Blog comments–a good thing or bad thing?

February 8, 2010

When blogs first came out–say about 10 years ago–the ability to comment and enter into a conversation was one of their strongest suits. Now, the internet is dominated by this kind of conversation and interpersonal interaction–but as this Mashable comment points out, comments on blogs may be more controversial than ever.

Personally, the biggest problem I have on crisisblogger is from spam comments. While WordPress does a pretty darn good job of catching most spam, the nasty spammers keep finding ways around it. In the last few weeks, I’ve seen this kind of activity greatly increase with spammers using normal sounding names and nice and complimentary comments. While the spam catchers can’t catch the nuances, the comments are so silly and stupid and vapid that the spammers stand out pretty clearly. I delete them as quickly as I can.

But that is not the real problem with comments on blogs. If you engage in online conversation at all you soon discover what I call Toxic Talk. That apparently is why Engadget is suspending blog comments. Frankly it is incredibly tiresome. I go to my local newspaper The Bellingham Herald and it seems that the majority of people who take the time to comment on stories are mean, nasty, cranky, politically extreme and snarky. It seems the younger the group, the more politically-oriented the blog, and the more the subject lends itself to strong feelings (global warming, Apple computer, religion) the more heated and ugly the discussion is.

What to do about it? First, resist the temptation to get down there with these kind of people. As I learned a long time ago, when you wrestle in the mud with a pig, you both get dirty but the pig enjoys it. Second, monitor and police your comments. Hey, your site (blog, social media or interactive website for crisis or daily use) is your site, its your home, your castle, your turf. You can make the rules and you can enforce them. In the four years or so since I’ve had this blog I’ve only booted a couple people off for violating one of my strict rules–treat everyone with respect. No personal attacks and everyone has a right to be heard and responded to respectfully. Violate that and you’ll be treated like a spammer. Third, understand that there still is value in the interaction. I think Engadget is wrong. Yes, it is tiresome and annoying. Make rules, stick with them, but don’t discount the value of the conversation.

This is especially true in today’s crisis communication. Your stakeholders and publics need a multitude of ways to communicate with you and let you know how they are feeling. New social media such as Twitter and Facebook facilitate that to a greater degree than ever. But don’t let the noisy, uncouth toxic talkers allow you to plug up your ears from those who have something valuable to say, and don’t let them put you in a corner of someone who isn’t interested in diverse opinions.


2 Responses to “Blog comments–a good thing or bad thing?”

  1. Dave Statter Says:

    After three years of running my fire/EMS blog and more than 16,000 comments, here is what I have learned: The comments are a vital part of what makes the blog and at the same time are what turns a lot of people off about the blog.

    I personally prefer comments that stick to the issues and don’t denigrate into personal attacks. Unfortunately, conversations may start that way, but they soon go off the deep end.

    As we all well know, the toxic comments are just a fact of life in the web based world. I have not found a good system to avoid them that wouldn’t require me to be a very subjective censor. I have made the challenge to all of the people who have written or talked to me about the toxic comments on my site. Not one has been able to provide guidelines to weed out such comments on a news oriented website edited by someone who is a free speech advocate.

    But after having been on the receiving end of scores of toxic comments directed specifically at me on my site, aong with a fire service Internet forum where my stories are often discussed, I do have a system to deal with the attacks and it has been largely successful.

    First, I post all of the negative comments about me or my blog as long as they meet our very general guidelines (mostly to do with nasty language). I would be a hypocrite if I let them attack the subjects of my stories and not the person posting those stories. I am fair game on my blog.

    I decided at the start to handle things head-on and reply to every one of them. The reason I do this is so when someone Googles Dave Statter and finds all the comments saying these terrible things about me, I also want them to see the facts of the story. It is my own personal effort at reputation management.

    I do this in a very specific way:

    1. I never attack the attackers.
    2. I point out the facts behind the issue as I know them.
    3. I challenge the writer, in a nice way, to provide facts to back up their claims about me or my story.
    4. I always explain what I did and why I did it.
    5. I make a maximum effort to never, ever be defensive.
    6. I almost always write my responses with a sense of humor that is usually directed at me.
    7. If the writer actually makes a good point about my downfall as a reporter (mixed in with the personal attacks), I acknowledge it and correct it.
    8. I thank them for reading my blog and for taking the time to write.

    I soon found when the flamers failed to respond with facts to back up their attacks, the community on the forum would often also challenge them to put up or shut up. In virtually every case (whether the others backed me or not), the toxic types, who seemed to most of the time attack me for basically just being a reporter who dared to shine a light on fire and EMS, stopped writing and were never heard from again on my blog or the other forum. In almost every case they couldn’t provide any factual information to support their claims and went away. I equate it to standing up to the bully in the school yard.

    Let me be clear that this way of handling it isn’t for everyone. You MUST be able to check your ego at the door and not be offended by anything any of them say. And if you can’t do it without sounding defensive, don’t even try. You will be dead meat. Your efforts will just make things worse.

    You have to be able to step back and look honestly at the nuggets of real criticism that may be mixed in with the vitriol. It also helps to have someone you trust monitor your responses to make sure you aren’t sounding defensive.

    I no longer hear from any of the bullies on the forum and very few write comments to my blog.

    Sorry for the late response to this posting, I must have previously overlooked the entry on a topic near and dear to my heart.

    Thanks for keeping with this blog, it is a great way for those of us who see Now Is Too Late as a bible for modern day crisis management to keep current on the issues.

    Dave Statter

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