Pre-moderating: sensible thing to do or petty censorship?
When it comes to pre-moderating comments on blogs I have to say that I'm a little bit baffled. If you're a site for children I totally get it; and the same for a news or media outlet, but if you're just one of a boat load of blogs out there, from the big name to the small time, what's the rationale for pre-moderating comments?
News sites tend to moderate the hell out of their comments. Given that they are in the business of spreading news to hundreds of millions of people it behooves them to keep a tight reign on the content below their headers. The last thing they need is for some wingnut to fly off the handle in front of an audience the size of most nations.
For most things corporate I understand as well, though I do find it refreshing when the big players don't turn every web page like a giant legal cover-your-ass exercise. The Google Blog doesn't moderate their comments - at least it doesn't pre-moderate them (it's possible they just delete anything that doesn't meet their standards for submission after it's posted). While Google isn't exactly a small time company they're also well known for being a little more relaxed about things so I'm taking the absence of pre-moderation of comments for what it's worth.
As for my little corner of the blogosphere I just can't wrap my head around the idea that a comment would need my approval before I allowed it on my site. It smells a little bit like censorship, don't you think? Besides, who the hell am I to say what people can and cannot say about something I fully intended the entire Internet to read (or at least a few hundred people)?
Back in 2005 I had a different blog and one particular asshole starting commenting and causing a ruckus. For a time I just didn't allow comments in hopes he would find someone else to hassle but realizing that it wasn't fair to other readers who did want to comment I turned them back on. It was at this point that I tinkered with the idea of moderating the comments. In the end I chose not to, but had my finger on the "report" button just in case he got out of hand. He never did. Contrary to some beliefs, there are a lot of problems that will just go away if you ignore them.
A brief poll to a few friends who blog and a little bit of research on the web dug up the following nuggets of extrememly precise data:
- A large number do not moderate their comments
- Many only moderate for spam
- Some use a form of word verification
It would seem that for those who moderate spam is the biggest concern. No one wants a slew of ads and unrelated links clogging up their comments section and this is where I think the word verification comes in. That was one thing I ended up implementing myself, and as far as a security feature goes; forcing a person to enter in a couple words just so you know they're not a robot isn't much, but it does keeps the spam down and in my case also allows anonymous comments (while I prefer people stand in front of their comments by putting their name on them, I can understand that some people may have concerns over privacy and things like that).
There's lots of comment plug-ins for the popular platforms like Blogger and Wordpress and both have at least a couple variations on moderation. Another one is Disqus, which I used for a while but abandoned for reasons I don't remember.
But to the question at hand, is it just best practice or are we making it out to be worse than it is? As far as my blog goes, I've decided that until I actually have a problem I'm going to keep doing what I'm doing. I like to think of it as giving the public an opportunity to disappoint.
So far, they have not (except this person).
For those interested, here's a sampling of a few news sites and their moderation policies:
Click this sentence for just the policy text
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers and generally cannot alter a comment once it is posted.
Click this sentence for just the policy text
- Keep Your Content relevant to the topic and avoid repetitive posting.
- Be respectful and courteous, as if you were having a face-to-face discussion.
- If you are writing about legal issues, remember that people are innocent until proven guilty (that may mean using words such as "allegedly").
- Feel free to link internally within the CBC.ca/Radio-Canada.ca site as many times as you would like. As for external web addresses, we allow no more than three links per post. CBC/Radio-Canada does not endorse the content of external web sites and has no liability as to their content in any event. CBC/Radio-Canada reserves its right to take-down any external link.
- Radio-Canada: Use French for all of your exchanges and comments. Other languages cannot be used except for an occasional word.
- CBC: Use English or French for all of your exchanges and comment. Other languages cannot be used except for an occasional word.
- We want to hear your own opinion. Your Content must be created and owned by you, including any music and artwork. Breaking copyright rules is not permitted (that includes copying and pasting excerpts from other sites without permission and attribution). If the majority of Your Content was written or created by someone else, even with a proper credit, it won’t be accepted.
- Any of Your Content that is offensive and likely to expose an individual or a group of individuals to hatred or contempt on the basis of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, sexual orientation, age or mental or physical disability is prohibited.
- The following kind of Your Content is also prohibited:
- Pornography, vulgarity, obscenity or sexually explicit content
- Anything illegal
- Hate speech
- Threats, harassment
- Personal attacks, insults and defamatory statements
- Threats or suggesting committing a criminal act
- Attempts to mobilise people for any purpose outside of a CBC event
- Respect other people's privacy by not including personal information in Your Content (such as phone numbers and email addresses) or private dialogue.
- Be sensitive in 'Your Content' regarding the death or injury of private individual, especially children.
- Make it personal, not commercial by leaving out press releases and commercial promotions.