Today, we continue our series on Blogging Law and Etiquette. We have reviewed "Fair Use" laws, and what is permissible to copy, with and without attribution. Yesterday, we shared suggestions from expert bloggers on how to remain in the good graces of the blogging community. Another source of potential legal trouble, and conflict with others online is the reader comment sections of our blogs and websites. Remember, the site owner is responsible for the site's content, including the comment sections. Following are some ways to minimize the problems that can occur.
Decide whether you want or need reader comments.
Comments are a great way to develop interaction with readers, but if you honestly do not have the time to moderate the comments and respond to your readers, you may want to consider closing the comments altogether.
Decide who can comment.
Your website or blogging software should allow you to adjust the security settings to determine who is allowed to leave comments on your blog, and which comments must first be approved by an administrator before being displayed publicly. If your blog content is highly controversial, or if you have been experiencing a problem with "troublemakers," you may want to have an administrator approve all comments before posting. If you haven't had any serious trouble, but you want to prevent spam, and monitor "new" commenters, you might select the option which requires a comment to have one approved comment prior to allowing the remainder of their comments to be posted without moderation.
Decide what is acceptable and unacceptable in your comment section, and make this clear to your readers.
If you have a very active comment section, you might consider having a "comment policy," posted on your site, spelling out clearly what type of comments are encouraged, and which ones are not allowed. Perhaps you will have rules about profanity, or personal attacks. I strongly suggest you proactively make it clear to your readers that you reserve the right to edit or delete any comment.
Include a disclaimer.
If you have a comment policy, you may also consider having a comment disclaimer which basically makes it clear that the comments allowed to remain on your site do not necessarily reflect your views.
Jennifer Pointer (e-mail) is a trainer and tech writer in Tulsa, OK. She promotes a simple, a low-tech approach to effective online profile management, search engine optimization and social networking. Her weakness is the mocha frappuccino.