When should you remove or shut down comments on a blog post?

Arguing with himself (courtesy Leonid Mamchenkov at Flickr CC)We’ve all been there – you’re reading along through the comments in a blog post, and two (or more) of the commenters start getting into a written tussle, a back-and-forth that gets increasingly heated and increasingly irrelevant to the original post topic.

It’s similar to watching two drunks arguing at a party;  the usual reaction from more sober bystanders is, “Get me out the heck out of here.” Same thing on a blog – readers see all that racket and click away for more rational discussions elsewhere. Maybe a few want to hang around and watch the train wreck, but really, why feed the voyeurs?

If you’re the blog administrator, what should you do when your post is hijacked like that?

It’s easy to remove stupid, obviously spammy comments from trolls, but what about apparently rational readers who have a bone to pick with each other?

On the Perceptive Travel Blog, I wrote a post about the Art Car Parade in Houston, Texas – a really fun and quirky annual event with wildly decorated cars. Two commenters starting disagreeing about whether a woman in the parade had shouted foul language at bystanders, particularly children.

Since their own language remained relatively civil, I didn’t remove any of their comments, even when the Cranky Factor escalated.

My view is that it’s usually not a good idea to remove comments once they’re posted because yes, people DO remember that they were there, and as long as the discussion was reasonable, readers will wonder what the blog owner is trying to hide or squelch. They’ll often leave comments asking about the missing comments, too. (At times like that, you’ll be almost ready to swear off of two-way communications like blogging….)

The best information I’ve found so far also indicates that I’m not held liable for comments left on my blog (for you legal beagles out there who are wondering, because I wondered, too.)

So, after my one “let’s all calm down” comment failed to stop the additional verbiage coming in from these two women, I closed all comments on the post.

I’ve never done that before – it felt a bit odd, but I figured if I was tired of reading about who-said-what, my readers were as well, and my first responsibility on that blog is to provide good travel-related content, not a platform for those two to holler at each other.

Here’s what I wrote in the final comment:

“I’m now closing comments on this post, which is supposed to be about the Art Car Parade and not devolve into a “who said what in Houston.”

Dawn, I know you submitted another long comment in response to Nikki’s comment, but I really do not want my blog (which I think of as my house) becoming a platform for arguments about some other woman’s actions and whether they occurred or not on the day of the parade.

Y’all take your discussion elsewhere, please. Start blogs or something.

For all the other readers, just go see the danged event, but any verbal or actual brawling that occurs there is out of my control.”

That’s my take on the situation – most comment brawls only make the commenters look silly, not the blog author, but at some point, hey, it’s MY blog.  The comments are an integral part of any blog, but if they run off the rails, they also run the blog off the rails.  I stopped the train.

What would you do in a similar situation?

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3 Responses to When should you remove or shut down comments on a blog post?

  1. Connie Reece says:

    I absolutely agree with you, Sheila. Your blog is your online living room, and there are certain behaviors you just don’t tolerate. It’s not about censorship; it’s about maintaining a civil discourse. Kudos for the way you handled this.

  2. Thanks Connie,

    I tried to be clear what I was doing, which is about all you CAN do.

  3. Carlie says:

    Good insight. I found your blog via Twitter and thought what you had to say was helpful. I especially liked the comment you wrote before closing off comments.

    My boss and I used to have a huge problem with regulating comments on our old blog (http://tupelobizbuzz.wordpress.com/). People would post bad/vulgar/mean comments. We used our judgment about what stayed and what went. Sure enough, people talk about the ones you delete and they hold a grudge against you. And, someone else will say it.

    On our new blog (http://nems360.com/pages/bizbuzz), we don’t have the option to delete comments so everything stays. I was weirded out at first, but I’ve come to like it. I honestly think it’s better because when you start deleting stuff, you are swaying the comments to your side of the discussion. If people are talking about it, let them put it on the blog. In our case, the other readers started policing the comments and would call out stupid commenters as such.

    Interesting idea about closing the comments. Would you ever think about re-opening it for comments after the discussion died down in case people wanted to post about the event later?

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