Does Your Blog Have A Comments Policy?

The finally developed a Comments Policy for this blog last March. Earlier in the year, Scoble changed his Comment Policy so it only permitted “family friendly” comments. No cussing and swearing.

Here on the Blog Herald, Jonathan Bailey covered “The Legal Issues with Comments”, confronting bloggers with their responsibilities for copyright and more regarding the comments people post on your blog.

A lot of bloggers fret over the issues comments, especially on how to handle them and comment etiquette and manners, and more and more bloggers are adding comment terms and conditions, also known as a Comments Policy.

Do you have one for yours?

Does Your Blog Need a Comments Policy?

A Comments Policy is a statement defining your policy regarding comments on your blog. It is also a “responsibility statement”. It informs the reader of what you will allow on your blog, what you will not allow, and what they are allowed to do. It establishes publicly the responsibilities of each party involved.

Does your blog need one? Maybe. I think all blogs should have one. It helps to set down in words all the assumptions and expectations bloggers and commenters may have, removing all doubt. If doubt arises, the blogger can point to the ground rules, so there can be no excuses for ignorance. A comments policy says “We are all playing by the same rules here.”

Comments are essential to a blog. It is the key ingredient in defining a blog from a website. Bloggers thrive on nurturing the interaction between themselves and their readers through blog comments. However, cross the line and comments become aggravations.

Your blog posts say a lot about who you are, what you know, and what you do. They establish your reputation. The links you include in your posts and blogroll also help your reputation for recommending quality, related subjects to your readers. You earn their trust when you recommend well.

Blog comments help to develop your blog’s reputation (and yours). When you write something good, your readers may tell you. Others reading the post and comments will read those, adding these little recommendations to your reputation.

If the comments are “bad”, how you respond reveals more about who you are and how you blog, then how nasty the commenter was.

The tone of your blog posts can encourage or stifle comments. Some posts just aren’t worth commenting on. Those who encourage comments set a tone for the tone of the comments. Gentle, non-evocative posts don’t typically attract pissed off commenters. Angry, accusing and vindictive posts don’t attract sweet and calm responses. In fact, they work like magnets for those looking to encourage such negativity. If you don’t like the tenor of the comments you receive on your blog, check your post’s tone first. Like attracts like.

Creating a Comments Policy

Either way, you, as the blog owner or administrator, have total control over the comments on your blog. You can shout “freedom of speech” and have an “anything goes” policy. Or you can have a more drill sergeant discipline, striking down mean-spirited or bigoted comments. Or walk the middle of the road, killing off comments that will only inflame, but leaving up stupid, narrow-minded comments as an example for others.

Your blog is your little nation and you are the government. Currently, there are no rules or regulations that to tell you how to administer your blog’s nation. You are in charge and you set the rules. And the first rule that must be obeyed is making your rules public.

As the blog owner, you have the following rights:

  1. Control over content and comments.
  2. Ability to edit comments.
  3. Ability to censor comments.
  4. Ability to delete comments.
  5. Ability to prevent comments by specific persons or groups.

Does this mean you can freely edit, censor and delete comments? No. This list simply means you have a “right” to do any of these. What approach you take and what level of control over comments is up to you. You just need to let your readers know.

Your Comments Policy sets the ground rules for playing on your blog.

Your Comments Policy can be short and sweet or long and filled with a lot of legal jargon. It should match your overall blog writing style, or it can be legal jargon from a lawyer to provide you with maximum protection.

Here are some example comment ground rules to consider when writing your blog’s Comments Policy:

  • Comment Form Guidelines: The comment form must be filled in with a proper or legitimate sounding name and URL. Comments using keywords, spam or splog-like URLs, or suspicious information in the comment form will be edited or deleted.
  • Email Privacy: Email addresses are required for commenting, and they are not published on the blog, nor shared. They may be used by the blog owner to privately contact the commenter.
  • Commenter Privacy and Protection: All email, snail mail, phone numbers, and any private and personal information posted in any comment will be deleted as soon as possible to protect the privacy of the commenter. To prevent such editing, never share this private information within the blog comment.
  • Language and Manners: This blog is “family friendly” and comments which include offensive or inappropriate language, or considered by the blog owner and administrator to be rude and offensive, will be edited or deleted. Play nice.
  • A Comment is Conversation: A comment which does not add to the conversation, runs of on an inappropriate tangent, or kills the conversation may be edited, moved, or deleted.
  • Limit Links: This blog is setup to automatically hold any blog comment with more than two links in moderation, which may delay your comment from appearing on this blog. Any blog comment with more than four links could be marked as comment spam.
  • How The Blogger Will Respond: Comments on this blog will only be responded to in direct response to the blog comment. The blogger will not (or will) respond privately via email or other communication method to a blog comment.
  • What To Do If Your Comment Does Not Appear: If you leave a comment on this blog and it does not appear in a reasonable time period, and you know that it does not violate these Comment Policies, contact the blogger (method of contact).
  • No Personal Attach Comments Permitted: In the interest of fair play, no personal attacks are permitted in this blog’s comments. You may question or argue the content, but not attack the blogger, nor any other commenters. Failure to respect fellow participants on this blog could result in removal and blocked access.
  • Comment Spam: Any comment assumed to be possible comment spam will be deleted and marked as comment spam.
  • Commenters Blocked: Anyone who violates this Comments Policy may be blocked from future access and/or commenting on this blog.
  • All Rights Reserved: The blog owner, administrator, contributor, editor, and/or author reserve the right to edit, delete, move, or mark as spam any and all comments. They also have the right to block access to any one or group from commenting or from the entire blog.
  • Hold Harmless: All comments within this blog are the responsibility of the commenter, not the blog owner, administrator, contributor, editor, or author. By submitting a comment on our blog, you agree that the comment content is your own, and to hold this site, [name], and all subsidiaries and representatives harmless from any and all repercussions, damages, or liability.
  • Trackbacks Are Comments: All trackbacks will be treated inline with our Comments Policy.

Comments

  1. says

    I have been using a comments policy on my site for a long time. But several of the points you mention in the “comment ground rules to consider” are very valuable indeed and I need to add them.

  2. says

    Not really. I am so delighted to even receive a comment, I don’t really need a comments policy or a mission statement.

    Seriously though, I trust my readers not to use offensive language (which would be modified) and leave all my comments unedited, in all their glory.

    However, occasionally the pedant within simply can’t resist the temptation to correct speeling, punctuation and Capitalisation.

  3. says

    I don’t have a set comments policy, but I do moderate before publishing, and refuse to give a platform to people who are clearly out to be inflammatory. I had one such troll the other week when I was posting about racism in Germany. Some neo-nazi wrote filth in a comment and then harassed me via email for a week after I refused to publish it. The usual tactic worked: don’t react and they’ll go away.
    – ian in hamburg

  4. says

    Andy C: If you are fairly new to blogging, then every comment is an event. At some point, if you do things right, your comments will increase. And at any point, some twit will come along and just be nasty because they can. Having the comments policy in place does not prevent comments. It’s just easier to do now, when you are thinking about it, rather than later when you need something to point your finger at and say “See, this is why I won’t let you do that on my blog.” Prevention is sometimes the best education. :D

    Letters: You have already experienced the nasty, so you know it happens. You have your own policy on what you will or will not allow, but you have missed an important step: you are the only one who knows your policy. Why not put it down in writing so you are clear on what you will allow and not, so your readers know, and you have thought through the ambiguities that arise from what is acceptable or not. It doesn’t hurt. It can only help.

    Sarit: Corporate blogs should have a comments policy by default. BUT, the policy must also include whether or not the company can be held harmless for what the blogger says on the corporate blog, or anywhere on the web as a representative of the company (24/7), as well as the comments on the blog itself.

    It’s a more complicated issue as the blog must protect the rights of the blogger as well as the corporation. Some businesses have a wide open policy, as Microsoft proved with Scoble, but others want to control what the blogger says. It must be set in writing what the policies are on comments and content. And it should be reviewed by the corporate lawyers, or a specialist in web, online, copyright, and libel law.

    But the outline is the same. The same questions must be answered. They just should carry the weight of law behind them a bit more.

  5. Discussion says

    i have yet to implement a comment policy, the few people that have commented haven’t used any abusive language or anything.

  6. says

    Is this blog policy available (with minor edits) for anyone to use on their site? I don’t want to break copyright! :)

  7. says

    Thank you for adding this. I found you after looking for comments. Yes, a comment policy is a great addition to any serious blog and your post you seem to have covered all aspects of commenting.
    Thanks again.

  8. gta4 says

    It’s good to have a good comments policy because everywere on internet are spammers that want to profit from this…

  9. says

    @gta4:

    A Comments Policy doesn’t do much to protect your blog from spammers. That’s a separate issue. What it does do is protect your rights, and the rights of commenters and readers, by providing guidelines on what is acceptable to publish in the comments. It sets the ground rules so everyone knows the rules.

    The only profit is in quality content within the content.

  10. kof says

    Comments + their owner’s copyright is an interesting one.

    Personally, I think comments on a site become the site’s property.

  11. says

    Thanks for this. I haven’t bothered with a comment policy to date because my blog is small and insignificant however I received the first comment which, although supportive of my position, presented as quite a vicious attack on another blogger, which I felt both uncomfortable with personally and also I felt would affect the ‘virtual environment’ of my blog – so I was searching around for information about comment policies and what to put into one.
    This post has been extremely helpful so thank you!

  12. says

    I think having a comments policy really makes the readers feel like their being controlled even if their not. If someone is to implement a policy on ones blog i think it’s important to keep it short and simple. An example of this would be “Keep Comments Clean”. I don’t think anyone would want a policy to be overdone especially regarding comments.

  13. mark says

    My company has recently been the target of 4 individuals posting
    negative comments on a blog. The posts are not my clients. We are
    starting a new blog to fight back. My question is “Is it illegal to
    post email correspondence on my blog?

    • says

      It is illegal to defame or libel. It is also illegal to post private and copyrighted content without permission. This is probably best held in the legal courts rather than the court of public opinion as that can bite back harder.

  14. says

    This was very timely for as I just wrote a Comments Policy for my blog last night and then stumbled across this article this morning. The thing I added from this article is that I will be help harmless for comments and that comments belong to the commenter and are his responsibility.

    Thank you!

  15. RichelleMarie says

    Thank you for the great tips!
    Comment policies are probably the best way to prevent tasteless comments -whatever “tasteless” might mean to the owner of the blog. It seems best not to wait until you have actually received a comment that makes you feel uncomfortable before implementing a policy. If you are writing a blog as an ongoing project, you should begin with your comment policy. Chances are, over time, you will have to deal with comments that make you either wish you had a policy, or relieved that you implemented one long ago, even though you never though you would need one! The policy was one of the first things I wrote on my blog.

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  17. says

    I didn’t have a comment policy for over two years but finally implemented one last week after getting so many spam and comments that abuse commentluv, dofollow and keywordluv I felt I had to have one.

  18. says

    Thank you for adding up this. I establish you after look for explanation. Yes, a remark rule is a great adding to any grave blog and your placement you seem to have enclosed all aspect of comment.

  19. says

    I am looking for some advice on a comments disclaimer that will protect me (blog owner) from accusations of defamation / slander.

    Is a disclaimer enough to protect the blog / website owner?

    Currently I have:

    “Please read the comments disclaimer before posting a comment. Remember that you are responsible for any comments that you make regarding people or businesses.

    Webologist is not responsible for the content in comments other than those made by Webologist, or in blogs or other online content that may be linked to.”

    Then the “comments disclaimer” (a link) adds:

    “Blog Comment Guidelines

    We welcome your participation in blog comment threads. In order to keep the experience a positive one for all of our users, we ask that you follow the rules outlined below. By submitting comments to this blog, you are consenting to the following rules:

    1. You agree that you are fully responsible for the content that you post. You may not post content that is libelous, defamatory, obscene, abusive, that violates a third party’s right to privacy, that otherwise violates any applicable local, state, national or international law, or that is otherwise inappropriate. Furthermore, you may not post content that degrades others on the basis of gender, race, class, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sexual preference, disability or other classification. Language intended to intimidate or to incite violence will not be tolerated. In addition, by posting material on the blog comments, you represent that you have the legal right to reproduce, adapt, display, and distribute this material to others. Webolgist will not be held responsible for posted information that may infringe on a third party’s copyright, trademark, or other intellectual property rights.

    2. You understand and agree that moderators may modify the content of your comments. We may monitor user-generated content as it chooses and reserves the right to remove, edit or otherwise alter content that it deems inappropriate for any reason.

    3. You understand and agree that the blog is to be used only for non-commercial purposes. This blog prohibits any actions to solicit funds, promote commercial entities or otherwise engage in commercial activity through the blog comment function.”

    I was moderating all comments, but have been advised that moderating comments may actually make it worse for the blogger. The wordpress system of moderating the first may be a good idea, so long as you make sure that first comment is clean as a whistle – link included. Maybe not link in the first comment at all, as a person could redirect a link to a defamatory page without your knowledge, and in a court of law just linking to a page that is defamatory could be bad for you.

    Ideally looking for the most water tight system possible to protect myself.

    Another question – if a solicitor / your web host wanted the details (email, IP) of a commenter, would you give it over?

  20. says

    Excellent guide on comment policy. Well, yes it’s good to have a comment policy and to make the guidelines clear for the commenters. All the listed guidelines are very clear.

  21. Ganesh says

    i have a question !!

    I made a comment about an org named xyz in a blog site. As the blogger found my comment to be bit offensive he moderated and deleted the comment. (which am ok with). I never insisted that my comment is displayed.

    however the blogger contacted xyz offline and passed on my comments. Is the blogger right in what he did.

Trackbacks

  1. […] She realized that she wouldn’t want the blogger to respond angrily or defensively to the comments, a reflection of her inherent personality. She wanted long term, supportive readers – a community. She wanted to provide a place where they could openly respond without criticism from her, though a few slaps about the hands would keep things under control and, indeed, make it a safe place to play with some guidelines and boundaries in place. She also realized it was time to get a comments policy in place. […]

  2. […] Commenting policies contain rules of engagement for discussion A Comments Policy is a statement defining your policy regarding comments on your blog. It is also a “responsibility statement”. It informs the reader of what you will allow on your blog, what you will not allow, and what they are allowed to do. It establishes publicly the responsibilities of each party involved. — Lorelle VanFossen in a guide to creating a blog comments policy […]

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