The rules are simple, aren’t they? If you have a blog, your standards apply and any blog comments that fall short of that can be deleted without a second thought. Anyone who doesn’t like it can go away and start their own blog, right?
Imagine that your blog is wildly successful and you have a community of commenters who are largely self-policing. They welcome newbies and slap down trolls without you needing to get involved very often. While there might be disagreements, they are generally good-natured and blow over without major fallout.
But one day, you write a blog post that one of your readers objects to. They raise a number of issues in the comments, which you try to address. They still disagree. They are not actually rude or abusive; they don’t call you stupid or tell you that you know nothing about the topic; they’re within the house rules, but their constant disagreements are not only threatening to derail the entire conversation, but they’re also annoying as all get-out. Should you ban them?
The point of social media, we are constantly told, is greater reader engagement. Most of the time, that engagement is constructive and welcome, but the openness of the medium means that there will inevitably come a time when there is that one commenter who will be disruptive, argumentative and will just not let an argument lie. How best to deal with them without coming across as a blog dictator?
The first strategy is graceful disengagement. If you can see an argument is only going round in circles and has no hope of a happy resolution, withdraw. This doesn’t mean that you “lose” or “give in,” but you can stop the discussion dead in in tracks without having to banish anyone. Point out that you all have obviously reached an impasse and it doesn’t look that there will be an agreement, so just lay out your main point again explaining why you hold your opinion and ask for it to be respected. Be polite, and try not to be aggressive. Treat the situation as though you are hosting a dinner party where one of the guests has had too much too drink and now their drunken behaviour is ruining the fun for everyone else. It is your job to shut them down with the minimum of fuss.
Another alternative is to issue a warning. This only works if you are absolutely sure you’re in the right and you’re not simply reacting to a comment you don’t agree with. Remember, your blog is for you and your readers, and you want everyone to be happy, right? So if a discussion is getting out of hand, sometimes all you need to do is to remind everyone to stay calm and to remember to stick the established commenting policy. Putting people on notice will usually be enough to cause them to go back through their previous comments to see if they’re being a little unreasonable. This is a threat, however; so if the misbehaviour continues, you must be prepared to follow through.
There is also the option of a “time out,” or temporary ban. If a commenter is causing trouble, you can take the option of banning them from that particular post or thread while allowing them to comment elsewhere. Alternatively you can revoke their commenting privileges for a couple of hours or maybe even a full day. This is a little drastic, so before bringing down the hammer, make sure you are very clear about what you are doing and why, and how long the ban will last. You could also let the commenter know that you are willing to reconsider if they contact you privately. Be warned though, if you do allow the commenter to post elsewhere while they are banned from a particular thread, they could cause havoc elsewhere if they are determined to cause trouble.
Of course, this would then give you the perfect excuse to ban them permanently. Because of the nature of blogs, I do believe that a permanent banning should always be the action of last resort. I tend to prefer banning usernames or email addresses, rather than IP addresses, which could penalise whole swathes of people. Generally though, bans should only be used for repeat and persistent offenders, not just people you disagree with. Life would be incredibly boring if everyone had the same opinions, and refusing to deal with opposing viewpoints is a rather immature way to go about things.
In the end, how you feel about dealing with unsavoury blog comments will depend on both the nature of your blog and your personal tolerance for bad behaviour. Blogging should be enjoyable, so don’t beat yourself up trying to make everyone happy. At the same time, don’t get too carried away with trying to get your commenters to fall into line
[Image by SatGuru]