When blogs first came out–say about 10 years ago–the ability to comment and enter into a conversation was one of their strongest suits. Now, the internet is dominated by this kind of conversation and interpersonal interaction–but as this Mashable comment points out, comments on blogs may be more controversial than ever.
Personally, the biggest problem I have on crisisblogger is from spam comments. While WordPress does a pretty darn good job of catching most spam, the nasty spammers keep finding ways around it. In the last few weeks, I’ve seen this kind of activity greatly increase with spammers using normal sounding names and nice and complimentary comments. While the spam catchers can’t catch the nuances, the comments are so silly and stupid and vapid that the spammers stand out pretty clearly. I delete them as quickly as I can.
But that is not the real problem with comments on blogs. If you engage in online conversation at all you soon discover what I call Toxic Talk. That apparently is why Engadget is suspending blog comments. Frankly it is incredibly tiresome. I go to my local newspaper The Bellingham Herald and it seems that the majority of people who take the time to comment on stories are mean, nasty, cranky, politically extreme and snarky. It seems the younger the group, the more politically-oriented the blog, and the more the subject lends itself to strong feelings (global warming, Apple computer, religion) the more heated and ugly the discussion is.
What to do about it? First, resist the temptation to get down there with these kind of people. As I learned a long time ago, when you wrestle in the mud with a pig, you both get dirty but the pig enjoys it. Second, monitor and police your comments. Hey, your site (blog, social media or interactive website for crisis or daily use) is your site, its your home, your castle, your turf. You can make the rules and you can enforce them. In the four years or so since I’ve had this blog I’ve only booted a couple people off for violating one of my strict rules–treat everyone with respect. No personal attacks and everyone has a right to be heard and responded to respectfully. Violate that and you’ll be treated like a spammer. Third, understand that there still is value in the interaction. I think Engadget is wrong. Yes, it is tiresome and annoying. Make rules, stick with them, but don’t discount the value of the conversation.
This is especially true in today’s crisis communication. Your stakeholders and publics need a multitude of ways to communicate with you and let you know how they are feeling. New social media such as Twitter and Facebook facilitate that to a greater degree than ever. But don’t let the noisy, uncouth toxic talkers allow you to plug up your ears from those who have something valuable to say, and don’t let them put you in a corner of someone who isn’t interested in diverse opinions.