How Offbeat Empire comment moderation has changed

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Original art by Ursula X Young
Original art by Ursula X Young

A few years ago, we worked SUPER HARD at comment moderation. It was a huge part of my editors’ jobs, and a significant source of stress. We heard from hundreds of readers that our comment policies made the Offbeat Empire the only site they felt safe to participate in online discussions. Our comment moderation was a big part of the Offbeat Empire, and something my staff put a huge amount of effort into.

Here’s a summary of what the Offbeat Empire’s comment moderation strategy was like back in 2012:

  • Each of the three Offbeat Empire sites had a dedicated editor, who monitored blog comments on their respective sites from the time they woke up, until the time they went to bed
  • Between the three sites, there were days when hundreds of blog comments would be reviewed by editors
  • Offbeat Families was of course the most significant source of commentroversy, but we learned the hard way to always check both Offbeat Bride and Offbeat Home comments each night before going to bed for late-night drama
  • Sometimes people on Facebook would leave comments on our blog links from our Facebook pages, and I’d actively discourage it.

Over the last couple years, things have shifted DRAMATICALLY with our comments. Behind the scenes, these shifts have been so natural that they felt kind of gradual (even when they weren’t), but when I look back I realize that it’s been a huge shift over a relatively short period of time. How we moderate comments now is significantly different in ways that even longtime readers may not be aware of. Here are a few of the things that have changed:

Megan started editing Offbeat Home & Life

We went from three sites/three editors to three sites/two editors, which condensed the moderation work a bit. Now it was only two people watching comments all day every day.

We ditched the high drama site

When Offbeat Families ceased publication September 2013, over half our comment moderation work disappeared overnight. That was easy. Now instead of three sites/three editors watching comments full time, we had two sites with editors watching comments less intensely (because comments were just less intense).

We get less blog comments on the remaining sites

Despite traffic increasing, over the last couple years, comment counts are down by at about half on Offbeat Bride. At least. But what’s interesting is that if you’re talking about shitty comments, I’d say we’re down over 80%. The reason for both these shifts?

Most people don’t take the time to comment on blogs, so they just comment on Facebook

I gave up fighting this a couple years ago, and now fully embrace it. Why? Because comments on Facebook drive up our Page engagement, which means our Facebook posts are seen by more people, which means more people click to read our blog posts. There’s also this awesome reality: most people who want to leave shitty comments are just too lazy click actually, like, type their names and email address into our comment fields(omg, so old school!), because it’s so much easier to just leave their shitty comments on Facebook. This makes our blog comment moderation SO MUCH EASIER.

But what of all my 2012 railing against Facebook comments, my gnashing of teeth over truly great and helpful comments getting lost in the ether of Facebook? Well, here’s the truth:

Facebook commenters are a different community with different values

It’s just a different community management eco-system over there, for a lot of reasons:

  • The majority of our Facebook followers are on their mobile phones, so comments generally aren’t long and thoughtful.
  • Facebook followers generally tend to be less invested in our brand values. They don’t want to gnash over what offbeat meeeeeans or philosophize about establishing boundaries with family members… they just want to see cool/weird stuff in their feeds to keep them entertained.
  • Because of how Facebook works, our Facebook posts are often shown people who don’t even follow our page or know who we are. I’d never expect these people to even know we HAVE a comment policy, let alone know what they are.

Every once and a while we DO longer, thoughtful, and truly helpful comments on Facebook.. and we know what we do with those comments? We ask the commenter’s permission, and we turn them into blog posts! For example, this Offbeat Home & Life post totally began its life as a Facebook comment.

Facebook comments are easier to moderate

Facebook absolutely is where the biggest moderation drama comes from, but the awesome thing is that it also has two moderator dream tools I’ve been wanting for 15 years: HIDE and BAN.

When you hide a Facebook comment, it’s only seen by the commenter and their Facebook friends. This means that as far as they’re concerned, their rant/spam has been broadcast… meanwhile, none of the other page followers see it. The commenter feels like they’ve had their say, but no one else has to listen to it. When we moderate comments on the blogs, the commenters immediately notice that they’ve been moderated, and then register their outrage that they’re being SILENCED. Facebook allows for quiet silencing that incites no outrage.

And of course Facebook banning is hugely powerful. Sure, WordPress allows you to ban someone by IP or email address, but those are easy for commenters to work around. Since Facebook comments are tied to people’s FB accounts, when their FB account gets banned… they are BANNED. We drop-kick people all the time.

Another advantage of Facebook comments is that they’re fleeting. Whereas blog post comments stay with a post in perpetuity, Facebook comments drift into the ether after about a day. Three years ago, this was HUGELY FRUSTRATING for me. Here in 2015, I’m stoked about it… it means that the low-quality comments aren’t hosted on my platform, and they drift away quickly.

OK, so what does this mean for people who love our comments?

For those of you who love the blog comments on Offbeat Empire, this is all really good news. Our awesome, thoughtful blog commenters keep on leaving awesome, thoughtful comments on our blogs! There are less meanies to deal with in the blog comments because they’re all like “Oh god, seriously? Your stupid website wants me to type my fake name and fake email to leave my mean comment? TOO MUCH WORK. Back to Facebook for me…”

I can’t promise that you won’t see shitty comments on Facebook, of course. We do our best to rein things in over there regularly, but we don’t own Facebook. We can’t make people play nice over there. We can hide and ban, but it’s outside of my business’s scope to make the randoms on Facebook play nicely.

This is also an entreaty: if you love the comments on the Offbeat Empire, join in. As much as I love that trolls don’t bother commenting, I do hope that those of you who enjoy the safe space in the Offbeat Empire’s comments will continue making the effort. We love our commenters!

Comments on How Offbeat Empire comment moderation has changed

  1. Just wanted to say I love Offbeat and how brilliant and intelligent and fun the comments are here. I think your comments policy is very sane and I hope you continue to have success for a long long time.

  2. Thought-provoking, as usual, Ariel.

    I’m not on Facebook (insert a gasp from the audience here) so I’m a little slow on the pick up here.
    And my head must be stuck in 2012 because I’m still operating from the “Facebook=bad” playbook.

    I understand what you’re saying about “different community values”…I think. I know there are some communities where snark is the order of the day. I love me some dlisted but wouldn’t tolerate those posts any place else. But I’m not sure I needed to read a comment policy to understand the differences between the dlisted and OBE communities. (In fact, I’m 100% sure I’ve never read the comment policies of either site.) And if somebody left a negative comment from Facebook I would assume they’re knowingly trolling, whether they had access to the comment policy or not. So is it just.. open season all the time on Facebook? Are saying you’re less concerned about shitty comments there because the community as a whole is a big toilet? (No offense to the Facebook commenters that do not exhibit turd-like qualities.)

    I know you did a post recently that explained how Facebook is the future of blogging so I should expect my favorite websites to get assimilated faster than you can say “We are Borg.” But I hadn’t really thought about what that means to me, the reader and — more importantly — the commenter. Stupidly I assumed I would have “public” access to those pages without an account but I hadn’t thought about commenting. (facepalm)

  3. So is it just… open season all the time on Facebook?

    As I said in the post: “We do our best to reign things in over there every few hours.” Where-as we watch the blog comments in almost real-time, we just don’t have the capacity to deal with Facebook at that level… but we also don’t NEED to, because the shitty comments on Facebook sink away quickly, and when we do step in the moderation tools are super powerful. (Waaaay more powerful than the wordpress moderation tools we have.) Lots more about this: (that comment is actually relevant enough that I’m going to edit it into this post!)

    Are saying you’re less concerned about shitty comments there because the community as a whole is a big toilet?

    Definitely not that. There are about 150k people who follow the various Offbeat Empire pages on Facebook. Most of them are lovely, they’re just interacting with our content in very different ways than readers do on the blogs. Again, they’re mostly on their phones looking for a quick read. That doesn’t mean they’re part of some “big toilet”… it’s just very different than folks on their desktops looking to obsess, discuss, and deep dive into the site.

    • Thanks for explaining, Ariel. You did mention the fact “facebook comments drift away” previously ( before you re-edited this post ) and it’s something I can’t quite get my head around since ever other site keeps them nearly forever. ( Of course every other site isn’t servicing the entire planet either. )
      But I’m sure my understanding will improve on that dark day when OBE is solely on FB and then reluctantly I’ll get an account… maybe. 😉

      • Oh, the comments on Facebook are absolutely still there, likely forever. But the way Facebook shows comments, the less Liked ones sink to the bottom of a thread, and then those threads are only shown in people’s feeds for a day or so.

        So to see a shitty old comment, you’d have to go to our page, scroll to the end of the recent threads, click to unhide to see more old threads, scroll more to find the old thread, then click to open the thread, then scroll and scroll to get to the bottom of the comments in that thread to see the shitty comments.

        People just don’t use Facebook that way. They read what’s delivered to their feeds, when it’s delivered to their feeds. The Facebook page and its comments are not designed to be an archive — it’s designed to be a steady feed of links. It’s a whoooooole different way of consuming content.

  4. Straight up,I always read the comments on OBE because the comments on the blogs are just as informative as the posts themselves more often than not. It’s fabulous.

    Keep on keeping on 😀

    • I love reading the comments. I sometimes don’t read an article until I know I have time to read the comments, too! But then I get stressed when I see in the refresh that the comments are at 17, then 36, and 81, and I’m like “OMG I WILL NEVER BE ABLE TO READ THIS ARTICLE BECAUSE WHEN CAN I FIND TIME?!!!”

  5. I LURVE Offbeat Home comments. I read the post, then I read the comments. Frequently? All of the comments. Love, love, love them. I noticed the gradual lessening of snark/drama/flounce on comments, and just figured those people had finished flouncing off, but maybe they are just on facebook! Thank you for the thoughtful monitoring, and the changes seem to work, so YAY facebook, even though I don’t really use it!

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