way content that is uploaded is monitored on many sites. Without web content monitoring we’d be subjected to a lot of very bad images and comments. The NY Times tackled the subject of the psychological consequences for people who monitor web content. What an obscure but interesting topic!
Anyway, web owners know that without censoring some content, their web site will become a haven for unseemly people and behavior. I think this is a big part of why myspace fell off in popularity. They just didn’t do a good job separating PG-13 myspace from its XXX alter ego.
Overall, I feel more comfortable commenting on sites where there is some sort of commenter accountability. I’m not saying that every site should make visitors audition in order to comment, but comment moderation not only discourages ignorance and maliciousness, it also leaves room for the reasonable commenters to focus on elevating the discourse between each other rather than getting bogged down in the negativity others bring to a given site.
Although most small blogs tend to be comment hungry–comments are another way of proving readership–I delete any and all offensive comments. There’s simply no place for that here. I wouldn’t want anyone having to take a break from my site.
Update: Salon.com posted an article defending anonymous and vile commenting. I responded here. The crux of the writer’s point is that if we censor these people we lose touch with real America and that vile comments prove that racism still exists and that the education system fails some people. While I think that’s an interesting and entertaining point, if people need to read filth to know that these are still social issues, we’ve already lost the battle. Long before the internet existed we were able to identify and correct social ills. Fancy that.
Update: One last point about comments. Many bloggers try to appeal to EVERYONE, a general audience. That’s not my goal on this blog. I am looking for a SPECIFIC type of reader. In order to reach that type of reader I take lots of measures: 1. I focus my posts 2. I monitor the length of posts 3. I try to insert discussion points into my posts as much as possible, and 4. I moderate the comments. Comment moderation is not a stand alone strategy.
Finally, another tip to bloggers, as @Huny
pointed out on twitter, advertisers do look at your comment section. So for those bloggers looking to grow, comment moderation is something you must think about unless you are a gossip blogger where it seems anything goes.