In the spirit of disclosure, I am hoping to stir up a bit of a hornet's nest with this article here on the 'Post. Why? Because I think that there are a couple of different ways to approach user generated content that either reflect your political views or your approach to managing the user experience on your site and that a healthy debate on the subject is beneficial for the increasing number of users who receive community feedback.
So let's start out with a bang: I regularly delete comments, and even ban commentators from my AskDaveTaylor.com tech support site.
In my experience, there are two typical reactions to this statement. Either you're horrified that somehow I am violating the free speech rights of people who visit my blog or you're completely unsurprised that I am working behind the scenes to keep things clean, useful and on-target.
I'll posit that the issue of managing user generated content is actually more nuanced.
To start, I think we can all agree that the most base of comments should summarily be blocked or deleted. Think "spam." Heck, just about every blogging platform does such a good job now of blocking the 'bot spam that points to porn, gambling sites, and related, that they're not part of the discussion. They're not actually commenting, after all, they're just puking up links to their tedious content in an automated fashion. No free speech threat, because there's no "speech" involved.
At the other extreme, probably way too far down the proverbial rabbit hole, your editorial stance ends up that "anyone who doesn't agree with me or isn't nice is out" and even for the most Draconian of sites I think that's generally too far. But then again, just about every place you can post content, from Flickr to YouTube, can now garner comments, and sometimes maybe a strict policy is appropriate.
Imagine this: you're in love (insert oohs and ahhs here) and you post a photo of your new sweetie on Facebook. If you have tactless enough friends who would post "dude, she's a DOG!" you're still probably going to axe those. Censorship? Or just a level of discretion that reflects your understanding that a critical circle of friends = early termination of your nascent relationship?
This gets to be an important issue for corporate blogs and just about anywhere else a company posts material that can garner commentary. Do they allow trolls, competitors and naysayers to share their vitriol or do they prune and keep things clean on their own site and as associated with their own material?
Consider the challenge of having an online store that accepts user-submitted reviews. You're staring at your screen looking at four really negative reviews of your top-selling product. Do you publish them and potentially lose a major revenue stream, do you save them until there are positive reviews to offset the criticism, or do you just discard them without a second thought?
The problem is that the more traffic you get, the more passionate your users, the more they can fall into what I suggest are simply antisocial behaviors, comments that either inflame readers, unnecessarily criticize them, or add daft or irrelevant elements to the discussion.
- First and foremost, does it add to the conversation?
- Second, is it polite and respectful? No name calling allowed.
- Third, if it's pointing readers somewhere, is that legit and relevant?
That's it. But with those basic criteria, it's amazing how many comments don't make the grade on any given week. Note what's not on the list too: it's perfectly okay to disagree, point out mistakes, and even correct other commentators, as long as it's done respectfully.
Oh, and remember the phrase I used in the first paragraph? A "healthy debate." What does that look like to you?
Now I'll ask you: am I censoring people? Am I violating their "right" of free speech? Or am I doing the necessary work to keep a high level of editorial quality on a busy weblog?