tin foil troll

You have written the perfect blog entry on a topic that seems harmless enough: “Five fitness tips for fighting flab.”

You publish, and then you wait for the healthy dialogue to begin.

Posted by x9jn76h at 9:07 a.m.

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Posted by Firstmaster at 9:08 a.m.


Posted by The Hater at 9:10 a.m.

You fail at life, firstie.

Posted by Linda at 9:17 a.m.

Thanks for the tips. Has anyone out there had any luck with the Mediterranean diet mentioned in this article?

Posted by Tinfoilhat at 9:24


This is hyperbole — unless we’re talking about a Yahoo! News story or YouTube video — but you get the point. You want to encourage people to share their viewpoints and build a sense of community around your blog, website, or social media page, but what do you do when things turn ugly?

How do you encourage the Lindas of the world and weed out the Tinfoilhats?

The living room test

Start by creating guidelines for comments and posts. If you’re working on custom content for clients, make sure your views on transparency and open dialogue are in line with theirs.

Some will prefer a broad philosophy. When you look at a comment, would you kick the poster out of your living room for being overly mean to fellow readers, the author or subject? Such a broad, subjective approach leaves things open to interpretation, so create policies to back it up.

Some examples:

  • No profanity (a no-brainer in most cases)
  • No personal insults
  • Comments must be related to the topic at hand (I’m looking at you, Tinfoilhat.)
  • Criticism must be constructive

Even with policies in place, you still have to make judgment calls. What counts as constructive criticism is subjective, but allowing it is crucial in an era when consumers value transparency.

A colleague shares an example from a travel-related site:

We wouldn’t use the comment, “ABC Airlines royally sucks!” but we’d allow something like, “When booking flights to London on ABC Airlines, make sure you’re double-checking the blackout days.”

The former offers nothing of value, but the latter might help fellow community members make a crucial decision.

All things in moderation (or not)

In The Boston Globe’s excellent 2010 story on the minds of anonymous online posters, the author talks about the difficulty of having a couple of moderators per shift to sift through the 6,000 or so comments its site receives daily. But even if your blog, site or page received only 6 comments per day, moderating takes time.

You have a decision to make up front: Do you want to pre-approve comments, or do you want to let all comments through, then selectively remove those that go against your posting guidelines?

Post-moderation is preferable in most cases. Unless you are at your computer 24-7 to approve comments as they come in, they may sit there for minutes or hours. People will wonder, “Where is my comment?” Then they will wander away from your site. But if you choose post-moderation, make sure you have a good spam filter in place, unless you want people to post sports gambling lines on your health and wellness website. (True story.)

The question of user registration or log-in is similar. If you have a steady but manageable stream of comments, allowing people to post without jumping through hoops is probably the way to go. But if your traffic goes through the roof — that is your goal, right? — requiring registration may minimize trolls and reduce uncivil comments. More and more large, well-trafficked sites, including Slate, are moving toward requiring registration.

The age of experiments

As Tech Crunch has learned, minimizing trolls may also minimize comments. The site recently switched to a commenting system that uses a Facebook log-in. It’s a step beyond registration, and aside from some fake Facebook accounts, it eliminates anonymity. People behave differently without anonymity.

Says Tech Crunch’s report:

With the Facebook system, the most popular posts are only touching around 100 or so comments (obviously, the ones about the commenting system have more). But of those 50 to 100 comments, many of them are actually coherent thoughts in response to the post itself — you know, what a comment is supposed to be.

Tech Crunch views this as an experiment, though, and one that is not perfect since it allows only Facebook users to comment.

Even well-established news organizations are still tinkering with the best approach. In the wake of seriously offensive comments about CBS correspondent Lara Logan’s attack in Egypt, NPR deleted those comments and began to publicly ponder a more aggressive monitoring system. And as the Globe article noted, old-school heavyweight The Washington Post and new media titan The Huffington Post have both moved toward more comment moderation, as well.

Regardless of your approach, commit to your system. If you’re going to pre-moderate comments, don’t let them sit untouched for hours. If you’re going to post-moderate, be ready to clean up messes when they occur. If you’re going to require registration, make it as easy for users as possible.

And if you’re going to wade into social media, be prepared to bounce the troublemakers from the club.

Do you moderate comments or manage social media outlets? If so, what guidelines and systems do you use?

[image: rosengrant]