Friday, June 4, 2010

Hey Anonymous, let's talk -- school district blog comments

When writing blogs, one of the many considerations to make is on commenting. Whether or not you are going allow anonymous commenting, moderate comments or have open commenting, you should carefully think about the ramifications. (Photo credit: Matt Westervelt)

I came across a great post from Drew McLellan on endorsing a call to action for eliminating anonymous commenting - "Anonymous comments aren't about the conversation at all"

He brings up some good points:
"I don't care if you're talking about a traditional newspaper's website or a blog -- when you allow anonymous commenting, you disrespect the topic, the conversation and the readers.

These are not conversations -- they are verbal vomit.

It's perfectly logical that the anonymity invites people to behave in ways they wouldn't if they had to identify themselves.  And it swings to both ends of the spectrum.  On the one hand -- they're vicious in their personal attacks, cruel comments and judgments.  On the flip side, they can completely bypass the topic all together in an attempt to get some link love/attention for their product or service."
I agree, sort of

I have seen this verbal spewing by anonymous idiots and trolls on blogs, newspapers and broadcast news station pages. I hate that media sites allow for anonymous commenting as if to wash their hands of any responsibility for what the public has to say. That said,  I think there is actually a worthwhile place for allowing anonymous commenting -- on a school district's blog.

I've found in three years of blogging for the school district that some comments do in fact fall into the what-were-they-thinking!? category. Thankfully, most of the comments that have come in anonymously are relevant, conversational in nature and would have been great to have with a name attached so that we could have responded via further comments or even a separate post. It is difficult to address concerns or topics when you don't know who is asking the questions or leaving their nuggets of wisdom.

Like Drew, McLellan, I highly recommend having a blogging policy. (Here's my district's blog commenting policy if you'd like a sample.)

I can understand that there are times when a school district's blog readers may feel like they'd rather not want their name tied to a comment. Particularly if they feel like not having their name tied to some controversial topics and/or opinions. Why is this ok? Because, I also recommend moderating school district blog comments.

(Pause as gasps of horror are heard across the social media landscape from purists.)

Yes, moderating comments on school district blogs is a good idea. From our policy:
"All posting of comments on this blog are at the discretion of the editors. The intent of this policy is not to keep any negative or critical information from being posted, but to protect the privacy and rights of Mansfield ISD staff and students. To clarify, we will not post comments that reference specific employees or students. It is our policy to review all comments before publishing, partly to reduce the possibility of spam comments and partly to ensure comments are in line with our blog commenting guidelines..."

If readers want to bash a school district for decisions, policies, etc. it can be done so constructively. Readers comments are important and you should value the constructive criticism along with the conversation and praise. A district blog is a great community communication tool, it just takes some work.

What do you think? Should anonymous commenting be allowed? The comments are yours.