It is no secret for people who generate online content that they often have to deal with problems that arise from participants in the comment forum. From the inevitable spammers to the general antisocial types, it just comes with the territory. Personally, I have been very fortunate that I do not attract the antisocial types to my various channels of online communication. I find that the IT crowd tends to be a little more sedate. However, this is not the case for many of the sites that I routinely follow.
I do find it crazy to see some of the comments that people make and the pure hate and discontent that are expressed. Most sane and rational people would agree that moderators should control the insanity and purge the unduly harsh comments. I was in this camp for a long time but have now come to the opinion that it is the community’s responsibility to control the antisocial types and not the various website operators or content creators.
NPR is instituting a “be polite” policy that will result in comments from “trolls” that do not respond to the website standards to be removed. On the face of this, it seems like a rational action to help maintain the website standards for all community members. This line of thinking strikes me as the homeowner association approach to online content. I am sure most of us can express our “pleasure” in dealing with homeowner associations. I do not believe the community members will receive this type of active policing by website operators ultimately any better.
The challenge that will arise is the subjective nature of what is acceptable and what is not acceptable. There is just too much fuzziness in standards such as “being polite”, “do not ramble”, and “stay on-topic”. One moderator may read the comment and considerate it is rude while another moderator may consider the same comment as poignant or witty. I do not like the idea that my thoughts are potentially being censored or policed by someone else. Hence, this is why I have my own blog, and I get to police most of my own thoughts.
Ultimately, the community will have to respond to website operators and the standards that they are hopefully applying consistently. Due to the very subjective nature of this type of moderation, this will ultimately create as much controversy as the inappropriate posts that they are trying to control. I agree that nobody likes a flame war inside of a comment forum, but the community is ultimately responsible for the standards by which it operates and not the website operators.