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David Lee King

Wanting Your Opinions about Blog Comments and City Attorneys



A new Facebook friend just asked me a question, and I thought I’d share it with y’all – in hopes of garnering him some more input, or “ammunition” if you will…

Here’s the deal:

“Maybe you can answer a question that our City attorney needs clarified?
She seems to think that if we [a public library] have a blog we can’t restrict commenting
(at all) because it’s a public forum (the City recently even got rid of
the Mayor’s bulletin board because of this). From my own Internet
research it seems that this is the case from a legal standpoint. How
are other libraries dealing with this? If this is the case it seems
that it’s only a matter of time before some library gets sued over this.”

“Do
you know of any libraries getting sued for removing comments, or where
to find any pro blog justification for libraries from a legal
standpoint? Blogging is obviously a good thing for a library to do, but
the City is deathly afraid of lawsuits… Even the chance of a lawsuit
and they won’t go out on a limb to disrupt the homeostasis. My
municipality is very conservative in this regard.”

As an aside – good the for the city attorney for recognizing blog comments as a form of public forum (because it is).

Now, obviously I’m no lawyer, but I told my fine facebook friend that as long as the library has a policy in place that covers how the library handles comments, they should be covered (certainly anyone CAN sue… but probably not successfully?). And that policy is probably already there in some form of patron behavior clause.

And – I’m pretty certain there are some libraries that really DON”T remove comments – they show the bad AND the good, and just filter a short list of “naughty” words. So that might meet the city attorney’s requirement, too.

So… what do you think? How does your library handle website/blog/myspace/facebook/youtube/etc comments? Do you moderate? Do you block words? Do you remove the nasty comments altogether? And do you have a policy or guideline in place for commenting?

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • http://roycekitts.blogspot.com/ royce

    Let me start by saying, I would kill to get comments on our library blog. Filtering comments hasn’t been an issue because we really don’t get that many comments.

    Our policy is the same for the blog as it is for people in the library: bad language and inappropriate behavior are not allowed.

    That being said, time to go double-check that policy.

  • http://roycekitts.blogspot.com royce

    Let me start by saying, I would kill to get comments on our library blog. Filtering comments hasn’t been an issue because we really don’t get that many comments.

    Our policy is the same for the blog as it is for people in the library: bad language and inappropriate behavior are not allowed.

    That being said, time to go double-check that policy.

  • http://gathernodust.blogspot.com/ Jeff

    I would say that many government entities are quite phobic when it comes to web 2.0 applications. There is always some way one can be sued. Some people sued our city for something that didn’t even happen in the city. My information says that higher ups are afraid of negative comments or bad comments, which really is the point of a web 2.0 application. People should be allowed to say your service sucks in a public forum. That is the only reason why things get changed sometimes. We have many of these applications. Everything allows comments except the library blog, which isn’t all that sophisticated.

  • http://gathernodust.blogspot.com Jeff

    I would say that many government entities are quite phobic when it comes to web 2.0 applications. There is always some way one can be sued. Some people sued our city for something that didn’t even happen in the city. My information says that higher ups are afraid of negative comments or bad comments, which really is the point of a web 2.0 application. People should be allowed to say your service sucks in a public forum. That is the only reason why things get changed sometimes. We have many of these applications. Everything allows comments except the library blog, which isn’t all that sophisticated.

  • Travis

    It seems to me real purpose behind this logic of disallowing public forums for fear of being sued is purely obstructive, but it seems like there may be ways to get around the nay-sayers.

    1. The web as a whole is one big public forum, yet legislation mandates that if a library receives public money it is required to filter and limit access to web content–for the good of the children. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander…as long as the content is lawful, don’t remove any comments. In accordance with the law, filter access to your blog comments data, which is also web content.

    2. If your institution feels it has a responsibility to edit the content of blog comments, then host your site with an ISP that strict content guidelines/rules (shop around for what you think is reasonable) where service is contingent on following those guidelines. Censorship is common practice in the private sector where your site will be hosted.

  • Travis

    It seems to me real purpose behind this logic of disallowing public forums for fear of being sued is purely obstructive, but it seems like there may be ways to get around the nay-sayers.

    1. The web as a whole is one big public forum, yet legislation mandates that if a library receives public money it is required to filter and limit access to web content–for the good of the children. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander…as long as the content is lawful, don’t remove any comments. In accordance with the law, filter access to your blog comments data, which is also web content.

    2. If your institution feels it has a responsibility to edit the content of blog comments, then host your site with an ISP that strict content guidelines/rules (shop around for what you think is reasonable) where service is contingent on following those guidelines. Censorship is common practice in the private sector where your site will be hosted.

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  • http://www.daveyp.com/blog/ Dave Pattern

    This blog post might be a pointer: http://tinyurl.com/bq8ol

    I’ve certainly heard/seen the following statement many times in the past: “if you moderate, edit, or prune comments on your online forum — or blog — in any way at all then you stop being able to defend yourself as a common carrier and become a publisher who is, indeed, liable for the content that they publish”.

    From memory, the cases in the UK have been mostly when a site failed or refused to remove an offensive or libellous comment in a timely manner after they’d been alerted to it.

  • http://www.daveyp.com/blog/ Dave Pattern

    This blog post might be a pointer: http://tinyurl.com/bq8ol

    I’ve certainly heard/seen the following statement many times in the past: “if you moderate, edit, or prune comments on your online forum — or blog — in any way at all then you stop being able to defend yourself as a common carrier and become a publisher who is, indeed, liable for the content that they publish”.

    From memory, the cases in the UK have been mostly when a site failed or refused to remove an offensive or libellous comment in a timely manner after they’d been alerted to it.

  • http://mjr.towers.org.uk/ MJ Ray

    Another voice from England: I think Dave Pattern is pretty correct there. Set a policy for comments beforehand that includes how you will react to complaints. I think it’s also worth making sure that you connection provider is fine with it and won’t just kill your account as soon as anyone complains (as some unreasonable swines do). As one BBS used to say “we don’t have freedom of speech in this country – sorry”.

    In other words, check local law and probably check multiple reputable sources of advice.

  • http://mjr.towers.org.uk/ MJ Ray

    Another voice from England: I think Dave Pattern is pretty correct there. Set a policy for comments beforehand that includes how you will react to complaints. I think it’s also worth making sure that you connection provider is fine with it and won’t just kill your account as soon as anyone complains (as some unreasonable swines do). As one BBS used to say “we don’t have freedom of speech in this country – sorry”.

    In other words, check local law and probably check multiple reputable sources of advice.

  • Deborah Fitchett

    I’ve no idea about policy or law or anything. But a few (non-library) blogs use a process called “disemvowelling” for comment moderation: essentially if they see a comment which is particularly nasty (ad hominem, etc) then they edit it (or the worst part of it) to remove all the vowels. Thus that last clause would become “thn th dt t t rmv ll th vwls”. That way they’re not removing any comments, and comments are even still readable (with effort and practice), but it makes it clear that that sort of comment isn’t welcome.

  • Deborah Fitchett

    I’ve no idea about policy or law or anything. But a few (non-library) blogs use a process called “disemvowelling” for comment moderation: essentially if they see a comment which is particularly nasty (ad hominem, etc) then they edit it (or the worst part of it) to remove all the vowels. Thus that last clause would become “thn th dt t t rmv ll th vwls”. That way they’re not removing any comments, and comments are even still readable (with effort and practice), but it makes it clear that that sort of comment isn’t welcome.

  • http://www.myrcpl.com/ Scottie

    This gets a tad more complicated than what’s lawful. It’s not against the law to spam a blog with “buy my products” nor is it against the law to have local businesses, politicians or troublemakers self-promoting, campaigning or simply stirring up trouble on your public spaces.

    I believe you have to have a comprehensive policy in place (just like your brick-and-mortar rules of conduct) that are clearly outlined on the site.

    Any edits or deletions would need to adhere to those same policies and you should be covered. Just as you’d removed loud patrons who were upsetting the other patrons, you need to be prepared to moderate troublesome Web patrons.

    Consistency is the key though… there should be little room for judgement as to what constitutes a violation of policy. If a complaining patron can point out an instance where you allowed a similar post to stand, you are on thin ice.

    Just my $.02

  • http://www.myrcpl.com Scottie

    This gets a tad more complicated than what’s lawful. It’s not against the law to spam a blog with “buy my products” nor is it against the law to have local businesses, politicians or troublemakers self-promoting, campaigning or simply stirring up trouble on your public spaces.

    I believe you have to have a comprehensive policy in place (just like your brick-and-mortar rules of conduct) that are clearly outlined on the site.

    Any edits or deletions would need to adhere to those same policies and you should be covered. Just as you’d removed loud patrons who were upsetting the other patrons, you need to be prepared to moderate troublesome Web patrons.

    Consistency is the key though… there should be little room for judgement as to what constitutes a violation of policy. If a complaining patron can point out an instance where you allowed a similar post to stand, you are on thin ice.

    Just my $.02

  • http://masseffectx.ru/ Mass Effect

    That being said, time to go double-check that policy.

  • http://masseffectx.ru Mass Effect

    That being said, time to go double-check that policy.

  • tiara123

    Well said..!!!!!
    Shelly Smith..
    ——————
    attorney

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    Interesting topic, I never knew about this blog commenting and city attorney related before.. You have really brought a nice and fresh insight..

  • http://www.bestessays.com/ essays

    Blog comments are not as genuine or as simple as your 10 pointers make it seem.
    I don’t know of percentages due to the immensity of the Internet. But, this I know! Most comments are tailored to the blogs traffic rank. It is mostly about link traffic and return clicks.
    There are hundreds and thousands of well written and meaningful blogs whose posts go without comments.
    I know why!
    Have traffic? Will comment!

  • http://www.bestessays.com/ essays

    Blog comments are not as genuine or as simple as your 10 pointers make it seem.
    I don’t know of percentages due to the immensity of the Internet. But, this I know! Most comments are tailored to the blogs traffic rank. It is mostly about link traffic and return clicks.
    There are hundreds and thousands of well written and meaningful blogs whose posts go without comments.
    I know why!
    Have traffic? Will comment!

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