One of the biggest worries for a lot of our clients is that people will say nasty things about them online, so they don’t want to allow comments on their blog or have a Facebook page for fear of negative feedback appearing in the comments.

Like most fears around new technology, this is mostly unfounded and I believe it’s driven by a media desperate for headlines to sell newspapers and get you to watch “current affairs” tabloid TV.

It’s 2011 and let’s face it, in this age of social media, it’s expected that you or your organisation will have some way for people to give you public feedback, either by

  • posting comments on your blog articles
  • commenting on your Facebook page
  • commenting on your LinkedIn updates
  • mentioning you on Twitter

Negative, defamatory, or misguided comments on your blog, Facebook page, or LinkedIn profile are actually really easy to handle if things go pear-shaped. You get notified by email every time someone posts a comments and you can just delete them if you don’t like them.

Comment spam is another well-known problem but it’s also easily solved. Just like email spam, comment spam is when you get comments on your blog trying to advertise weight-loss drugs or porn. WordPress has an excellent free plugin called Akismet that filters comments automatically and it’s amazingly accurate. I just checked the Akismet website and it has detected 38 million spam comments on WordPress sites around the world today alone!

Twitter is a different story. There are no actual ‘comments’ and there’s nothing you can do about other people’s tweets. I’ve seen a few ‘fights’ escalate on Twitter and I think the best thing you can do is correct the facts if they are factually wrong, and otherwise just ignore your adversary. Twitter updates have such a blindingly short shelf-life that the damage a tweet can do is incredibly small (unless it goes viral – then you definitely shouldn’t rise to the bait. People like nothing more than drawing attention to a catfight).

Our usual policy for blog comments is to let anybody comment. If they abuse the privilege, then we can blacklist them by name, email address, and IP address. There are also profanity filters so you can automatically block comments with naughty words.

There are some extreme examples where it gets a bit weird, especially around third-party defamation (where you publish defamatory content that someone else has written). In New Zealand, the publisher of defamatory material is liable. So if someone posts a defamatory comment on a blog, it’s the blogger that is at risk of getting taken to court, not the commenter (weird, I know).

If you think a comment that someone has placed on your website is defamatory, just take it down and you should be OK.

If you get so many comments every day that you really don’t know if there’s defamatory stuff in the comments and you haven’t got time to go through them all anyway, then you should be OK too, because it’s obvious that you’re not exercising editorial control over the comments.

Hopefully that’s made things a bit clearer around reducing the risks of allowing people to comment on your blog or social network pages.

And if you’re worried about the legal stuff, this is a really good article about avoiding defamation for third party web content.