A comment policy for your blog

2 trollsCreating a new blog can be an exciting and joy-filled process. Waiting for your first comments to appear can be charged with eager anticipation and emotionality.  It can also be a downer if you receive one or more troll comments.  Some bloggers fear that if they restrict commenters, they’ll lose readership. I  prefer to shun trolls and preserve a safe and comfortable environment for all my commenters.

On one hand, you are not legally responsible  for the content in comments posted on your blog –  all comments belong to their authors.   On the other, everything posted on your blog affects your branding and your reputation.

Freedom of speech is the freedom to speak freely in public spaces and places without censorship or limitation, or both. In practice, the right to freedom of speech is not absolute in any country and the right is commonly subject to limitations, such as “hate speech“.

When it comes to comments posted on your blog, it’s your contractual obligation to remain within the Terms of Service you agreed to as set out  by  your blog host. Beyond that the choice of whether or not to set rules of engagement for discussion is yours alone to make.

Any mature adult can and will approve and post comments containing dissenting points of view,  provided they are expressed appropriately. But bloggers are not compelled to approve and post comments containing  off-topic ad hominem attacks.

Communicating with civility is not being phony, it’s simply an acknowledgment that all people have value, no matter how misguided or unfamiliar their ideas or actions may be. Being polite is not the road to conformity, it’s the path to understanding. — Brad Shorr

Engaging with internet troll can negatively affect your brand and reputation

You only need to read a troll comment appearing under a well written article once to understand why posting troll comments is a no-no. Trolls are attention seekers.  They have no power unless you give your power to them.

In Internet slang, a troll is someone who posts inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community, such as an online discussion forum, chat room, or blog, with the primary intent of provoking other users into a desired emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion. — Troll (Internet)

What motivates internet trolls?

Trolls have no true interest in the subjects they post on.  Trolls  don’t want you to post carefully constructed, reasonable arguments in a debate.  Trolls    crafts  comments  to  emotionally upset you and make you lose your rationality.   Trolls want you to completely lose your cool and your ability to sound like an intelligent  person who knows what you’re talking about.   Trolls derive  pleasure from baiting people into highly charged emotional states and making them look stupid.

What trolls desire is our online time and attention, so when we refuse to  communicate with them, they move elsewhere and seek out another target.  Hence,  the maxim: Don’t feed the trolls.

If your blog is  targeted by a troll do not be emotionally triggered by the comment.  Your blog is not YOU.  The troll cannot touch your inner self, unless you give them permission to,  so don’t open that inner door and give your power away. Take responsibility, develop a comment policy and either post the comment and refute the contents or delete it and blog on.

Commenting policies contain rules of engagement for discussion

A Comments Policy is a statement defining your policy regarding comments on your blog. It is also a “responsibility statement”. It informs the reader of what you will allow on your blog, what you will not allow, and what they are allowed to do. It establishes publicly the responsibilities of each party involved. — Lorelle VanFossen in a guide to creating a blog comments policy

Commenting policies create a safe environment for civil discussion

Without doubt a good comment policy that’s consistently enforced can make the difference between whether visitors will return or not. And,  as creating a blog centered community is your focus as a blogger, developing and posting  rules of engagement for discussion will create boundaries and a secure environment for civilized communication. Below are some points to consider when you undertake the process.

Some commenting policy considerations

1.   Moderation

  • Will comments be moderated?
  • Will all comments be moderated?
  • Or will first time commenters be moderated?

2.   Links

  • Will you approve and post comments containing links?
  • Will there be a limit on the number of links in comments that you approve and post?
  • Will you approve and post comments from commenters who use ‘keywords’ (words or phrases they want to rank in search engines for) as anchor text and insert it as their username?
  • Will you approve and post comments that include a signature link (a link to their blog) at the end of the comments?

3.  Advertising and Spam

  • Will you approve and post comments which seem to be primarily made as advertising and promotion of  the commenter’s site?
  • Will you approve and post comments which seem to be primarily made as advertising for a  commercial product or service?
  • Will you approve and posts comments from commenters who have their user names linked to commercial sites?

4.  Comment Length and Editing

  • Is there  a maximum comment length (character or word limit)?
  • Will you edit comments and if so under what circumstances?

5.   Special rules

  • Will you approve and post comments containing personal attacks, defamatory and/or inflammatory statements?
  • Will you approve and post comments containing obscene language?

6.  All Rights Reserved

  • Will you include an All Rights Reserved clause?
  • If  so will it apply to the blog owner’s right to edit, delete, move, or mark comments and trackbacks as spam?
  • Will you also reserve the right to block access to any individual or group from commenting or from the entire blog?

Discussion

Do you have a commenting policy posted on your blog?

Do you have any suggestions for additional considerations for those who are formulating a comment policy for their blog?

Have you received troll comments, and if so, how did you deal with them?

Related posts found in this blog:
Controversy and Blog Comments
Handle Online Attacks Effectively
Blog Titles and Branding Tools

Libel: Blogging Rights and Wrongs
WordPress.com Comments and Discussion Settings
Anonymous commenting on a WordPress.com blog
Why blog comment moderation is a good thing
Crazymaking Blogger Comment Settings
Blogging: Comment Baiting
Encouraging blog readers to comment
Crafting Quality Blog Comments

References:
100 Essential Legal and Privacy Guides for Bloggers
No Tolerance for Trolls
Recognizing and dealing with trolls
How to deal with trolls
How to Deal With Trolls on Your Professional Blog

40 thoughts on “A comment policy for your blog

  1. Pingback: Crafting Quality Blog Comments | one cool site

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  5. Hi Timethief,

    I follow your blog closely and I usually can find your tips right from your search box. I need, however, some guidance in how to modify my “send comment” or “reply” language to Spanish since my blog is for a Spanish speaking audience. I also need to modify the comment box fields to read in Spanish. As always, I appreciate your wonderful assistance in this subject. Thank you much.

  6. Hey timethief, this was an excellent post. I haven’t had any problems with trolls while using wordpress. Now that I’ve said that, I’m sure one will pop up. :)

    Anyway, I don’t have a comment policy in place, but I do screen my comments. This is my personal blog, so I really didn’t think it was necessary. However, if I had an actual website, then I would definitely add some type of disclaimer. Even so, your post has given me something to think about.

    • I’m happy to hear you have not experienced any trolling on your personal blog. I do hope your never experience receiving a troll comment but odds are that eventually you will. A blog is a website and what most websites lack is what blogs have ie. interactive communication. Below is a list of differences found in another post I have published.

      5 Blog and Website Differences

      (1) The main difference between a blog and website is the communication style. A website has a noticeboard communication style. A blog is a website designed for interactive communication. Collectively blogs create the blogosphere, while websites are like standalone islands.

      (2) Blogs encourage conversation, websites do not and that’s why businesses with websites are adding blogs, and sometimes forums and wikis to them for complaint handling, customer feedback purposes and for collaborative purposes.

      (3) Blogs feature dynamic content and position it front and center. The entries have date and time stamps, and blog entries are customarily displayed on the front page in reverse chronological order. Most most websites do not have dynamic content on their front pages. Many websites have static front pages. The information most websites provide is static, rarely updated, and the sites are often poorly maintained.

      (4) Blogs have RSS feeds, websites ALONE do not.

      (5) Usually but not always, blogs rank higher in Google and as “freshness” is extremely important when it comes to content appearing in the SERPs since Caffeine was introduced. — http://onecoolsitebloggingtips.com/2009/05/02/business-blog-website-or-both/

      Best wishes with your blog. :)

    • They’re all yours, Steve. I don’t choose to grace any attention seeking troll with acknowledgment, let alone, wasting my valuable time refuting their nonsense.

  7. Hi TT,

    I’m totally new to blogging, and your postings have been invaluable help thus far. I was wondering if I might use your copyright declaration page? I would, of course, retain the credit attributions on it as well.

    • Hello there. It’s good to meet you. Yes, provided the credit links are kept intact and you insert your blog name in replacement for mine, you may use it. :)

  8. Okay, that one popped up with “Your comment is awaiting moderation.”

    Here’s the previous one in case the system ate it:

    So far trolls haven’t bothered me much. I do remember running afoul of them on other sites though, ones that weren’t moderated effectively, or maybe it was simply allowed to develop as “flame wars” can certainly attract attention. Some people like reading flame.

    I don’t really have a comment policy, not that’s posted, although I obviously reserve the right to delete comments if they’re off-topic or exceptionally rude. So far I’ve never needed to delete a comment except for the occasional spammer who gets through trying to sell something. I guess I’ve been lucky, or maybe it’s because my blog isn’t anything major. Most of my postings only get a few comments anyway, and those are typically only from bloggers who I frequently exchange comments with. You know how the whole “comment exchange” thing works. You comment, they comment. You don’t comment, they don’t comment. Over time, you end up establishing pretty set but unspoken relationships regarding this exchange, and it works pretty well.

    The exception is being promoted via Freshly Pressed or getting linked-to on a more popular blog, which has happened to me a few times. Then I get comments from all sorts of people I don’t normally exchange with. I try to always reply to such comments, but I don’t always visit their sites. I probably should, but there are time constraints. You kind of have to pick and choose where you go and what you do, as I’m sure you’re aware. We can’t all visit everyone all of the time.

    Anyway, this was an interesting post, and makes me wonder if I should try and establish a comment policy. Right now, though, I’m just to small-time, and I don’t think I really need a set policy beyond the unspoken one that we all have which is the simple ability to delete comments if they meet criteria that we ourselves set.

  9. Interestingly, when I posted my last comment here, it never appeared and I was not notified that it required approval as is usually the case when I post somewhere that does. You might want to look into that. There’s nothing wrong with requiring approval – but the system should probably notify the user, otherwise they may end up reposting the comment thinking that something went wrong.

    In fact, one of the reasons I’m writing this post is just to see what happens. Did something go wrong? Or are you actually configured to approve comments?

    • This blog is set up for full moderation of all comments and it’s also set up so anyone can subscribe to comments on any or all posts. I’m so sorry you didn’t let me know that your comment did not appear. I have no idea what happend to it. :(

        • No. I do not have a character limit set and I do not believe that wordpress software limits comments. I do know that Blogger software does because two days ago when I tried to leave a comment on a blogspot blog I couldn’t. The error message stated I had exceeded comment length but it did not inform me what the limit was.

  10. So far trolls haven’t bothered me much. I do remember running afoul of them on other sites though, ones that weren’t moderated effectively, or maybe it was simply allowed to develop as “flame wars” can certainly attract attention. Some people like reading flame.

    I don’t really have a comment policy, not that’s posted, although I obviously reserve the right to delete comments if they’re off-topic or exceptionally rude. So far I’ve never needed to delete a comment except for the occasional spammer who gets through trying to sell something. I guess I’ve been lucky, or maybe it’s because my blog isn’t anything major. Most of my postings only get a few comments anyway, and those are typically only from bloggers who I frequently exchange comments with. You know how the whole “comment exchange” thing works. You comment, they comment. You don’t comment, they don’t comment. Over time, you end up establishing pretty set but unspoken relationships regarding this exchange, and it works pretty well.

    The exception is being promoted via Freshly Pressed or getting linked-to on a more popular blog, which has happened to me a few times. Then I get comments from all sorts of people I don’t normally exchange with. I try to always reply to such comments, but I don’t always visit their sites. I probably should, but there are time constraints. You kind of have to pick and choose where you go and what you do, as I’m sure you’re aware. We can’t all visit everyone all of the time.

    Anyway, this was an interesting post, and makes me wonder if I should try and establish a comment policy. Right now, though, I’m just to small-time, and I don’t think I really need a set policy beyond the unspoken one that we all have which is the simple ability to delete comments if they meet criteria that we ourselves set.

    • @writerdood
      I appreciate receiving your comments and reading what your experience has been. I think that every blog that allows commenting ought to have a commenting policy posted. The contents of the ought to reflect the blogger’s personality, their own communication style, and their own tolerance limits. Putting a commenting policy up front serves as a means of establishing rules of engagement by clearly defining boundaries for both the commenter and the blogger on the receiving end.

  11. Wonderful post, and very thought-provoking–thanks, TT. I moderate all comments and like to think I’d be smart enough to delete anything deliberately offensive or hurtful. Your point about every blogger needing to be vigilant and to protect their reputation is spot-on, as Mary Poppins would say.

    Haven’t been hit by any trolls on my blog yet, but I swear I’ve run into a lot of ‘em offline!! (and you’re absolutely right: non-engagement is the best policy)

    • Hello Mark,
      We need to be conscious that it’s not only the comments we approve and post to our blogs that affect our brand. Our brand is more than a logo or name. The comments we leave anywhere online live on and they can either reflect positively or negatively on our brand. Consquently, it’s important for us to be cautious about entering into arguments and expressing strong emotions online because we can compromise our brand by doing so.

  12. Excellent post.

    I learned early on to set up keyword filters to block trolls/psychos, but the occasional, uncharacteristically polite one still gets through. Easy enough to trash though.

    I’ll debate with anyone if they’re polite and reasonable, but comments based on the premise that I’m wrong and they’re right are consigned to oblivion, as there is no scope for discussion or consensus.

    Pointless and irrelevant comments are binned too.

    However, I have what might be a unique problem. for almost 2 years I offered informal help and advice to people trying to claim disability benefits (how to maximise their application, not fiddle the system!), and, suddenly, it became a full-time job (and giving someone 3,000 words or more of advice, which often had to be researched, not to get even a cursory “thanks” got a tad trying).

    Unfortunately, my own health deteriorated dramatically and I also began to lose my sight. So I tried to call a halt, explaining, in a sticky post, why this was necessary (I have to husband what physical resources I have). Didn’t work. So I unstuck the post and put the information on a page. That didn’t work either, and people continue to drop their lives, and occasional suicide threats, in my lap. I understand desperation – I just can’t deal with other people’s any longer.

    What really tipped the balance was a guy who asked for help regarding his wife – but too late, she killed herself. I KNOW I said everything I possibly could, in my response, but there was – and still is – the nagging feeling I could have done better.

    It’s reached the stage where I just don’t even read comments from certain posts lest, against my better judgement, I get sucked in (though on good days – a normal day is when getting from bed to computer is a challenge – I’ll go through the backlog). Which is a pity, because I’m still happy to answer simple questions, just not those that take half a day to research and write, plus the fact that everything I know about benefits and COPD (my area of expertise), is already on my blog, for those willing to look. So the easy ones get missed.

    And I don’t want to close comments on those posts in case the existing comments, and a whole lot of my work, goes down the pan. Other than that, I can’t see a solution.

    In conclusion, I’d say be careful, when responding to comments, and don’t put too much of yourself out there, in case you can’t get it back again.

  13. Hello Timethief, You raise many good points here and it is very topical too.

    I am particularly interested in what you say about not overidentifying with one’s blog; your blog not being ‘you’. I think I fall into that emotional response quite frequently. The analogy is the same for car drivers, your car is not you, but human beings seem to want to extend their selfhood into all manner of things don’t they?

    I have realised in my few months of blogging, that I am uncomfortable if my commenters criticise my views and so my answer to my personal discomfort is to stay clear of writing grumpy posts, miserable posts, or posts where you criticise other writers. I take a ‘do as I would be done by’ stance in how I comment. This may result in bland posts from time to time, and a slightly Pollyanna-rish tone, which maybe doesn’t reflect truly the ‘how I see myself me’ but it makes for a more peaceful blogging experience. A cop-out maybe? I prefer to think of it as basic manners when dealing with strangers.

    Slightly off topic, I wonder sometimes if I should put a short piece explaining how blogs are different from forums for people who don’t seem to get it.

    It is a little frustrating when people comment, ‘ I want to upload a photo to your blog and I can’t ‘and one has to gently explain that a blog is not the same thing as a forum, but I solved that one by putting a few pages on my blog for those people who ask nicely and want to share their photos. I do suggest they start their own blog too !

    I don’t have a written comment policy and that is something to consider definitely. I will read yours and the ones you refer to and try and come up with something. I haven’t had a troll so far, but that doesn’t mean to say they will never appear. Thankyou, Joanna

    • Dear Joanna,
      I smiled so broadly when I read your comment. You write so wonderfully well.

      Yes, we humans extend their selfhood into all manner of things.

      I have such a wonderful readers and commenters and I’ll never let my blogs become a safe haven for trolls. I don’t devote time to creating and publishing negatively focused posts and those that amount to bad mouthing others. I am the hostess both of my home and my blog and I’m a gracious hostess.

      Thanks for the idea of an article on the differences between forums and blogs in the future.

  14. Hi Timethief, Excellent checklist, and like Sandra Lee appreciate the explanation of Trolls. We got one on the commercial blog – the day I removed the all-comments-held-for-moderation policy – so to have that arrive a few hours later was a shock – I mean literally, it felt like an electric shock passing through me, I hadn’t imagined such a gratuitously mean and pointless comment, and still cannot conceive of the impulse to post them. I did delete it – based on your previous guidelines and looking at your and other respected sites I had formulated and posted a policy that explicitly gave us the right to delete or edit inflamatory etc. nastygrams. A second comment from the same troll a few days later was less offensive – only pointless and derisive. As it happened, it arrived overnight and one of our regular readers and supporters addressed it directly and politely in a counter-comment, so I let it stand. I have put that troll on our block comment and send to spam list (and haven’t seen anything further), proof that not feeding them does drive them away. So far, my personal blog hasn’t come in for any of this kind of thing, though I have a similar policy in place.

    Kind of a flip side of this – have you written about the power of the blogging and commenting community to influence things? (for good or evil!) Don’t know if there is a name for that, or how widespread or frequent is is, but I know of a couple instances, and have always wondered how it happens, how the word spreads and all that. Also as food for thought as I write, so as to be very very sure not to trigger that kind of thing myself! Thanks as always.

    • Hello Cynthia,
      I hear you when you refer to feeling SHOCK! as it triggers memories of a time long ago when I did not moderate comments on another blog I had. I’m so glad the situation worked out well for you. And I’ll consider your suggestion for a future article. Thanks for sharing your experience with us. :)

  15. Hello timethief:

    It was really interesting to read about the psychology of trolls. I’ve never had one visit my blog and only saw the first such comment on another blog a few days ago. I appreciate the thorough outline you have provide as a guide to creating a comment policy. I don’t currently have a comment policy, but after reading this article I understand the value of creating one in terms of creating a clear and safe space. Thanks so much.

    • @Sandra,
      My first public blog was an environmental blog. It attracted many terrific readers who submitted meaningful and informative comments. As it grew in popularity it attracted climate change deniers who submitted rude and ignorant comments replete with cursing, fallacious arguments and personal attacks. Like most bloggers I did not have a commenting policy in place. I deleted the comments and more kept coming from the same trolls.

      That experience prompted me to define my boundaries and post a commenting policy for all to see. Once I posted my commenting policy the troll comments decreased signficantly. The last remaining trolls who persisted in submitting comments were all “primitive thinkers”, who wrapped themselves in the flag and huddled under the banner of freedom of speech, demanding that I post their offensive garbage. Along with freedom of speech comes responsibilities that they violated, so I jettisoned the comments into Akismet without hesitation.

  16. It is so nice to read your article today, it has been a day of great frustration for me personally! But this is a case where I have commented on someone else’s blog, but don’t appreciate the following derogatory/troll comments following mine.. I don’t want to be any part of that chain anymore, but there is no way to delete my comments on someone else’s blog, right?! :(

    If you are interested, I wrote very passionately commenting on this blog, [link redacted by timethief] but somehow I feel the author and the blog are a total sham.. Such a waste of my genuine feelings.. !!

    I have a feeling this might land in your spam folder :) I will check later to ping you if I feel that is the case!
    Thanks so much.
    Rachana.

    • Hello there,
      I read the comment you posted and the comments that followed it. I suggest you just move on because unless you request that your comment be removed, and the blogger agrees to remove the comment it will remain on the blog. In fact simply asking for it to be removed may prompt the blogger to publish either a comment or a post about you requesting to remove it. That will result in the troll mouthing off again and the blogger unwisely posting another troll comment. It’s my opinion that the blogger is ulikely to remove the comment as the post is a lengthy one, and as so few comments were received. I redcated the link from the comment you made here so none of my readers would be tempted to click it. I’m so sorry that this happened but I cannot help you with it.

      • Thanks TT, sure, I will try to forget it, next time, I will remember to not let my emotions get the best of me.. :)

        As always thanks for your time, it means a LOT!

        • Everything we post online becomes a digital breadcrumb and all those breadcrumbs form a trail right back to us and our blogs. As you have experienced one can submit a polite and strongly worded comment on another blog and it can be trolled.

          If the blogger chooses to post the troll comment targeting our own comment or personally attacking us we can be tempted to respond to the troll in a second comment but to what end?

          In a situation where another blogger has demonstrated poor judgment and approved and posted a troll comment, I believe we are wise to think twice, and know that whatever we say in any follow-up can be twisted or taken out of context and may compromise our brand.

          Given what happened to you and has likewise happened to countless other bloggers I’ll go a step further and say be extremely selective about which blogs you comment on, and every time your comment be careful about how you word your comment. If you do feel emotionally charged about the issue you want to comment on then wait for at least 24 hours before submitting a comment and when you compose it be sure it lacks emotional overtones.

        • Thanks for your words of caution, I almost was about to post something on her site asking her explanation for approving the troll comments, but as you said, those words will ultimately not define my principles and what I stand for! And most importantly, I don’t want them to come back and ‘haunt’ me.. And yes, now when I go back and read my comments, because of the lack of ‘tone’ on written words, they MIGHT sound combative, which was not my intention at all.. :(
          I am very grateful for your advice.Thanks and have a great weekend!

        • @Heart
          Thanks for the weekend well wishes. I’m sending them right back to you.

          Here’s what I repeat to myself: “Don’t let any troll rob you of your joy – don’t give your power away.”

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