Reader Response: Moderating Website Comments

It’s been a busy month for mail and suggestions, but I try to respond to the messages I receive as soon as the next free blogging space. Today’s entry is written in response to a friend in Illinois who had a question about managing comments in a web group. The tone here might be a tad more jocular than usual, but that’s because I know my friends and family are a tad more understanding about my off-beat sense of humor. And now on to today’s message…

I have a topic for you.

I started a Fibromyalgia group which has over 3,200 members. It’s a support and informational group and I only allow medical info–no blogs. This weekend has been insane. I have been accused of being mean, sarcastic, rude, which has never happened before. SO! When only having a written word relationship with people you have never met, and you are accused of being sarcastic by saying “Oh geez” (just one example) how and should the author/administrator respond to being attacked/unduly criticized?

Scratching My Head in Schaumburg

Dear Scratchy:

You’d think that adults would behave like adults, wouldn’t you? Unfortunately, some folks can just be petty, thin-skinned, or eager to misinterpret something or start a fight. There’s not much you can do to change the minds of malicious people, so I wouldn’t beat myself up over that. I have not run a discussion board, but I have been moderating comments on this blog as well as my personal and professional Facebook pages. There are some things you can attempt to do to keep things civil on your page.

  • If you reread your postings and realize that, yea verily, you have said some things that could have been phrased differently/more politely, consider posting an apology.
  • While it might be against your usual writing style, you might have to keep any future responses or comments as factual and emotion-free as possible…even if an emotional response seems appropriate.
  • If you find yourself faced with a poster who wants to pick a fight, you generally have three choices:
    • Ignore them.
    • Attempt to engage in a civil dialogue with the individual, clarify any miscommunication, or politely apologize for any excessive “attitude” on your part.
    • Engage in a tit-for-tat argument/comment (flaming) war. I presume this is not your style. It also tends to be off-putting to other, non-controversial readers.
  • It might not hurt to lay out or restate the board’s intentions, goals, and discussion guidelines. Your guidelines should include being respectful, avoiding nasty language, and refraining from posting advertisements or spam. It should also note any consequences for not following the guidelines, which could include suspension or permanent loss of posting privileges.
  • As the forum moderator, reiterate your commitment to both modeling and enforcing the guidelines.
  • If the forum has been a real-time discussion room, you might have to rein that in and approve/moderate each and every post before they go live. Given your audience size, however, this would be time-consuming and potentially not practical, as live conversations could only take place when you are online.

I hope things smooth out on your site. I’ll also throw this out to my other readers–what have/would you do when dealing with grumpy guests on a site you manage?

Hopefully this was a good starting point,


About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Director, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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