Comment censorship

I want your views on how much control I should exert over the comments that people make here. I’ve been led to thinking about this by a couple of things. Mostly by the occasion of the first troll comment on this blog, and to a lesser extent by Shaan Hurley turning off comments on posts older than three months on his Between The Lines blog. (I am not complaining about this; it’s Shaan’s justifiable reaction to mass spam attacks and it has nothing to do with censorship. There are some Autodesk blogs that don’t allow comments at all, which may in itself be justifiable).

I’m a proponent of freedom of speech and don’t want to restrict your ability to say what you think. I’m perfectly happy to see you express your contrary opinions and would never dream of removing or editing a comment simply because it contains viewpoints with which I disagree. There are plenty of comments on this blog from people who disagree with my stated views, and at least one containing an insult aimed at me personally using a variant of a word that many people would consider very offensive. I haven’t touched those comments. I haven’t even touched the troll comment.

Spam, on the other hand, is mercillesly dealt with. The vast majority of it is automatically excluded by Akismet, a handful I have to remove manually, but in all cases the comment is deleted and the sender’s IP is banned from accessing the site. I can do that with other commenters too, but I have not yet done so.

My question to you is where do you think I should draw the line? If a discussion leads to a vendor commenting to let people know that his company provides a service relevant to the discussion, is that spam or should I let it go? Should I remove deliberate trolling attempts? What about comments or words based on race or religion? If somebody drops an f-bomb or a c-bomb without attacking anybody, is that a problem for you? How about attacks on companies or individuals? If commenters start personally attacking each other, should I let it go? If somebody has a go at a company in a way that looks unhinged to some, is that OK? What if somebody else says it is loony bin material? What if that then leads to a flame war?

I’d like to draw up some moderation guidelines so everyone knows where they stand. I know I will have to make judgement calls wherever the line is drawn, but I’d appreciate it if you would give me an idea about your own preferences. I’ll consider adding a poll later if the discussion throws up a few options.

10 comments to Comment censorship

  • Steve, I can give you my view based on my experience as the webmaster of CADxp.com, the first french CAD community with 60000 members (mainly forums), I set it up in 2002 and managed it until 2008, when I sold it for personnal reasons. We have been throught six years of daily posts (on average 100 per day…), without a glitch, well almost… I made clear several things from the very beginning: no sms language allowed, french only allowed, staying on topic appart on the “all subjects forum”, of course no personnal attack, of course respect of the law, of course of the netetiquette. But the main point is, and that would’nt have worked without, the webmaster was present daily on the site (yes even during holidays, yes even for Christmas), and no wrong post was published more than two hours. This is not that difficult to achieve: simply be warn by SMS of every new post. Yes this is real work, but good webmastering is a full time job. This is how CADxp.com became very quickly the reference for CAD in french and still is. After a while, the main posters became themlselves sort of webmasters, reacting quickly to abusing messages. Spammers, trolls, have quickly realized this was not the place for them. And yes, i have been hacked by pirates, during two hours, the time it took me to restore the site. As for the content, keep strickly posters on track, on subject. And give them a closely monitored place to express their view on not strictly related CAD things.

  • Steve, I’m sure you realize you can’t be all things to all people. Whatever you do won’t satisfy everyone. You have invited visitors into your house so to speak. You keep your house in order to your liking and if a visitor infringes upon your standards of behavior you ask them to leave and maybe even need to clean up after them.

    Obviously your question was prompted by the article discussion I participated in and as Brent pointed out this is a forum for professionals. My hope would be you attempt to keep things professional and it is incumbant upon the participants to act in such fashion. I personally wouldn’t have a problem with you censoring something that offends your sensibilities.

  • Matt Lombard

    I’ve had to make the same decisions on my blog (http://dezignstuff.com/blog). Freedom of speech is only as good as an individual’s self control. If it doesn’t add to the discussion, or if it goes out of its way to simply be insulting, I weed it out. I usually allow contrary points of view, because challenging your point of view is what makes you think. But if it is done with a lack of respect for others, I don’t have any problem removing it. Race or religion (or sexual orientation for that matter) have no place in a technical discussion. If a vendor has something to add, ok, but if it is just a plug for a product, I remove it. Curse words in blog comments are sometimes used for emphasis, but I think they are coarse, and it depends on if the rest of the post has any content of merit whether I leave it or not.

    If people start attacking one another? What kind of blog are you running? You usually only have to worry about stuff like this if Jon Banquer starts commenting on your blog, and I simply remove any post I know or suspect is from him, because it never has a good ending with JB.

    In general, if an attack contains any sort of rationale I leave it, for example, “X is a pig because the policy of Y treats customers as if our rights of ownership do not matter”. I would leave that. If you say a certain VP has derelicted his duties, that is not a personal attack, that is a professional attack. Its ok as long as there is something concrete to base it on. Calling someone a ‘fag’ simply because they disagree with you is not ok.

    Conflict is not necessarily bad. It is often uncomfortable, but you really need to hear all sides of a story to understand it well. Sometimes you have to step in and restate each side’s position in neutral terms without hyperbole. References to Hitler are an automatic forfeiture of the argument.

    The word “professional” is often a screen meant to enable someone to hide behind cowardice. If ‘professional’ just means ‘polite, and never raise your voice’, go to a mortuary. All the customers there are professional. Sometimes there is room for strong feelings even in a highly reasoned argument.

    If you want an example of censorship gone wrong, go to eng-tips.com. I was censored there for answering a question of how to become an independent consultant. I was censored also for giving links to sites to back up a statement I had made. I won’t go back there.

    Best of luck.

  • R. Paul Waddington

    Steve, both Patrick’s comments I would agree with and, as I said in my earlier post – in response to the ‘offending’ post – I would allow any comment that adds to the topic/argument, for or against. That is what professionals do: agree and or disagree but; there is no room for personal attacks of the type witnessed. ‘Bad’ language is a personal/principal thing, I don’t like it being used but, as to whether it stays is your judgment call – it would not stop me from looking at the substance of the person’s comment.

  • Brent Daley

    I would say it’s your call on what you will allow, but you should put a disclaimer somewhere…maybe you already do. If this was a gaming site and people were trash talking each other then I would get some of the behavior. But if your a professional why use bad language or personal attacks to try and make a point? You may think it’s not bad language but if it offends someone else then have some respect towards them, and to the forum.

  • Your blog – your choice.

    But I visit a LOT of forums, and “Don’t feed the trolls” is a common, yet commonly ignored, admonition. Tantrums thrive on attention.

  • Joe

    I think what really upsets Matt is that Jon Banquer comments show up all over the internet on the same blogs that Matt often comments on. Also, Jon makes fun of Matt on his blog.

  • Chris Cowgill

    I would think that those who post here should be more than capable of policing themselves. In my personal opinion, seeing f-bombs and other “4 letter” words does bother me (everyone is entitled to their opinion), but I wont stop reading your blog just because someone uses stronger language than I would like. But as Earl stated, Your blog, your choice.

  • Chris Cowgill

    Steve, I dont know if there is a way to add an option for users to edit their comments in your blog comments, but it would be nice to be able to correct typos after I have posted my comment (I hate looking like I cant type good English)

  • You missed the apostrophe in can’t. ;)

    I’d like to allow users the chance to edit their comments for a limited time after posting (unlimited editing would open a whole new can of worms). I just checked my options (and changed a couple of them), but don’t appear to have that option in the version of WordPress I’m running. I’ll keep an eye out when I update, though.

    Thanks for all your comments on this subject, people.

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