One of the best things about digital media is that it’s an open platform.
Anyone can plug in and begin producing content or commenting on content that others have posted. Often those comments can be an interesting or insightful as the original article. They can also serve to provide balance when a “news” piece strays too far from the facts. I like reading comments most of the time and I appreciate those of you who take the time to add your thinking to mine here on the screed.
Unfortunately, there are those who use the ability to piggyback on the audiences good content attracts for other purposes. Here alone, spammers post dozens of fake comments with links back to their crap every day (WordPress has a built-in spam block that works exceptionally well). Elsewhere, trolls try to take over conversations, so the comments become a soapbox for rants against one party or politician or another no matter what the subject matter of the original story. It’s not just blog or news sites that suffer this – think about your own friends on Facebook or Twitter – seen any flame wars?
There are softwares that do moderation but they lack nuance and Im’ not sure they can fact-check a politely written bit of utter nonsense. Research has shown that an environment filled with negative comments can influence readers’ perceptions of the underlying subject matter negatively even when the piece is very neutral. What does one do? It’s not an easy answer. When we grappled with this issue many years ago as commenting became common, the solution my team went with involved, committed community members on a sort of neighborhood watch. We enabled certain folks who made insightful comments to alert us to issues and eventually even allowed some of them to block and edit to keep a safe, sane environment.
I think that’s about all we can do and still remain transparent while fostering conversation. People will have issues with your product or service and sometimes they’ll be very loud about their displeasure if it’s unwarranted. There’s not much one can do when that negativity is expressed via social shares that aren’t on your page but for the places under your control, encouraging polite, factual discourse can be a boost to readership as well as to your credibility and authenticity. That’s what I try to do here and what I try to get my clients to do as well. What do you do? Please comment (gulp!).