Why I Moderate

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Every once in a while I’m asked why I moderate comments, rather than let the conversation go wherever it needs to go.

There’s a great divide about this in the blogosphere. Some folks believe you should never restrict the conversation. Others believe the “Your comment is awaiting moderation” message is such a turn-off that it kills the conversation.

I’ve found the exact opposite to be true. Here’s why…

When I publish a post, it’s often written in a way that’s intended to be a conversation starter. You are free to disagree with me or anyone else in our community all you like, we’ve had some amazing conversations around strong positions.

BUT I don’t tolerate speech that is overtly mean, hate-based, non-constructive or purely commercial.

My house, my rules.

I moderate to keep that overriding ethos intact. And I want people to know that. I want anyone visiting to know that you can take a strong position, but that you cannot attack or spew hatred. And I want others to know that this blog is a place where you can get real, you can ask uncomfortable questions or express opinions or ideas that might make you feel a bit nervous without being blasted.

I moderate because it’s important for you to know that this blog is a safe place to be.

And, to me, the value of that so far outweighs the discomfort you might feel awaiting moderation when you post your first comment.

FYI – I don’t put every comment in moderation. I monitor conversations, but comments only get cued for approval the very first time you comment. After that, you go live in real-time, but I’m still watching. And if something offensive slips through the cracks, I’ll take it down.

I like to think this policy is one of the many reasons the comment section here has become such a valued place of ideation and conversation, while so many other blogs are shutting their comments down because they’re filled with nastiness and spam.

Curious what you think…


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51 responses

51 responses to “Why I Moderate”

  1. I have noticed the polar divide on this topic as well. I do not moderate comments on my blog right now, but I also consider myself in an “audience building” mode. I don’t want to do anything to discourage present and potential future conversations, so for me I want to have my space be as accessible as possible. But spam comments or comments that would not be productive I have no problem deleting (as you said- my house, my rules).

    When I visit new blogs for the first time, with publishers unknown to me, I sigh when I comment and then get the “comments are moderated” message. I know that the likelihood of me coming back again has greatly diminished because I have no idea how often they check the comments and when I’d have the chance to continue the discussion. I don’t think this is something that well established blogs need to be concerned with though because they know readers are going to come back time and time again.

    I don’t think there is necessarily a right/wrong answer to this one. It’s just what makes sense for you and your readers.

  2. My site just turned 3 this last week, and I have been moderating since Day 1. Seventeen-thousand-plus comments later, it has proven a great tool for all the reasons you say, and also for this:

    It gives me the chance to welcome first-time commenters personally. I think that has really set the tone, and made it feel like a focused conversation and not a free-for-all.

    By the way, I don’t allow trackbacks or pings at all. Just in-person people who want to talk about the topic at hand, or suggest another relevant one, or just say hello.

  3. Linsey Knerl says:

    Very interesting discussion. I have to admit that if it’s the first time I visit a blog, the “awaiting moderation” message may turn me off, but if I then subscribe for followup comments via email, I get sucked back into the conversation — no hard feelings.

    For blogs that don’t offer this option, or that I don’t feel a personal connection to, they may disappear off my radar forever after that first comment. On some level, I need the instant gratification of seeing my voice onscreen so that the conversation feels real-time.

    Luckily, most people who moderate (like you) offer the “notify of follow-up comments” box to check. This lets me know (at least on some level), that I can come back into the conversation at any time — regardless of your moderation methods.

    • Ari Herzog says:

      Intriguing how people are writing comments but not discussing anything. There are no threaded conversations here (yet), as people seem not to reply to each other but want to get something off their chests.

      Over on my blog (click my name to read it), I moderate the first comment by any new person and subsequent comments are automatically posted. I tried a number of tactics in the past and this works best for me and my community.

  4. Makes sense. I take a different tack – everything is approved by default, but we keep a careful watch, and will remove a comment pretty fast if necessary. Never really happens, though.

    But bottom line, you’re right – your house, your rules. 🙂

  5. Hiro Boga says:

    Jonathan, one of the reasons I continue to visit your blog and read not only your thoughtful posts, but also the comments here, is because you’ve established such a strong, clear culture of freedom and respect, truth and kindness.

    Boundaries create a container for the qualities you want in your blog: clarity, truth, and safety exist here because you have strong boundaries around what you will and will not tolerate.

    And it’s those qualities that keep me engaged in the rich and wonderful conversations here.

    Moderating comments the way you do is mindful leadership in action. Hooray for policies that act as guardians and custodians of both freedom and sovereignty!

  6. misty says:

    I totally agree with you. I have comments moderated on both my business and personal blogs. I want professionalism and excellence to be in all I do! If this turns people away, I don’t feel I need them anyway.

  7. Irene Ross says:

    I have to agree with one of the postings–one of the BIG reasons I visit your blog is because of the air of mutual respect (not to mention the great information and thought-provoking questions.) I actually appreciate being moderated; what REALLY turns me off when I visit a blog to see spammy, commercial or inappropriate comments.

  8. Amy says:

    Jonathan,
    I appreciate what you share here about your philosophy around comment moderation. What initially hit me was the parallel between this approach and establishing “norms” of participation during professional development workshops and trainings back when I was an educational trainer. This was always the first item on the agenda in order to establish and communicate that for the duration of the training participants could count on a safe and respectful environment to remain open and integrate their learning to the fullest degree. I saw time and again how pivotal this component was in creating a productive learning environment as well as building a true feeling of trusted community among the participants. I had not connected this practice directly to comment moderation in this aligned way before today. Thank you for providing this invigorating food for thought!

  9. Mike Cassidy says:

    Jonathan,

    “My house, my rules.” That says it all. You are a strategic writer and post nothing that is not part of your plan which explains the breadth and depth of your readership and business growth.

    The hijacking of posts can derail a discussion or the end-goal and I admire your ability to practice moderation. Like Christy my readership is in growth mode (my wife calls it stealth mode) so I have to presently stay on the other side of the great moderation divide.

    It’s your house and there is no HOA so rock on – many of us are watching and learning.

  10. Ellen Berg says:

    Boundaries are not the enemy of creativity and free expression. I actively avoid blogs and forums where the culture includes outright bashing and rude behavior. People seem to treat the internet like the new Wild West, and because they’re anonymous, they write things they would never say in person.

    I think bloggers have the responsibility to moderate in support of *responsible* speech. Heated disagreement of ideas is fantastic, but once it shifts to attacks on others or just plain rudeness, I say click that delete button.

    • Karen says:

      Hey Ellen,
      I’m with you. I dislike the sites that let rude, hurtful comments through! I usually can’t get past the first few comments when that happens.

      It’s interesting to see someone else with the same opinion – the Wild West! Some sites are very hurtful and you’re right – the anonymous aspect seems to give people the comfort to say anything they want!

  11. I had to start moderating comments on my blog a short while back. I don’t have many followers but I had a creepy post that made me extremely uncomfortable. I’m all about trying to be positive and lifting people up.

    P.S. I have to say it’s hard for me to believe you used to be an attorney …. with your kindness, compassion, tolerance and love. I’m so happy to have you on my blog roll. I learn something new from you every post you make!

  12. Cory says:

    Thank you, Jonathan, for fiercely maintaining civil discourse in your “frontier town”. People laud the free, Wild West energy of the blogosphere/Internet — and so do I. But the Wild West also had lynch mobs, savage exploiters of the original inhabitants, and great Robber Barons who found its vast resources irresistible. I prefer to ride my open range with skillful guides, conscious companions, and just lawmen!

    • Dom says:

      Nicely put, Cory.

      There are so many ‘comment’ sections on the internet that descend into petty bickering (just look at the YouTube comments!), it’s refreshing to see well-considered and thought-provoking comments here.

  13. I’ve got no problem with moderated comments. Clear boundaries tend to foster better conversations and healthy relationships. Besides, the spammers are getting much more sophisticated in the way they can make a comment look authentic.

    One note, I have the same setting on my own blog that only moderates the first comment. But sometimes a subsequent comment will sometimes be sent to moderation anyway. Not sure why that happens and I can’t figure out why. Seems to be random. Anyway, I hope my readers won’t be offended if it happens once in a while.

  14. The more followers or regular visitors you have, the more you’re obligated to police and moderate all comments. Failing to do so makes a captive audience for potentially offensive posts out of your followers.

    Good job having made the wisest, though not necessarily the most popular choice. Warm regards from Los Angeles,

    @caddguru

  15. torah says:

    love it! thanks, jonathan. exactly my position–on all counts–on moderating comments.

  16. Another pro-moderation vote. Online conversations can go downhill very quickly if no one is minding the store. I wasn’t aware that anyone gets turned off by the “Awaiting moderation” notice…it seems like the slight delay in gratification is well worth the higher quality of conversation created by moderation.

  17. Joan Combs Durso says:

    Our current culture has seemingly forgotten the virtue of civility in public discourse. A little moderation can be a very good thing. Thanks for making this a welcoming place to lurk!

  18. Dea says:

    Hi Jonathan,
    I love your posts, thanks to folks like you, Seth Godin and many others I feel connected to current thinking and innovation eventhough I live on small island in the mediterrenean.
    I am glad that you monitor, I’ve been cyberbullied and hurt in the past and I think moderation makes folks feel safe.
    And one of the things I appreciate most about this blog’s comment area is the zero tolerance for commercial comments. They are spammish and annoy me. Keep writing 🙂 Dea in Sicily.

  19. Ricky Ferdon says:

    I agree, Jonathan. While some may argue that the internet is a bastion of freedom of speech, when folks truly wish to enter into conversation regarding a post of yours, I don’t think that rattling another’s nerves or assaulting their intellect serves any purpose whatsoever. Peace and Love!

  20. Sue says:

    Hi Jonathan,

    I’m with you 100% on this one. I also moderate comments (the first time) on my blog, too. I was reading an article yesterday that stated some blogs are moving to a system of insisting that people sign into the site with their real identity, so there are no anonymous comments allowed. My sense is that people who are genuinely interested in contributing to a discussion in a respectful manner have no problems be open about their identity. (And if I could just figure out why my computer eats comments when I include the url to my blog in the space provided and won’t show my gravatar, I’d be happy to show with a face to a name on my comments.)

    Unfortunately the “privilege” of remaining anonymous tends to bring out the worst in some people when they know they can get away with nasty behavior and not be held accountable for it. Fortunately, those individuals don’t turn up on my site or any of the wonderful blogs I regularly read. Thanks for taking the time to comment and enforcing the “house rules”; it contributes to a more thoughtful and caring community.

  21. Dana Cooper says:

    I moderate as a courtesy to my readers. I check that the comments are “okay” for my readers. Why subject myself or my readers to areas NOT related to my blog topic or possibly offensive links?

  22. Sue says:

    Oops sorry, that should have been thanks for taking the time to moderate comments and enforce the “house rules” on your site.

  23. The red velvet rope that is comment moderation is the same velvet rope that lets me know I am in a civilized setting here. You have earned my trust and kept it. It’s the difference between speaking up at a polarized town hall meeting and speaking up at a friendly café.

  24. I also agree and like the fact that you take the stand of “my house, my rules”. It’s your business, not anyone else’s and anyone who wants to seriously be a part of it needs to respect you and how things work. It’s really no different than a brick and mortar store posting a sign that says you can’t touch the merchandise or that you must pick up your order in a timely fashion etc. Most people also don’t appreciate littering in the physical biz world, so why would they expect tolerating it virtually (as in spam that just junks up the place)?

    As Misty said above, if someone so thoroughly disagrees with your chosen way to run your business, how proactive, helpful will they be to you, or anyone else? I didn’t realize until now that it’s such a huge debate. That’s the part that doesn’t make sense to me.

  25. The energy of a moderated site is different than the energy of an unmoderated site. You’re holding a space for people. That’s important.

    I like coming here, knowing that I’m going to see real, compelling, intelligent conversation.

    We don’t just let anybody into our houses. Why would we not moderate?

  26. Your blog, your house. And I tend to agree, within reason. Comments that are just disagreeing with you shouldn’t be moderated, but people (especially the ones on YouTube…) can take commenting way too far. Hidden behind their screen, they forget that those they are commenting about and discussing with are real people with values, viewpoints, opinions, feelings, etc. Moderating prevents those extreme buttholes from ruining a healthy dialogue.

  27. Zane Safrit says:

    You had me at “my house; my rules”.

    Your posts are conversation starters. Or put it another way, they’re invitations to your house, your party, where you’re the host.

    That’s the beauty of social media, isn’t it? We build our house with our content and rules and they serve as our invitations.

    The 2nd part, you didn’t state, but Margaret Roach did very well is…look at the results. Does it work for your audience, for your guests, for the invitees? It does. So…

  28. rex says:

    I think people need to learn a little patience. ‘Waiting’ for moderation is good for you.
    Plus, it gives you a good reason to come back or subscibe.

    Thanks for sharing your ‘whys’. I think we learn the most from that.

  29. I’m also in total agreement of moderating comments. It maintains the focus of the post (YOUR POST!) and assures a sense of civility. Non-moderated posts often lead to unwarranted and totally unfounded gobblely-gook that take away from the original message. In fact, I’ve “un-followed” several merely because the author was (1) too lazy to delete the rants and ravings of (apparent) madmen who infiltrated the post; or (2) just plain intimidated by the thought of becoming unpopular for moderating the post in the first place. I appreciate your candid post, Jonathan. Keep ’em coming.

  30. Marie davis says:

    Yes, I think a culture of mutual respect is what makes this a safe place. However I don’t see you omitting people who gracefully disagree with you, and I think that is great too.

  31. TomC says:

    A bit of a learning experience for me. Why would someone post something vulgar or mean? I would have never thought this a problem. I’ve been to chat boards that have this problem… but here? Good grief, really?

    Now, I would have guessed the commercial thing would have been worse, and it probably is and is moderated out so we don’t see it.

    Anyway, I really like this blog. Not just for the subject matter and excellent content but the people responding also add a lot of value.

  32. Chatty says:

    I believe moderation should be used to keep out spam, but not to keep out other people’s point of view if it differs. With my on-line business I moderate comments, but give the opportunity to “clean it up” if inappropriate, rather than total dismissal. The same goes for my brick and mortar business. I allow anyone to enter the building. If they would happen to become obscene, I would ask them to change their behavior or to leave. Otherwise, all comments and complaints are accepted. I have learned more in life from the things I don’t want to hear rather than the ones I do. Again, none of this includes obscene behavior, just different outlooks. I was a little shocked with the “my house, my rules” phrase. Most full-blooded renegades aren’t too fond of “rules”!

  33. Hi Jonathan –

    It is your house and your call. Agreed.

    I don’t moderate comments anymore. Used to.

    But since I live on my computer, I do watch carefully for spam especially.

    Spam filters don’t do it.

    Comments are so clever that they look real.

    Anything mean is rare. I had one a few weeks ago that attacked another comment viciously. So terrible that some people said they would never come back.

    It was gone in an instant. But the harm was done.

    Since then I am reconsidering.

    Thanks for the push.

  34. I do believe in moderation and have the same system set up on your blog. I go through all the comments that come to my site and would delete them if they are really of no benefit or vicious.

  35. Amy Rootvik says:

    I love knowing that this is a safe place, a place where I feel confident that I can get honest + real without fear of bullying or nasty response. Like all good forums for productive discourse that I’ve been a part of, this place has rules. I respect that. I honor that. Thank you. It encourages honesty + integrity.

  36. JenP says:

    I think moderating is fair enough. As you say, it’s your house and therefore your rules should prevail!

    I moderate the comments others leave on the videos I’ve put on my Youtube site. I remove the negative ones. This isn’t because I’m afraid of negative feedback on my work (I used to be a TV producer and so lots of the videos are things I’ve made) but because people sometimes leave hurtful and negative comments that are not constructive in any way. Sometimes they could really hurt the people who appear in my videos so I just don’t see the point. There are people out there who want to stir up a hornet’s nest so it’s nice that there are spaces preserved on the internet for others who just want a friendly and supportive discussion.

  37. I agree with you on all counts.
    I am all for thoughtful, energetic debate, but I cannot anything that ressembles hate speech. Also, moderating is a great way to monitor the spam comments that occassionally float in:)

  38. John Sherry says:

    It’s a wise course of action Jonathan as I know all too well. On Friday someone I used to class a friend launched an attack of pure character assassination on me due to a post on Facebook when I said while people were dying in front of our eyes in Japan in comparison we really had little to complain about. She felt this was akin to telling her how to live.

    When you post or publish you are sharing with the wider world most of which is genial or loves a debate. But you also inadvertently attract those who have a more negative or bigotted agenda so the ability to moderate is also to protect those who are fair from those who are only foe and will only see and hear with critical rants in the smallest word.

  39. On a practical note, moderation ensures that you’re on top of reading comments. Commenters know you’ll be reading their thoughts.

  40. wendy reese says:

    I am with you. Moderate away!

  41. Layne says:

    Wow! It was great to see all the comments that followed. I completely agree. I queue the first comment for moderation and follow for appropriateness to the topic. This also allows me to filter spam that may get through. I also have a “Code of Conduct” page that lays out the expectation of behavior for my blog.

    We all adults, but it can be amazing when you have to give out “time outs” like small children or if the conversation or if the feel of the conversations is getting mean and non-productive. So, yes, “My House, My Rules.”

    Love it!
    -Layne

  42. I am grateful for your position and explanation. I just began blogging and wondered whether moderating is the “right” thing to do, but I also felt relieved at my decision to moderate. Thanks for explaining your position so clearly.

    Appreciatively,
    Christine

  43. William King says:

    I think their should be a balance just like I have noticed in the forums that the first 25 posts of the user are approved after moderation and then the posts get approved as soon as they are submitted and you can ban a user permanently or temporarily if he violets the terms and conditions of your home 😉

  44. I do moderate–somewhat. No spam. No vulgarity.

    However, I’ll take just a bit of the “devil’s advocate” position on this to erring on the side of less moderation.

    I think its wise to allow combative, even negative comments on a blog. Why?

    1) It keeps the discussion real. Most netizens now have strongly developed senses to sniff out gilded discussions and ratings. If a person visit a site and all they see is gushing, happy positive comments, the current sense of distrust among people is so high that it actually makes first-time visitors suspicious.

    2) It gives your tribe the opportunity to defend you. Let’s say that someone comes on your site ripping on you, how you look, etc. Even completely off-topic. If you leave those comments, it lets your already raving fans deepen and display their commitment when they come to your rescue. (Confession: one of my regrets was that early on on my blog I removed an off-topic comment from a nutjob who said I should wear a tie and dress differently. Really? I should have left it to allow my followers a chance to respond.)

    3) It shows you are humble. I think you do a great job of moderating and maintaining humility, Jonathan. Sometimes, however, I see people adopt a dictatorial approach to their blog and information. The more they censor and steer the conversation, the more they become the big fish in an increasingly smaller pond.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Great points, Dave. Some further thoughts.

      1 – Totally agree on letting only happy gushing comments through. I don’t moderate for disagreement, no matter how strong it may be as long as it’s done in a respectful matter.

      2 – It’s not so much me I’m focused on protecting, it’s you. This community is amazing at supporting and honoring those with opposing viewpoints, but I don’t believe it should be their job to have to rally to counter vicious or hate-driven attacks against a member of the tribe that don’t have any place in the conversation to start with. It’s important for me to create a safe place for the tribe.

      3 – Totally agree on your point about having a light touch and not being dictatorial.

  45. Jonathan,

    Couldn’t agree more. I moderate on my blog, too, and that’s something that will never change. Like you said, my house, my rules, and I don’t want spam or selling or offensive stuff on my blog anywhere, including the comments.

  46. Hi Jonathan,
    I moderate because I need to be careful what goes on my site.
    I write for children and I have a link from my blog to a kids book page…but kids are curious and tho my blog posts are aimed at other children’s writers I need to be aware that kids may read the post, click on links and read all the comments…so moderation is a must….I don’t mind when I get an awaiting moderation comment…I always check back to see if my comment uploaded correctly…so actually I visit more than once….win win
    maureen