December 31, 2005

Handling abuse

Further to my last entry about abusive comments, we've seen some blog entries and received some email from people who are, understandably, upset to have received such unpleasant comments. Here's a summary of the suggestions and advice we've been sending out:-

  1. Do you really want comments from strangers? When you write an entry which is world viewable then by default anyone in the world can also comment on the entry. But if you're fairly sure that people who might want to comment on your blog are also students or staff at Warwick, then you can change the "Who can comment on this entry?" dropdown list to be "Staff/students" and then anonymous comments won't be possible on that entry.

  2. But I have friends and family outside Warwick who I want to be able to comment; what about them? A useful way to allow this is to change your anti-spam question from something which anyone can guess ("What colour is an orange?" by default) to something which people will only know the answer to if you tell them. For example, change the question to "What is my commenting password?" and change the answer to "elephant", and tell your friends and family what the password is. Then they'll be able to comment, but nobody else will.

  3. I want comments from strangers, but what do I do if I receive abuse? This is tricky. The university can't do anything to help you in this situation because we can't reliably prove the identity of the commenter, and in many cases we would have no jurisdiction over them anyway. In the new year, we'll add a feature allowing blog owners to ban an IP address (the address of a specific computer) from commenting on their blog, and this may help in some cases. But the bottom line is, if you allow strangers to comment on your blog, there's a risk that some of them will be obnoxious. You should think carefully about whether you're comfortable with that.

One other thing: if you can, please restrain yourself from replying to abusive comments. People who post abusive comments more than anything want a reply; it doesn't matter to them what kind of reply it is. And while you may be relaxed about or even enjoy trading insults with commenters, the message you're sending to them is Warwick Blogs is a place where I can get a reply. And what happens then is that they keep coming back, not just to your blog, but to other peoples' blogs, and those other people may not be as relaxed about it as you were. As soon as we deleted all the recent abusive comments, and removed new ones as soon as they appeared, the commenting stopped; there was no longer any reason for the abuser to continue. So the most community-minded thing you can do with abuse is to delete it quickly, and not respond to it.

Thanks, and happy new year to all.


- One comment Not publicly viewable

  1. Robert O'Toole

    Two more suggestions:

    1. if you want people to respond to your entry in a particular way, or to comment on a specific aspect of it, state clearly at the end of your entry, or if appropriate, end with a question – make it clear that you are in control;
    2. if you want external users (beyond the university) to be able to respond, but you don't want to manage an open discussion on your entry, then end your entry with an invitation to contact you (a link to the "contact me" page).

    03 Jan 2006, 20:01


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