“Too many voices, too much scattered, illogical, ill-considered criticism.” Written in 1920 by F. Scott Fitzgerald about literary critics (a million apologies for the snooty literary reference.) How would the great man have felt about trolls who seem to spend their lives visiting websites and blogs that don’t moderate to write irate and often irrational comments? They’re everywhere. My favourite news-site – http://www.guardian.co.uk – has a great section for non-affiliated bloggers called Comment is Free, but you’ll be hard pressed to find smart back-and-forth between informed readers in the comments following any article about politics, global warming or what have you. Instead, you’ll largely find angry right-wingers spouting bile rather than offering constructive remarks. Even my own humble blog got the works last year in response to a rather innocuous post about the quality of Nespresso coffee: highly recommended for a laugh (the comments, not the post.)
In my line of work, this issue props up all the time. We’re always talking about the value of two-way conversations and how it has revolutionised the world of comms and the nature of how organisations and politicians are expected to engage; but then clients rightly ask questions along the lines of… Are trolls not compromising conversation? Are moderates in search of conversation getting crowded out? And most of all… Do negative comments by angry sociopaths not reflect badly on our organisation?
Now this may not be entirely de-rigeur but my recommendation tends to be that organisations should be quite selective in terms of moderation. Plenty of social media “experts” will claim that you need to be completely open and let everything through because it’s transparent and democratic; what’s more, it’s supposedly a reflection of public opinion and so organisations should just accept it. I totally disagree. Take Comment is Free. I’d say at least 70% of the comments are angry and written by staunch right-wingers. That doesn’t reflect public opinion anywhere! The angry and the slightly dysfunctional are always going to make more noise and letting them all through the door will kill debate.
So what’d I do? Frankly, what most smart organisations have chosen to do: “moderate in moderation.” Have a strict code of conduct that clearly states what you will and will not permit but do allow for plenty of criticism as long as it’s in full sentences and constructive. In that case an organisation has a chance to hear about real concerns and perhaps even do something about them; and they’ll be able to respond with their side of the story and build relationships with supporters and critics alike without being crowded out by trolls. The essence of online engagement.