April 02, 2004

Query to Blawgers: Do You Censor Reader Comments?

I'm faced with a case of first impression for my blog. This week, one of my prior posts attracted an informative and on-topic comment from someone I don't know, which in of itself is nothing out of the ordinary. However, it also had a most pejorative tone and use of questionable verbiage. I counted five such terms.

I usually get professional-sounding comments or the run-of-the-mill spam comments for drug and sex sites. Naturally I delete the latter as a matter of course, and am planning to do some upgrades to prevent them from getting through. But this one post troubled me, being in the gray area, being neither drastically foul but hardly professional-sounding either. On one hand, I'd like to encourage free and spirited feedback on everything I post here, and support freedom of speech. On the other, is it too much to expect people to articulate their ideas in a professional way, particularly on a blog devoted to furthering the development of the legal profession? It's not like this was a bar & grill blog now, is it? There is a certain level of netiquette that should be observed, at least in my humble opinion. And to put a finer point on it, it's my blog.

Since the comment was directly on topic and quite informative with a real-world experience, I don't believe that deletion is the best solution. So, would you (a) leave the comment posted as-is, (b) re-word or (c) delete the few offending words, or (d) convert them to asterisks or similar characters (e.g., **** or #@$%)? Another thought was to turn off the commenting feature X number of days after each post, which would eliminate many of the spam and questionable posts. I've noticed the most on-topic comments were posted within the first week or so after I've posted new material.

Have you encountered this, and if so, how did you approach it?

Topic(s):   Blogging Tips
Posted by Jeff Beard

Thanks to everyone who responded. As the comments below illustrate, I've received many suggestions and there are diverse approaches to take. After giving this some thought, I'm considering the following general approach for this blog:

1) I heartily encourage on-topic and useful comments. Post as much or as little as you want in that regard. That's how we share information and ideas. However, this privilege is not absolute. Please keep in mind that it is a privilege, not a right. Abuse it and I'll delete or modify the comment(s) at my sole discretion.

2) I'm not a big proponent of changing people's words, but I will do so when I feel it is appropriate and will reasonably attempt to retain the original spirit of the comment if possible. Accordingly, I've decided to re-word the offending comment that was the subject of this post, with a notation to that effect.

3) This is my blog, and I expect everyone who posts comments to it to conduct themselves appropriately. Get as passionate about a subject as you want, but do it professionally (or at least moderately professional -- I'm not that picky, but leave some room to tip the scale in your favor). There are many ways to convey intensity without resulting to vulgarity. At times it's healthy to attack another's ideas, but not the person, even if they are unnamed.

4) For legal reasons, I am not actively policing this site re: others' comments -- I just happened to see this one. However, with that said, if you post something inappropriate and I catch it, then its disposition is at my sole discretion.

This isn't any formal "terms of service" or the like. This is just my current thinking on the subject, and my humble netiquette contribution to the blogging community.

Posted by: Jeff Beard at April 6, 2004 01:46 AM

While I understand the issue of verbage, I really think that if the comment is indeed a comment -- it comes from someone else, and essentially is their thoughts, and it's on topic and relevant, you put it out there, and let the readers judge the speaker, rather than filtering their opinions through the medium of editorial review. Personally, I'm known for using 'different' language. I tend to get turned off when I come across the $#@#!!s because its not like I'm stupid -- I know what the words =should= be. Fully removing the comment just denies all fo us a valid, useful thought that just happens to be written in a way that makes people uncomfortable.

Uncomfortable can be a good thing.

Posted by: Carey Lening at April 4, 2004 07:42 PM

If the post adds real substantive value as you indicated, I would edit it, being careful not to change the meaning of the post. I would of course indicate that it was edited to conform to your posting rules, and you might even offer to send the original to anyone who requests it if you want to get that involved. Doesn't seem like it happens alot, so maybe it's not a burden.

Posted by: Glenn Garnes at April 4, 2004 06:49 AM

I think you should feel free to delete posts that you find questionable. Even if you are willing to take the time to edit offensive language, I'm not sure you should take the chance of alterning someone's meaning.

I have deleted spam postings on my blog but otherwise have not confronted the issue. I did get one weird posting about a government conspiracy and immediately deleted it too.

Posted by: Ron Friedmann at April 3, 2004 03:09 PM