October 17th, 2013 by IX: Nathanael G.
Recently, Google announced that they are rolling out comment moderation abilities to a handful of YouTube users, with plans for a widespread release in the future.
This is a welcome addition to the YouTube community, and anyone who has ever been brave enough to view comments on even the most innocent of YouTube videos knows exactly why. For beneath nearly every YouTube video lies some of the most ignorant, racist, and profane collection of nonsense you could ever imagine.
So, I started thinking… if a universally popular site like YouTube is experiencing these problems, what about our customers here at IX? What is an upstart blogger or online business owner supposed to do if they want user feedback, but want to avoid this type of online nastiness?
Comment spam a very odd phenomenon that takes place on the internet. The ability to anonymously say anything you want, coupled with the absence of accountability, turns some people into raving maniacs who choose to take out their frustrations and insecurities anywhere they can.
This problem isn’t only affecting YouTube, either. Take a look at the comment section of any website that handles movie reviews, news, politics, or gaming. You’re sure to find your fair share of senseless aggression and filth.
So, the question is, how do website owners defend themselves from these malicious parties?
Know Your Enemy
First, let’s identify where all of this garbage is coming from. There are 3 major categories of inappropriate comment sources that you’ll want to filter out:
1. Trolls – Trolls are people that get a kick out of ruffling feathers. They will purposely try and start a online ruckus by presenting a ridiculous opinion in a serious manner, or play devil’s advocate just to rile people up. They rarely believe what they write, but they take pleasure in getting under people’s skin.
2. Bots – If you ever see a comment that sounds like an advertisement, it’s most likely a spam bot. Much like spam emails, these automated bots leave comments on popular videos and blogs with promises of great wealth for minimal effort. Here’s an example:
Note: Finding this bot spam took me literally 30 seconds. It was the most recent comment on the popular Gangnam Style music video on YouTube.
3. Genuine Craziness – Even though a lot of comment section trash is generated by people just being jerks to rile people up, there are some folks out there who have an agenda and legitimately believe in what they’re saying. These people can be particularly off-putting to level-headed comment posters because they’re typically angry, offensive, illogical, and relentless.
Filter out the Filth
Now that you know where all the junk is coming from, here are some methods to keep it out of your comment sections and message boards.
Turn off Anonymous Comments – If your blog software or comment section of your site has a setting that allows people to comment anonymously, make sure to switch it off. This will cut down on a very large amount of spam bots and trolls.
Captcha – This free program prompts the user to type in a series of letters or numbers before they make a comment to ensure that they are a live human being and not an automated spam bot. You may have seen these at one time or another on an online store or when signing up for a newsletter.
Captcha plugins are available for popular blogging and CMS software like WordPress, MediaWiki, and ASP.NET. Check out their website for more information.
Text Filters – Check to see if your blog or forum software of choice has a plugin that will filter out profanity, sexual references, and racial slurs. Some of these filters will just replace offending words with asterisks, while others will restrict an offending message from being posted at all. This should drive away or at least censor people who want to simply coat your comment section will four-letter words.
Not all confrontation is necessarily bad when it comes to online comments. While filtering out the bad apples makes a comment area a better, more peaceful place, don’t be tempted to start banning people because of minor disagreements or legitimate gripes.
For instance, if you sell a product, and someone leaves a message on your comment board that says, “Your product broke after 3 days. Not a happy customer,” you might be tempted to remove the content or ban the user so they don’t spread any more ‘bad press’ about your company. However, this is a huge mistake and can backfire for a number of reasons.
For one, your customers are your revenue base, so it’s best to keep them happy. Ignoring or deleting users that have real complaints doesn’t fix the underlying problem, and will only cause more headaches in the future.
Secondly, if you’re caught intentionally ignoring or censoring displeased customers, you’ll soon find yourself in a firestorm of bad press. Nothing shows your customer base that you don’t care about them more than deleting bad reviews to skew public reception into your favor. People will take to Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, and anywhere else that people will listen to decry your name and shady business practices. When it’s all said and done, the act of censoring a negative review can hurt far more than the negative review itself.
It’s best to address gripes and complaints head on, and in public. Make your own comment profile and respond to customers’ concerns directly. Let your users and customers see that you’re not afraid to address the issue and help someone who’s unhappy. It demonstrates your willingness to work with people and your openness to criticism.
These tips should help you ward off the majority of cyber-crazies, but there isn’t an everlasting cure-all. You have to be a constant gardener when it comes to your website’s forums. So, periodically check your comment boards and user forums from time to time to make sure they haven’t been consumed by the internet’s darker side.
Thanks for reading, and good luck!