5 Must-Haves of an Effective Comment Policy

By Michael Georgiou

Politics and social can make one heady cocktail.

Politics are a hotbed of controversy. People are wedded to their beliefs and quick to go on a defensive or an offensive. On the other hand, social media (or the internet in general, for that matter) often brings out the worst in people. When you combine the divisive and often incendiary nature of political beliefs with a platform where views spread fast and wide, you have a volatile situation to monitor.

If you are running for public office, or if your organization is affiliated with any kind of issue that attracts controversy, you should expect heated comments from all directions. These discussions can devolve into insults pretty quickly. As the campaigning for the 2016 US presidential elections has demonstrated, people have used social media to hurl abuses at the contestants and each other. Trolls abound, racist and sexist comments are everywhere, and nastiness can quickly hit the fan, leading civilized and restrained users to abandon your social media page. And that is the last thing you’d want.

It helps to instead host quality conversations on a social media page. Comments are good for social media optimization, and getting good discussions going will bring greater exposure to your organization or campaign.

In addition, having a social media comment policy will help keep matters civil. The following are the must-haves for a robust comment policy that allows genuine users to post their thoughts freely while doing away with sentiments, views, and posts that do nothing except vitiate the atmosphere.

1. No Spam or Promotional Posts

This one is obvious but worth stating. Your social media page has a purpose, and it’s definitely not to serve as a medium for the promotion of another’s business or blog.

Don’t be fooled by well thought-out arguments that only end with a link to something seemingly posted in the interest of the discussion that in fact leads to the poster’s website or a website they are affiliated with. Anything that takes traffic away from your social media page and toward competitors or other posters’ websites should not be left there. (News sources or articles from authoritative websites cited to bolster a point are a different matter.)

Spam links do not just annoy other users but also reflect badly on your social page and can affect engagement. Be very clear that no promotional links will be entertained, and remove fake accounts that use your social page to promote their ideas.

2. No Personal Insults

It’s a common practice for people to attack the user instead of their views. Women are often attacked for their opinions in heated political debates, called names (by men as well as women), and in extreme cases even threatened with rape. A Pew study from 2014 had found that almost half the women on Twitter had experienced abuse or sexual harassment online. Ad hominem attacks, or personal insults, should be a no-go.

Some attacks are cleverly disguised, though. Perhaps no obviously foul language is used, but the message is still derogatory. Expert trolls can even make their point without the one being attacked realizing it, especially if they are from a different cultural background and if English isn’t their first language.

A moderator needs to be sharp, unbiased and quick to spot these and all kinds of insults. Depending on the severity of the abuse, you might want to ban the perpetrator the first time this occurs.

3. No Hate Comments

Your social media page is not the place for hate speech. Period. It is one thing to have a debate on sensitive topics, such as immigration, and quite another to use that as an excuse to post pure hate comments. These are easy to spot and should be quickly addressed and removed.

4. No Propaganda Posts

Posts with overt or covert agendas should be flagged quickly. This is easier said than done. Sometimes it takes quite a while to spot someone’s agenda, and it may be difficult to make a case against it. There is nothing wrong with propaganda per se; you’ll have to be the judge of what is acceptable or not in these cases. Usually, though, propaganda simply gets in the way of honest discussion.

5. No Proselytization

Unfortunately, religion and politics tend to get mixed up a lot. The injection of religion into political debates can lead to a hot mess in no time. You could consider a “no religious comments” policy, but if that does not appeal to you, or if you find that restrictive, introduce conditions such as no preaching or proselytizing. Also, attacks against any religion or religious beliefs should not be condoned.

In Case of Policy Violation

In addition to delineating what is not acceptable, a comment policy should also clearly state the consequences of violating the rules and community guidelines.

The policy has to be implemented in an unbiased and consistent manner. This is tricky in unexpected ways, since we all carry subtle biases that we may not even be aware of. That makes the job of a moderator or a site owner even more challenging. You need to step out of your own framework, and regardless of whether you agree with a poster or not, view all the comments objectively and in the light of the policy, regardless of the posters’ gender, ethnicity, nationality, or political affiliations.

Violations should be addressed ASAP. Some suggestions:

  • Encourage participants to report offensive comments made at themselves or others.
  • For minor offences, give the poster a warning.
  • For extremely abusive, hateful, sexist, or racist comments, delete the post and hand over a temporary ban.
  • For repeat offenders, a permanent ban.
  • For past offenders who sign up with new usernames post-permanent ban, you might want to consider an IP address ban.

The Guardian does a good job of moderating comments on their Facebook page. They’re able to strike a balance between allowing users to express themselves (even when the views are controversial and unlikely to be popular) and not letting that freedom devolve into downright abuse. As a result, one comes across quality arguments on their social page as well as on their website. It is especially admirable considering they have a global audience.

Twitter itself has a proactive policy in place to tackle abuse — something we could all learn from. As the social network moves towards being a news app, it has become even more crucial for it to accommodate freedom of expression while preventing abuse.

The Risks of a Lax Comment Policy

The success of a comment policy is made possible by level-headed and well-informed moderators. For blogs that get a lot of hits and social media pages that see great participation from the community, put in place a team of moderators. A lone moderator may be fine on some days, but it is better to have a team (even a small one) so that they can consult with each other when in doubt. Also, having more than one moderator brings a variety of perspectives to the team, which can only be a good thing.

If you do not have the staff for it, then you must lead the way. Your own conduct needs to be exemplary, and you should act swiftly to remove comments deemed offensive as per the policy, or block users, as the case might be.

It’s dangerous to let a social media page go unmoderated, especially when politics are being discussed. It will reflect badly on your image and continue to haunt your reputation, considering Google will index those pages. In a worst-case scenario, laxity in action could be taken as an indication that you condone such posts.

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Originally published at www.convinceandconvert.com.

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