Blog comments: moderation or censorship?

Justice statue

Justice image courtesy of southernfried, Morguefile.

Last week, I read a disturbing article describing a situation where a news site was held responsible for negative comments left on its blog. From what I understand, the negative comments involved hate speech and threats regarding one particular story. The article was written a couple of years ago, though.

(NOTE: Any following statements made below should not be considered legal advice. I leave that to properly qualified legal professionals.)

The article made me wonder: Will there come a time in the future where I might be held responsible for the readers’ comments on my personal blog? Right now, I doubt it, because comments come in from all over the world and determining jurisdiction would be a nightmare. Enforcing millions of comments on millions of blogs would be impossible.

It’s an ominous road. Some social media users have already gotten into trouble for using copyrighted pictures without authorization, while bloggers have been sued for defamation, invasion of privacy and copyright infringement.

I wouldn’t want to deal with that, anyway. I have quite enough to do, thank you very much. Part of the fun of blogging is to see what people say. I feel privileged when someone takes the time to share their wisdom or life stories with me, or contributes a new viewpoint to a topic under discussion. Talking with other people in this way is what makes blogging so marvelous.

But at the same time, I feel an ethical obligation to protect my readers. Akismet weeds out quite a bit, thank goodness, plus I’ve deleted a comment or two that were in clear violation of WordPress policies. I consider that an act of moderating the blog, not censorship.

I strive for accuracy, since I feel my readers count on me for that so I’m a credible source. I’ve goofed a time or two, but I fixed it.

With social media, I’m facing situations that I never envisioned before. If I’m in a tweetchat and I disagree with someone’s comment, for example, I have to clearly indicate that I’m just expressing a different view and respectfully disagreeing with them. I have to stop and consider before I post comments on Facebook or anywhere else, wondering how others will consider my comment in both the short term and the long term.

At the very least, it’s a good idea for us bloggers to keep an eye on legal developments concerning blogging and social media. It couldn’t hurt, at least.

What do you think? Let’s start a discussion, bloggers.

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26 Comments

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26 responses to “Blog comments: moderation or censorship?

  1. Interesting! I generally stay away from all discussions about politics and religion, mostly because those are the two major hot buttons. My disagreement will not change anyone’s personal belief system or faith. I’m ok with people going ahead and believing whatever they do. I just don’t like it being forced on me.

    This is a slippery slope. I see that some major news sites no longer allow any comments and more are following suit. This is a very sad thing in my opinion. What it means is that we are unwilling to countenance any debate at all.

    Whither freedom of speech?

  2. I think social media has made it too easy to click before thinking. There are so many “oops” stories out there. I just read about the Obama coffee joke–whoa, really big oops. With the CIA, NSA, FBI along with private companies laundering our comments, is anything private anymore?

  3. I have always run my comment section with a strict policy of “no insults, not rants, no name calling, no craziness.” Yes, it’s strictly my judgment, but since it’s my blog, I’m the one who has to judge. I think, however inconvenient, bloggers need to take responsibility for managing the content of their own sites and that includes comments, just as newspapers have always been responsible for “letters to the editor.” As for being accurate, don’t you think it’s overdue for a bit more adherence to facts rather than spouting opinion as if it were fact?

  4. travelrat

    I’ve never deleted any negative comment that I’ve considered constructive or helpful; I take the view that everyone’s entitled to an opinion, and it may not always coincide with mine. It’s just the ranty, shouty, abusive ones that get canned.

    However, if I come across anything not to my liking, I will try to say I didn’t like it, rather than dismiss it as ‘rubbish’. I don’t think anyone could take offence at that.

    • Sounds fair to me. You can respectfully disagree with someone online, but it’s hard to tell how the other person will take it because you can’t see a facial expression. All you have to go on is what they say in return, and maybe an emoji or two.

  5. I am not sure how any legal entity could defend holding a blogger or news source responsible for the comments in response to a story or post, at least in a democratic country with free speech laws. Unless “they” say that the newspaper or blogger should have deleted entries that were obviously illegal under hate crime laws. Which raises the ugly specter of an amateur blogger having to be cognizant of and in compliance with, all the laws around libel, slander and hate crimes, which would be a real deterrent to people blogging at all.

    It is obvious to me that you are a careful and considerate person who is concerned with what others think and who does not want to offend or be a part of inflammatory conversations. You could be Canadian. (Full disclosure: I am Canadian!)

    Reading the comments on news stories and blogs is, for me, a constant source of amusement and outrage. What i find really interesting is the devolution of comments into flame wars between commentators. These twisted side branches often have little or nothing to do with the original conversation and rapidly become the internet equivalent of “Are Too!” “Am Not!”

  6. Servetus

    I’m not incredibly worried about this insofar as (a) I have a limited moderation system in place and a comments policy, and hate speech is absolutely against the comments policy. Those comments get edited or deleted by me as appropriate. I do read all the comments and (b) because I’m using a free platform, I assume whoever was angry would go after the platform first. I guess I didn’t know that WP had a comments policy.

  7. Perhaps I’m naive or lucky. I’ve never had to deal with rants or nasty comments. This is my 5th year of blogging. I have a humorous blog, but do touch on topics that could offend a sensitive person (who doesn’t, right?). If we all understood that comments are opinions and not facts, than slander isn’t an issue, right? Hate speech, well, that’s another issue. I don’t swear or use hateful rhetoric in my posts, so maybe I lead by example. No swearing or hate speech in my comments either (although I’ve never banned them explicitly–I just live with the expectation that no one on my blog does that kind of thing). Maybe I’m just lucky…

  8. Lot’s of good food for thought in this post. I tend to stay away from controversial topics, but once in a while something sparks a little debate. I moderate all comments and that’s for two reasons. The first is that Akismet does not catch all of the spam so I am a second layer to make sure it’s caught. The second is that I reserve the right to censor language that I don’t feel is constructive in my corner of the blogosphere. This does not mean people aren’t allowed to disagree with me, or that I will change anything meaningful about their comment if they do. Disagreement can be good and challenging and make for really interesting discussions. But, I may “bleep” a word here or there because I still have enough control to do so. I realize that if the readership and participation level on my blog grows too large then I may have to reconsider the way I handle comments, but I’m small for now so it works out okay.

  9. It would be impossible to police all the comments everywhere ever made – who has time for that, anyway? On my blogs I have a very simple rule – please speak your mind but don’t be rude or disrespectful. As you already mentioned Akismet is fantastic at catching spam! No one has said anything rude on my blogs yet but should it happen I’ll be happy to delete the comment. First-time commenters (wait, is that a word? it is, isn’t it?) have to be approved by me first, so all being well it won’t happen. There’s a note on my blog briefly explaining this so there won’t be any misunderstandings.

    That being said, I’d never delete someone’s comment saying they think that something like gay marriage is wrong. I disagree, but they have their opinion and they are entitled to that. I’ll be a happy bunny as long as no insults get thrown around and no one is being targeted personally.

SPEAK!!!

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