Until now, we haven’t had a formal comment policy at Tenth to the Fraser. While I do moderate comments as they come in, so far there have been only a handful of comments I’ve had to block. Our commenters have, for the most part, been passionate community boosters. When they’ve disagreed, they’ve done so respectfully. Criticism has, for the most part, been of the constructive sort. But our readership is growing. And with it, so are the numbers of commenters I’d call trolls.
If they were all the worst sort of trolls, this wouldn’t merit a post. Comments that are clearly not fit for public consumption are easy to spot and easy to ban. They are off-topic, bile-spewing, ‘drive-by’ anonymous comments made by those who have no investment in the community and no desire to be part of the conversation. They transgress my top three rules for blog comments:
- Stay on topic
- Be respectful
- Don’t get sued
But what has me writing this post is that we are entering a grey zone. We now have some commenters who I believe are genuinely invested in the New Westminster community, and yet they are behaving badly on our site. They are not the typical troll, who makes trouble for trouble’s sake. I believe them to have good intentions. The problem is that they’re communicating their feelings and concerns in disrespectful, off-topic and sometimes legally dangerous ways. I want to encourage debate on our site. But I can’t allow personal attacks, allegations of conspiracy and even criminal behaviour, and other obstreperous behaviour.
I am wondering if perhaps the trouble could be mitigated by clarifying the rules of engagement for those who want to play the role of critic (whether criticizing what someone is saying on this site or using this site as a platform for political criticism). In other words, a comment policy.
In addition to my big three rules above, I will now insist on a valid email address for all comments. While I think we will continue to allow quality anonymous comments and pseudonyms, if there’s no way for me to contact the person then it’s clear they’re not looking for dialogue. Such comments are no better than graffiti on a bathroom stall.
Before I create the “official rules” I’d like to give the opportunity for our regular commenters to weigh in. What do you think? Do I need to spell it out in detail or are a few simple rules enough? What else should be included? Got any examples of comment policies you’ve seen on other blogs that you think were well done?