Maybe you’ve got two regular readers. Maybe you’ve got two thousand. Blog readership varies dramatically, but one thing is certain: as long as you have more than one reader, you’re bound to find something they disagree about. Vehemently. Angrily.
Passionate debate can be a great thing for your blog. If people are worked up in the comment forums and discussion is flying back and forth, ten comments a minute, then it means you’re doing something right. You’ve picked an important subject to write about, or you’ve written good discussion questions, or your readers are just plain outspoken.
However, passionate debate can easily switch to bitter, furious name calling – indeed, such a switch is almost inevitable on the internet, where the illusion of anonymity seems to protect us even when we’re writing to (or about) our closest friends.
As the author of the post, it’s your responsibility to keep things civil, just like the host of a party has to step in and calm things down when her guests start throwing cake at each other. (Some hosts would argue that cake-flinging is a desirable outcome, of course; I say it’s a waste of good cake. But I digress.) The only instance in which you might be off the hook is if you co-author the blog and it’s been decided in advance that one of the other authors will be moderating things. Otherwise, it’s all on you.
This can be a tougher job than it sounds, especially if some of the repeat offenders are your friends in real life, or are “power users” on your forums who visit and comment often. The first step is to post guidelines on comment forum etiquette. The guidelines should briefly describe any behavior you won’t accept – slurs and personal attacks should probably be included, and if you have profanity issues you can include that too. Heck, it’s your blog. It’s not a bad idea to modify your comment template to include a brief reminder that there are guidelines. You can also require people to preview their comments before posting them, as a final push to make them think about what they’re writing.
But we all know guidelines sometimes get ignored. When that happens, you should consider how serious the case is. If things are getting a little mean, but not out of hand, you can try stepping in with a comment of your own to calm things down, gently reminding users about the guidelines without pointing to anyone specifically. You can also try sending a private message to the worst offenders.
However, if people are using racial slurs or over-the-top personal attacks, delete their comments immediately. If you can, send them a message to let them know why their comments were removed. If it happens again, don’t hesitate to ban them from the forums. One mean user can drive away twenty great users.
Remember that people need to feel they’re in a safe environment before they can participate in a discussion whole-heartedly. Don’t be afraid to be the grownup and take control of a bad situation before it gets worse. Your other users will thank you for it, and it will increase their loyalty to your site.