I have a number of blogger friends who express exasperation with their commenters. Usually they’re targets for extremely crude and especially sexist comments. My attitude is pretty much that if people criticize me, that’s usually to the good, and if someone’s an asshole, big deal, as it’s the small cost of my extremely privileged professional-blogger lifestyle. I, of course, don’t have to deal with sexist or racist commenters.
A certain friend of mine, though, had a remark about interacting with her commenters that I needed to pass on. This came in the context of an informal discussion on a listserv about uncivil criticism.
Managing comments is a lot like COIN. You have to patrol continually and forge alliances with the local population.
Being part of the conversation makes a big difference. Even anonymously and online, people are less likely to say horrible things to your "face" than they are when they think they are lobbing insults at a distant observer. Don’t engage with the trolls, but do engage with the intelligent, civil commenters. They’ll have your back.
This kind of hands-on approach may not be practical for huge blogs or major news sites, and not everyone wants to be bothered. My feeling is that once your operation gets that big, you’ve got to decide whether you want to invest in active moderation or close the comments entirely. Benign neglect is not an option.
She had me at the COIN reference, but anyway: right on. You guys are great out there, by the way. I’m just saying.