Commenting or the ability to have readers expressing their reactions to blog posts and news articles is a cornerstone of social media. It is this interaction and engagement with fans, followers, readers, constituents (or whatever else you want to call them) that makes social media so different from traditional one-way communications.
The concept is simple: Social media is a conversation. Two-sides – or even multiple sides – engaging in debate. And sometimes that debate is heated.
So it’s difficult to understand the sudden backlash against commenting (although to be fair the anti-commenting sentiment has been building for quite some time).
- TechCrunch – the technology mega-blog – recently announced that it would purge comments from posts more than 10 days old.
- Last week, Engadget - a consumer electronics blog – turned off commenting because of too many trolls on the site. “Hey guys, we know you like to have your fun, voice your opinions, and argue over your favorite gear, but over the past few days the tone in comments has really gotten out of hand,” wrote Engadget Editor-in-chief Joshua Topolsky.
- One of my favorite media blogs MediaNation this week has ceased anonymous commenting. “My expectation is that this will be a good thing, as the signal-to-noise ratio will improve and the quality will rise,” wrote MediaNation’s Dan Kennedy.
- The New York Times blog City Room ran a post this week with a rather sarcastic headline: “In Defense of Trolls (And Other Online Meanies).” The post was about a mother shocked at the mean-spirited and snarky comments left behind on a Times‘ article about her son’s high school basketball team. As one commenter noted: “The blogs are a source of snarky commentary? Geez – what a surprise.”
The backlash on commenting has its roots in civility. Or more accurately, the lack of civility. The fact is many commenting forums have become cesspools of personal attacks, crude language, and angry invective.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
Commenting is in the complete control of the blog or publication that allows it. It’s strange that Engadget feels the need to shutdown its commenting and blame a small minority of trolls for the decision. Because its Engadget’s own policies that created the problem in the first place.
They allow anonymous posting. They don’t moderate their comments. And they don’t delete any of the comments that violate civil discourse (I wrote about how many publications get commenting wrong back in July in a post called “Why Newspapers Get Commenting All Wrong”).
Here’s are several ways to solve the problem:
- Establish and publish rules for commenting – and enforce them.
- Don’t allow anonymous commenting. Require those that comment to leave their real names – or at least links in their nicknames that take people back to a blog or a profile that clearly identifies them.
- Moderate the comments. That means every comment goes into a queue to await approval by the blog or publication. Comments that don’t meet the criteria for civility get automatically deleted.
- Have the blog author or newspaper reporter actually engage with the commenters. Isn’t that the point of allowing commenting in the first place? For engagement, debate and conversation? If the author of the post or article isn’t involved – then there really is no point. The act of engaging – or listening, if you will – will immediately change the tenor of the comments.
- Clean up your own act. If you resort to name calling, cheap shots, and snarky commentary, you can be sure that your commenters will do the same thing.
Moderating comments can be a big job for enterprise size blogs like TechCrunch and Engadget. The fact that they are turning off the commenting – and considering eliminating a crucial feature of “social media” shows that they are losing sight of the reason why they became popular in the first place. It’s the back and forth and free form debate that makes blogs and new media publications so energetic and so different from old media.
But it takes work and effort to make commenting worthwhile – and to make sure the debate doesn’t sink to the levels of the lowest common denominator.
Do you comment on blogs? Do you read the comments? What do you think of commenting? Is it crucial for a blog to allow it?