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10 Questions to Think About In Relation to Your Comment Policy

Do you have a comment policy on your blog?

I’d never thought about the need for one until a few weeks back when I received a complaint about a link to a site that someone considered questionable, and potentially in breach of a US law.  I was surprised, because I am pretty careful about anything I chose to link to from this site, but undertook to look into it further.

It turned out it was a link that someone had left in a comment on a post many, many months back.  Although I had checked the site at the time and thought it looked… inoffensive, I could see the complainer’s point.  After some conversation and advice taking on Twitter I decided to leave the comment, but strip out the URL that the commenter’s name was linking to.

The incident wasn’t much in itself but it did get me thinking harder about your responsibility as editor and publisher for the content on your site, including the material that others contribute through the comment box.

I do cast a quick eye over the sites of new commenters to make sure they’re not blatantly offensive, or just leaving a comment to product a sale, or a visit to their site.  But could I safely say I’d visited every site of every person who’d ever left a comment here?  No.  Have I read every post that shows up through comment luv to make sure you’re not saying things that are offensive, or libellous, or include stolen copy?  No.

And I hope that it would be deemed unreasonable to do so.

However, if someone complains, you need to know what you’re going to do about it.  Which does force you to start addressing some of the more difficult issues around who is responsible for what.  And does, in my mind, reinforce the point that you’d be wise to have a comment policy… though you might want to try and word it in a way that doesn’t put legitimate commenters off!

Here are 10 questions you might want to consider as part of your own comment policy

Conversation by Lawgeek on flickir

1. Are any of the things you’re currently doing making it harder for people to leave comments?

Start with the positives: look for ways to make it as easy as you can for people to leave comments (assuming you want them).  Get rid of the things that get in the way.

2. Do you know what you’d do with negative or challenging comments?

This is something people worry about, but for most of us (thankfully) it doesn’t turn out to be an issue.  Forewarned is forearmed though, and if you’re clear from the outset that you won’t accept any snash on your blog, it’ll be easier for you to deal with it should it come.

3. Are you happy for people to leave comments with key words as their name?

I’m not going to re-open this one, except to say it’s worth thinking about, and setting out your intentions.

4. How can you encourage and reward those who comment on your blog?

Remaining positive, are there additional things you can do to say ‘thanks’? You’ll see mine listed in my comment policy below

5. Do you want people to be able to comment on old posts?

Another one worth thinking about.  In my view, you’re never too late to comment, but some people prefer people not to allow comments on old posts.  This might be particularly relevant if  a post is on an issue that’s now out of date.

6. What are you going to do with the comments you get?

Think through whether, when and how you’re going to respond to comments before you ask for them.  If comments come in, are you sure you’re going to know about it so you can respond the way you want?

7. Would you like to quote some of the things your commenters have said?

This is one that surprised me a bit in my research.  It appears that the commenter retains the rights to their words, unless you indicate otherwise.  I’ve added a note to the foot of the comment form to indicate that leaving a comment here means you accept my right to quote you (duly attributed).

This is to me a very important dimension of a community blog, and I hope this form of words can keep us all right.

8. What are you going to do if someone complains about a comment?

It might not happen… but what if they do?  Having a thought out policy will make it easier for you to deal with… and more likely that you’ll prevent problems in the first place

9.  Do you know what the law is in relation to your comment policy?

If not, you probably should.  Here’s a very useful article on the law affecting bloggers that you might want to read.  Other resources listed at the foot.

10. Do you have a comment policy?

If not, you might want to think about writing one…

The Confident Writing Comment Policy

Here’s the latest version of my comment policy, updated to take into account the various issues I mention above.I welcome and encourage comment and conversation on the Confident Writing blog.

My aim is to foster a supportive, constructive and welcoming environment for readers to share, contribute and take part.

This comment policy supports that aim.

To encourage comments and conversation:

  • Your comment will show up without you needing to wait for me to approve it*
  • I will respond to your comment on the blog, though it might take several days to a week. Sorry!
  • Your chosen picture will show up next to your comment – register with gravatar if you want yours to appear
  • If you have a blog site, the comment luv plug in will (normally) link to your most recent post (or a post you chose)
  • You can sign up for follow up comments by e-mail to keep in touch with the flow of conversation

* Occassionally legitimate comments go into the spam system, especially if you’ve included a link to something. I will try and dig these out and post them for you as soon as I can

Please note that I regularly highlight questions, comments and writing tips that are shared by readers in the comment box.

The terms of this policy mean that by leaving a comment here you grant this site a perpetual license to reproduce your words, attributed to you (with your name and website).

To encourage genuine, constructive conversation I will:

  • Delete any comments that are offensive or upsetting to readers, or me
  • Delete any comments that are only left to link to a site or blog, and do not add value in any way
  • Delete comments that are signed off by key words rather than people. I don’t mark them as spam, and I do allow some – if they’re interesting and thoughtful comments, rather than opportunistic ways to tempt someone to visit your site.
  • Edit the key word comments that don’t go into the bin by editing your name to something human, or stripping out the link. Sorry, but key words aren’t conversation
  • Delete sp*m comments

To protect my interests as site owner and publisher I reserve the right to:

  • Delete any comments that are potentially libellous
  • Delete any comments that are criminal, including the use of stolen content
  • Disclose information to relevant authorities to identify the individual responsible for any such comments
  • Strip out the link from a comment to any site that is considered offensive or upsetting, or in breach of any laws

If you’ve got any feedback or suggested improvements, please do let me know.

Resources and Reading:

12 Important U.S. Laws Every Blogger Needs to Know from Aviva

Law Suits, Death Threats and Cyber Bullies from Blogging Without a Blog

New Comment Policy: No Keywords in Comments from Remarkablogger

Announce Your Comment Policy with Comment Licence WordPress PlugIn from WordPress Hacks

The Ownership of Comments from Weblog Tools Collection

Does Your Blog Have a Blog Policy? from the Blog Herald

The Legal Issues with Comments from the Blog Herald

Photo Credit: Conversation by lawgeek on Flickr

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  1. Brad Shorr says:

    Hi Joanna, Excellent advice and issues you bring up. Your comment policy will serve as a useful model for others (including me!). Spam comments bother me, but snarky anonymous comments bother me more. I think if you have something to say on a blog (or anywhere else, for that matter), you should be willing to attach your name to it.

    Brad Shorrs last blog post..Writing for Business Blogs - Lessons Learned

  2. Robert Hruzek says:

    So far, I’ve been fairly blessed with very few obnoxious comments that made it through my spam filter. My biggest source of concern was our WILF projects. Since I like to keep the Zone at a “G” rating, I try to screen those from new folks. But once I’m comfortable they’re there for good, so to speak, I generally don’t screen ‘em anymore.

    However, I do have a note about using key words rather than real names.

  3. wilson says:

    Seriously, I assumed you’re be shocked, when you found that the comments are linking to a site that breached one country’s law, isn’t it, Joanna?

    Hopefully, my comments don’t look like a spam or inappropriate to you! lol

    wilsons last blog post..To All Mother: You Should Choose the Infant Milk Carefully!

  4. Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    Brad thanks. I’d put quite a bit of thought into it so figured I should share it in case any of the issues were of use to others. I don’t really mind spam either because it’s caught and dispatched so easily. The snarky comments are harder because they eat away at the blogger. I think that’s one good reason for having a policy that says you’ll delete anything that is upsetting to you or your readers. After all, it’s your blog.

    Robert yes, sometimes I get a bit jumpy around the writing projects and passing on of other people’s links… you want to send your readers to places that aren’t too mad or bad! Your ‘note on using key words’ is wonderful… for the benefit of others it goes like this:

    “Say, do us all a favor, won’t you? We’re fairly easy-going around these here parts, but please do NOT enter a keyword phrase or a business, product or service name as YOUR name in the comment section. It will likely get your comment labeled as spam and deleted. You MAY, however, use a real name, nickname or handle, along with a brief identifying phrase, such as “Big Bubba, Midnight Cowboy.” Thanks a herd, and a tip o’ the hat to ya! - Ed.”

    wilson it did give me a fright, because I do try pretty hard to make this a responsible and ethical site. But it kind of did me a favour too, because it got me thinking about some of the more tricky issues around comments.

    And no, I never mistake your comments for anything but the valued contributions that they are :-)

  5. Debbie Yost says:

    I’ve been pretty lucky so far with comments. I don’t mind comments that disagree with me as long as it’s done respectfully. I do approve all comments so you have to wait to see them. I’d stopped doing that for a while but started again after a friend was harrassed and stopped blogging because of it. I do not, however, have the little security spam protector thing. I hate that thing although I understand why some choose to use it. Personally, I don’t get enough traffic to make it a problem.

    However, in all honesty, if I have to go through too much trouble to research and protect myself, I think I might stop blogging first. It just wouldn’t be worth the hassle.

    On a side note, I was frustrated because my gravatar never showed up on your site. I’m guessing that’s because I’m a PG gravatar and you’re a G site. I guess it has something to do with my cache, but that got too technical for me on the whole clearing thing. I don’t really see how a picture of me with Peanut is PG rated otherwise! I guess I’ll just have to live with the little swirly things I get assigned. :)

    Debbie Yosts last blog post..I’ve Been Hit!

  6. Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    Debbie, I’m glad you haven’t had any problems. My sympathies would go to anyone that did. I don’t approve comments and to be honest I’ve never had any problems apart from a few junky messages - nothing unpleasant. Glad you got rid of the security captcha - it’s so horrible! (Although I know I had it too for a while - thought I had to)

    Thanks for your message about the avatar, and if you pop back you’ll see you are here! I had no idea about the PG and G things, so I’ve changed it to PG just for you. I’m not sure why your picture should be deemed PG though! One of life’s little mysteries…

  7. Barbara Swafford says:

    Hi Joanna - I’ve kicked around having a comment policy, but it hasn’t materialized. Thus far, with the exception of a negative comment or two, I’ve been fortunate.

    With regard to the keyword stuffed names, if the comment adds value (which is debatable at times), I’ll accept them even if they lead back to a “sales page”. I’m guessing most blog readers are smart enough to know that’s what will happen and won’t click on their name (??) anyway. Like you, I have stripped the URL from a few comments, as the comment added value, but the site didn’t.

    I agree, we have no control over where the comment link will lead the reader as sites change even though they were acceptable at the time we approved the comment.

    As for rewarding commenters, I like the CommentLuv plugin. If the commenter has a catchy title, they’re bound to get a little bit of traffic by leaving valuable comments on blogs that use CommentLuv. Plus, I often use comments as inspiration for future posts. Having read the part “It appears that the commenter retains the rights to their words”, makes me realize I need to address this issue as I will quote the commenter.

    That raises another issue. If we don’t quote the commenter, and take what they said out of context (which happens often), we risk upsetting them.

    And…who said blogging was easy?

    Barbara Swaffords last blog post..Let’s Hear It For The Boys

  8. Barbara Swafford says:

    Hi Joanna - Me again. I got so busy writing my comment I forgot to say, “Thank you for the link love”. :)

    Barbara Swaffords last blog post..Let’s Hear It For The Boys

  9. Conrad says:

    Joanna, this is really well written and sooo accurate concerning what a growing blogger needs to know. Thank you for the post and I find it very helpful. Like so many of us, I really am trying to be responsible.

    Conrads last blog post..Happy Birthday to Barbie Millicent Roberts

  10. Gennaro says:

    When there are a significant number of comments it becomes difficult to monitor each individual’s website. I require the first comment to be moderated in order to check out sites, but that wouldn’t stop someone from starting to post questionable content later. I also set it up so that a url in the comment itself is moderated. It’s a bit more work, but its’ worth it.

    I’ve found that between the sp*m filter and moderating the first comment, most problems are eliminated. It’s rare that someone takes the time to make a real comment only to come back with a phony link or sp*am comment.

    It’s important to moderate within a day or a commenter who checks back on their first comment may not return.

    Gennaros last blog post..Road Warriors: Bloggers In Motion

  11. pelf says:

    I have a Comment Policy though I think nobody reads them, LOL.

    Because I do not receive a lot of comments from new bloggers, I sort of know who’s who. But whenever I see a new “commentator”, I will check out his/her site and decide whether I should leave the comment intact.

    If it links to something other than a website or a blog, I will de-link it. If the name doesn’t sound like a name to me, I will try to look for his/her name and replace it. I do not want spammers/people/robots to feel/think that they can do whatever they want on MY blog.

    It sounds like a lot of things to do, but since I have a small following, I am able to ensure that all my commentators leave comments that somehow add value to the on-going discussion :)

  12. Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    Barbara I guess part of what I was trying to say is that a comment policy can help you focus on the positives too. What can you do to make it easier for people to leave comments, and to reward those that do (I know you already do this!) The point about the site changing over time is one that occurred to me - when I go back and look at some sites they’re totally changed in character or maybe even being run by someone else. But I don’t think there’s really anything round this, except to respond promptly if someone raises a link as being problematic.

    I also think Commentluv is wonderful, and has helped me appreciate the importance of writing good headlines for my own stuff. Sometimes when I look at the lists of posts to choose I find myself thinking ‘ oh no, no one in their right mind would want to come and read based on that!’…

    I’ve never had a problem with commenters being quoted… or not! but I do feel happier now I have something that makes clear to people that I will do so.

    I hope I’m not making heavy weather of this - really I see it as a way of making comments easier and more rewarding, not creating rules that get in the way.

    PS Thanks for the thanks :-)

  13. Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    Conrad thanks for the feedback. You can pop over and say my posts are well written any time! :-) I think most bloggers are trying to be responsible, and also trying to be sensible in protecting their own interests. I hope this kind of policy will help in that endeavour.

    Gennaro Sounds like you’ve got a good system working there. I do the moderation afterwards rather than before (so I’d delete the few that get through inappropriately rather than holding people in a queue) but I agree with you it’s not really too much work. I think if you create an environment where people can see the comments are managed properly they’re less likely to bother anyway. I agree absolutely about moderating quickly - people want to see their comments appear (and, I think, to have an answer… but that is a different question)

    Pelf Most people probably won’t bother reading them, but that doesn’t make them redundant. You know the material is there, and that helps to keep you right. Keeping the reference close to the comment box is one way of making sure people know it’s there, but even then, I doubt most people will go and read it.

    I hadn’t thought about taking out the keywords and adding a name - that’s a good idea. It’s so much respectful. I think this is at the heart of it - taking ownership of your own site

    “I do not want spammers/people/robots to feel/think that they can do whatever they want on MY blog.”

    Well said!

  14. Catherine says:

    Hmm, I was taken aback from your perspective. When someone points out how you can improve, and they are right, it’s never a complaint. It is my belief, as a publisher and editor myself with years experience, that it is our responsibility to be careful with our linking. Then again, this is my opinion.

    The bigger issue is your lose of credibility with this person. He trusted you to link appropriately. I would have handled this differently and not place so much time and emphasis on a “comment policy.”

    I have 33 websites, and several blogs — and they have been up for 15 years. I’ve never once received a “complaint.” I have received comments to show me how to be a better editor and publisher.

    If you understand the Law of Attraction…the way it works if you place energy on a handling what you perceive as negative comments you actually attract more of what you didn’t want.

    If you don’t understand LOA, then ignore this earlier paragraph it may not make sense.

    Whenever someone sends a comment they also attact to it their energy. If they aren’t in a good moment (or space) at that particular time, then the words will come out inappropriately. However, when you receive the comment, whatever space you’re in at the time acts the same way.

    From my perspective I would have said “Congratulations” instead to myself. The more popular you become, the more open to become to other’s opinions. So, in this particular case, instead I would suggest patting yourself on the back for how far you’ve come and how popular your blog postings are read.

    On this note, I send my “Congratulations.” I also say the more popular / well-known you become, the more targeted you become to other people’s opinions.

    No one is perfect. Not you. Not I. Not anyone posting a comment. However, they are perfect to themselves in the space that they are.

    Catherines last blog post..A Myth About Consumer Spending During a Recession

  15. Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    Hi Catherine, thanks for taking the time to comment. I’m not sure I entirely get your point, but maybe that’s because we’re approaching it from a different frame of reference. To my mind the issue raised was genuine and legitimate complaint, which I dealt with as soon as I could, and then reflected on what I could do to improve both the quality of this site and my responsiveness to the feedback from others. I hope that by taking action quickly I didn’t lose any credibility with the individual concerned.

  16. Robyn McMaster says:

    Like you, Joanna, sometimes I write posts where I say that I want to write a follow-up blog with readers’ suggestions. I just completed one in fact, though just a bit later than I would have like.

    Readers suggestions or questions often take me to new areas and I enjoy this. If I want to quote a comment in which I had not specifically asked for it, then I look for email and get the author’s permission.

    At times, I get what I’d term as URL ads for sites that merely sell something. The ads are then all about them and not me. I start by deleting the URL. Sometimes these persist and then I click on ban. This has not happened often, thankfully.

    I like to remain open and positive about this as you do because I get the best of my readers’ brains.

    Robyn McMasters last blog post..Zoning Out? Readers’ Experiences - Solutions

  17. Alex Fayle | Someday Syndrome says:

    I’d thought before about how I respond to comments (which ended up as a post on Blogging Without a Blog), but I’d never thought about a comment policy. I’ll have to put one together, especially since I give advice in the blog and so do commentors - the comment policy will need to include something about advice being for information purposes only and that I’m not responsible for the actions anyone takes based on the comments on my blog…

    Alex Fayle | Someday Syndromes last blog post..Making suckiness good: Lab Rats Week 1

  18. Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    Robyn thanks for jumping in. I love the way you engage with reader question and comments and turn them into new posts. See today’s post from me! That’s a good point about e-mailing if you haven’t made it clear that you’ll be using comments. That makes a sensible addition to policy / practice

    Alex I hadn’t thought of that - it’s a good point. Reminds me that I should do something about a disclaimer here too - but I wouldn’t have thought about disclaimers for comments too! Oh what a tangled web we weave… ;-)

  19. creativevoyage says:

    oh dear no 3. ! do I contravene this? unfortuantly my ‘real’ name I share witha US novels (whose books I detest) and an electric steam boat ! which is why I go under my biz name - in ‘real life’ whatever that is I’m Mary Gordon

    creativevoyages last blog for the soul

  20. Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    Hi Ms Creative Voyage, no you don’t contravene it. There are a lot of people online who chose for whatever reason to go by a name that isn’t there own. But it still identifies you, and allows me to talk back to you without addressing you as “file lock” or “golf irons” or “web design”. Strang as it might seem there are people around who sign their name in that way because those are the key words they’re hoping people will be searching for online (and the link from their name on some blogs, esp with ‘dofollow’ on comments) gives them more chance of being found.

  21. Ken Allan says:

    Kia ora Joanna!

    Good points here - I too have looked at these ideas when I wrote my ‘Comment Policy’, with much guidance and advice from Michele Martin.

    One thing that I didn’t consider at the time, and you don’t mention it here, is the effect that the word ‘policy’ has on readers. This prompted me, after considering the discussions with other bloggers, to re-name my ‘Comment Policy‘. That single consideration made a considerable difference to the numbers of visitors to my Comment Guidelines page.

    For any policy to be of use to readers they must first want to read it and then do so. I had no idea just how much influence the connotation of a word could have on how people regarded a ‘Comment Policy’.

    Catchya later
    from Middle-earth

    Ken Allans last blog post..Posturing - a Barrier to Learning

  22. Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    Ken, I hadn’t thought about that point when writing this post - though it is something that’s troubled me before… how to explain and introduce it without putting people off. Your suggested word change makes sense, and I will implement it here next time I’m housekeeping. Thanks

  23. When Things Aren’t As They Appear | Blogging Without A Blog says:

    [...] a “comment policy” - Joanna Young’s post reminded me I should have [...]

  24. Tess The Bold Life says:

    I’ve never even heard of a comment policy. How long can I call myself a newbie? My blog is 5 months old. I checked out your retreat in Italy, how cool is that?

    Tess The Bold Lifes last blog post..Magic Monday: Jonathan Mead, Reclaim Your Dreams

  25. Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    Tess, I think there is always something new to be learned about blogging :-) Yes, the retreat is pretty cool… fancy joining us? Thanks for saying hello - I’m glad to find your blog

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