Personal advice – Abusive members

by Martin Reed on 25 May 2007 in Articles

Biddy from left a comment requesting a regular ‘Ask Martin’ feature on this blog whereby readers can ask for my advice/opinion on issues specific to them. I think this is a good idea, and am willing to give it a try.

For this article, I will address Biddy’s specific request. If you would like to throw some questions or requests for advice my way, contact me and I will see what I can do to help.

The request

I have a commenter on one blog at the moment who is making me uncomfortable. I’m not sure what to do with him because if I just block his posts, he’ll (quite rightly) accuse me of only wanting comments that agree with me.

This isn’t true: disagreement is fine and welcome, but telling me on my own blog that my opinion isn’t wanted is not really acceptable.

He’s anonymous – using a made-up name, fake email and no URL. What I should do about him?

My response

Firstly, let me say that I am relatively new to the world of blogging. The scenario you provide though, does have many similarities with the types of users I have had to deal with on message forums in the past so I still feel qualified to offer you advice on this situation.

The first thing to remember is: you control the blog. Don’t let abusive members take control. Have you published any rules on your blog so contributors are aware of what is and what is not acceptable? This would be my first recommendation.

In my article entitled ‘Dealing with abusive members‘ I go through a number of steps you can take to address problem users. Unfortunately this is not wholly useful to you, because you mention that this user does not provide a valid email address or URL for you to contact them.

In your specific situation, I would advise you to consider the following options:

Attempt dialogue with the user

This may be difficult because you do not have any direct contact information about the user. I would recommend you attempt to create a dialogue with this person in the following way:

Next time the user posts a comment, reply directly to them in the comments section. If you are not happy with the content of their comment, edit it as you see fit. When you then reply to the user, explain the exact reason why you have edited their comment.

Refer them to your rules if you have them. Then, invite them to contact you directly with any of their concerns.

If a user has a genuine grievance about something in particular it will always pay to speak directly to them to try to address and diffuse such problems. You may be surprised at their willingness to discuss things further with you if you take this pro-active approach.

Set your blog comments to ‘moderate all’

By preventing your blog’s comments from appearing until you have moderated each one, you are ensuring no abusive messages get through. As you are applying this rule to all comments, individuals cannot complain and claim victimisation.

Unfortunately on the downside, some users may feel less inclined to comment if they do not see the fruits of their labour immediately published on the site.

If you are to take this course of action, I would recommend you make it temporary and advise your members why comments are currently fully moderated.

If all else fails…

If after all this you are still receiving unacceptable posts on your blog, you will need to either continue will full comment moderation or just delete messages as they appear.

You may want to consider making users register to comment on your blog, but this will severely reduce the number of comments you will get in the future.

At the end of the day, be consoled with the fact it takes you one click to delete an abusive comment. It takes the abusive user much more time to craft and type their rubbish onto your blog.

Opening the floor

If you have any additional advice to offer Biddy, please leave a comment below. If you have any feedback on my suggestions, let me know.

Do you have a specific problem with your community site? Do you want to ask me for some specific advice? Feel free to contact me with further details.

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Biddy May 25, 2007 at 5:42 pm

Thanks Martin – very interesting, and lots of food for thought. I’ve been trying to avoid the “moderate everything” type of solutions for exactly the reasons you say: I don’t think it’s fair on other people to delay their reasonable and interesting input just because this one guy is – frankly – doing my head in. I have, however, put all of *his* comments on moderation, so maybe that will put him off.

Martin Reed May 25, 2007 at 9:41 pm

Good luck with this Biddy – perhaps some other readers will offer further advice by posting a comment.

Let me know how you get on.

Chicago 2016 May 25, 2007 at 11:59 pm

Interesting point. This may be an interesting article for you folks.

Martin Reed May 26, 2007 at 12:04 am

Thanks for the link, Daniel. I think this issue is extremely relevant in this day and age as more sites are interacting with their readers.

Chicago 2016 May 26, 2007 at 12:42 am

It’s a big issue in newsrooms, too. Should people be monitored and edited? Who knows?

Martin Reed May 26, 2007 at 9:05 am

I think when it comes to newsrooms, all comments do need to be monitored. I know the BBC website often opens stories up to comment, but with all comments moderated.

Can you imagine the potential damage to the BBC’s reputation if offensive and abusive messages were posted?

Ian May 26, 2007 at 3:57 pm

Good advice Martin.

I’ve found that when I get abusive comments it’s best to start a dialogue. In my experience abusive commenters like the anonymity the internet affords them. “Speaking” to them makes them realise that there is a person on the other end of their comments.

I like your writing style. Cheers.

Martin Reed May 26, 2007 at 4:34 pm

Hi Ian. Welcome to the blog, and thanks for your comment. I definitely agree that dialogue should always be the first step. You are bang on the money when you say it is easy to forget that each online persona is a real, live human being!

Eric Martindale September 14, 2007 at 3:45 pm

Great points. I think there’s an essential course of action in dealing with abusive members, and you’ve hit most of the points I’d cover.

Martin Reed - Blog Author September 15, 2007 at 4:58 pm

Eric Martindale – Thanks for your comment. Is there any other course of action you would recommend for this situation, other than what I have already mentioned?

Mr Data November 17, 2009 at 3:46 pm

“Can you imagine the potential damage to the BBC’s reputation if offensive and abusive messages were posted?”

Yeah like speaking against policies on Global Warming that will take away liberty/freedom for something we have very little history of. OH MY GOSH LIKE BBC WILL COLLAPSE AT A DISAGREEMENT ABOUT GLOBAL WARMING OR BANNING GUNZ!! :o

Seriously though Moderating comments even on news sites will seriously make people turn away as they don’t want to take the chance of spam being sent to their email box or viruses being sent. :p

Plus BBC is known to be biased and delete comments that disagree with them.

I know of a Google Earth blog where EVERY comment is moderated which is funny/ironic because there are almost ZERO comments to begin with.

The blog has been around several years and I am surprised the blog owner doesn’t realize the lack of comments.