Managing website comments can be a difficult minefield to maneuver. Patrick Thornton gives some suggestions on how to promote good user comments on news sites. The point is made that most people aren’t racist, vulgar or actively looking to start a fight but when left to flourish, those users can take over.
Most of the guidelines given are well thought out, common sense solutions to managing comments. Becoming an active participant is necessary to show interest in the comments and commentators themselves. By reading and responding to the comments, this doesn’t leave much room for trolling or offensive content. Eric Berger, science reporter and beatblogger for the Houston Chronicle said that, “If people know that someone is going to read what they’re writing and perhaps judge them, they’ll be more careful with what they write.” It’s hard to agree with the statement, since most offensive commentators do it for a reaction. Some even revel in the destructive nature of their comments. Just being a participant in the conversation is not enough to encourage other readers to participate in constructive dialogue.
One has to moderate the site closely and ban repeat offenders. While moderating takes time, it is still manageable for a newsroom. If reporters include moderating and active participation in their stories, they can cut back dramatically on offensive content.
Two other suggestions Thornton gives refers to ‘hoisting’ comments and using blog backs. Both undoubtedly encourage participation but neither really prevent trolling. Hoisting a comment acknowledges when a user posts a great comment and gives it more prominence. This would be a great tool for a newsroom by implementing “Comment(s) of the Week”. Creating a blog back takes more time, but it elevates strong comments, clarifies points and acknowledges mistakes. Both of these practices would benefit a newsroom and creating a larger, stronger user comment community but doesn’t necessarily prevent trolling.
Many news organizations have started requiring users to sign up before they can comment which has cut back on the amount of trolling, spam and negative comments. The idea is that if one isn’t anonymous anymore, one is less likely to spout off racist or offensive language. This is an easier way to control the comments and requires less moderation or even participation by the reporter.
For successful comment management, one has to stay actively involved. Moderating, hoisting comments, using advice to compile other stories and eliminating negative content are all necessary. One has to find a balance between all of these factors. If one does a “Comment of the Week” then perhaps a blog back isn’t necessary. One could do a user comment generated story one week and actively comment on posts throughout the next week. The idea is not every tip is crucial to upholding a positive comment environment, but each should be explored to see what works either in the newsroom or for a personal blog.