How to comment online (without being a jerk)

Douglas Bolton has written a really interesting account of his experience doing comment moderation at The Times. Some of his experience sounds very similar to mine when I used to moderate comments on Lib Dem Voice especially people’s love of a conspiracy theory to explain why their comment didn’t appear:

If your comment still doesn’t appear an hour after you posted it, it’s because you broke the rules, not because the moderators want to silence you or because I’m a member of the left-wing London media elite (although I hope to be one day)…

I think most commeneters would be surprised to hear there’s actually a human moderator reading all the comments. The process can be automated to an extent, but to ensure the community’s managed properly, you really need a person sat at a desk.

But I’m not your enemy. I spend my time trying to make sure that you can go the comments section and have decent debates with people without getting insulted or derailed or spammed.

I put my jeans on one leg at a time. I work because I need money to pay rent and buy food and beer. My bus is sometimes late.

So please, when I give you a warning because you’ve libelled someone with your comment, relax for a minute and think of me sitting in a lonely office half way through a nightshift and a bit sweaty from my fifth cup of coffee, before you send me a furious email in which you call me a “jumped-up little c***.” Cheers.

Though I think he under-estimates the importance of the Times paywall (and linked to that lack of anonymity) on the tone of comments:

Fortunately, you guys are alright, really. I don’t know if it’s something to do with the fact that The Times is a paywalled site, but by and large, 95% of you are respectful, rule-abiding, and most importantly, interesting in what you comment.

One thing did surprise me however:

When I started (at 11PM on a Sunday night, eesh), I presumed the worst comments by far would be about football. I thought I’d have to be like an internet riot cop, clobbering hooligans with a truncheon while dodging flares and molotovs.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. The sports comments are always polite, interesting and friendly. More than any other section, commenters know each other, and chat with each other like they’re talking about last week’s conversation at the pub.

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