Comments and the flaming dilemma

While we like to see new readers discovering our blogs and joining the discussion, a good “flaming” like the one Gideon Rachman’s blog received this week raises again the vexed issue of comment moderation. Some of the less offensive comments on his musings about the possibility of a world government include:

You’re an IDIOT!

are you on drugs?…

and my personal favourite,

RETARTED

So what is the FT’s approach to comments on articles from readers? Martin Wolf’s Economists’ Forum, where discussion is largely the preserve of leading economists, and and FT Alphaville’s Long Room, which requires membership, are at one end of the spectrum;  on other blogs and forums, we don’t set the bar quite so high. But we do expect civility and relevance. The aim is not to be elitist, but to host discussion that fits the FT’s journalism, contains content worth reading, and differentiates us from the many, many other websites where participants can to scrap all they like.

Jason Kottke wrote an interesting piece about the ‘broken windows’ theory –  that a chaotic environment leads to a higher rate of deviant behaviour.  “Messageboard software is routinely ugly; does that contribute to the often uncivil tone found on web forums?” he asks. Hmmm. Our elegant new fonts didn’t help too much with the ‘world government’ post, but generally the debate on ft.com blogs is friendly and informed.

Interestingly,  a few regular commenters on Gideon’s blog suggested we raise the bar for commenting, and pointed out that forums that get hijacked by endless flame wars can ‘simply die‘.

When the flaming begins in earnest, however, it’s sometimes best just to close down the thread, which is what we did on this occasion (and again, and again).

Of course, we’re not the only website to wrestle with these questions. Almost every site that hosts user-generated content will have many fraught behind-the-scenes discussions about whether to have a moderation policy, what it consists of, and how to apply it to the many ‘borderline’ comments that inevitably appear.

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