The Trouble with Blog Comments

Nov 24, 2011
Vote on Hacker News

I began blogging on New Years eve 2009 (sad, but true). That was almost 2 years ago.

Behold the blog.

Blogs are a very different media from other forms of press. You can incorporate links, photo, video and publish instantly for the world to see. But if there is one thing I like about blogging, it’s the dialogue that it creates; blogs are in most cases interactive. As a blogger, you are not just blindly stating your opinion, but you can receive instant feedback in the form of Retweets, Facebook likes – and obviously, comments.

That’s gross, get it off my site.

As many of you know, I had issues on my personal blog with inappropriate comments. Prior to that incident, I had never manually approved comments that went on my blog. I assumed that people who commented would have reasonable things to say that would somehow add to the discussion – even if I didn’t agree with their opinion. But as a result of that incident, I was forced to moderate comments on my site.

My policy regarding blog comments.

With TechCrunch, I was exposed to all kinds of comments from readers. TechCrunch readers are a bit of a special breed and are not generally known for their kindness (but damn are they smart!). I admit that sometimes the comments were harsh and hypercritical. But I never ever felt the need to remove any comments from the site. My general policy is that I will only remove spam or mature content – otherwise, people are free to say what they like (remember that whole freedom of speech thing?).

“Please remove that comment from your site.”

During the time that I ran TechCrunch France, I was asked by only one company to remove comments on an article I wrote concerning their product. ONE. Obviously I will not publish the company’s name to protect their privacy – but I did find it odd that they would rather I remove comments rather than responding to them directly in a professional and appropriate manner. They explained to me that they felt that the comments came from a competitor, as they were published under an anonymous/unrecognizable name and what they felt was “defamatory.” Now, I didn’t necessarily agree on the defamation bit – but even if that is the case, I find that it is generally not a good practice to silence people who want to comment on a blog. Even if it’s a sneaky competitor.

There’s being rude. And being RUDE.

I assume that anyone who has been following the recent ordeal with Smartdate has also been following some of the rather obnoxious comments that have been made as well – on this blog and on other sites as well. I admit that it has been incredibly good for site stats but at the same time, I can’t imagine that public rudeness (even on Rude Baguette) really gets anyone very far.

Oh, and then there’s the French law.

It’s been brought to my attention before that the defamation laws in France are incredibly strict – perhaps more strict that in other European countries. So when I was asked to remove comments on the recent Smartdate articles published on this site because it was potentially defamatory, I had to dig into the legal details even though I usually prefer to refrain from silencing people. Turns out that Loic le Meur has actually published a little blurb on defamation in the French legal system (in 2004), including a summary of defamation in the French law (including on the web and on public forums, for which the person commenting is responsible though in some cases the publication is too). Naturally the law states that bloggers are legally responsible for any incorrect/defamatory statements they have written – which, as a blogger, has always been my policy to avoid and to immediately correct once it is brought to my attention. To my knowledge, nothing that I wrote about Smartdate overstepped my boundary as a journalist (though I am still waiting to hear from Fabrice Le Parc (since yesterday) as to whether any information that I personally published needs to be corrected).

Removing comments.

Several people have voiced their opinion regarding the comments that have appeared on the original post. Our comments policy and system is no different than that of TechCrunch France. People can post anonymously and can edit/delete their own comments – not those of others. That being said, I would like to respect the people that have personally reached out to me and asked me to remove their names or specific comments that they find harmful. I did receive requests yesterday as well – but as those same people making the request continued to post comments, I preferred not to interfere until it was clear which specific content they were not OK with. So if you are wondering why certain comments are no longer on this site, it is because someone has requested a specific change that I found justified.

Threatening the blogger.

Despite my efforts to approach this issue professionally and objectively, I was alarmed to receive legal threats from Fabrice Le Parc. Regardless of what becomes of the threat, I don’t think it ever does anyone much good to threaten a blogger.

PS/ I have removed comments from this post for a reason. To those who cannot control their public banter, thanks for ruining it for everyone.