Prominent blogger Anil Dash is an expert in this area. From his post IF YOUR WEBSITE’S FULL OF ASSHOLES, IT’S YOUR FAULT:
If you run a website, you need to [prevent bad behavior on the internet]. If you don’t, you’re making the web, and the world, a worse place. And it’s your fault. Put another way, take some goddamn responsibility for what you unleash on the world.
How many times have you seen a website say “We’re not responsible for the content of our comments.”? I know that when you webmasters put that up on your sites, you’re trying to address your legal obligation. Well, let me tell you about your moral obligation: Hell yes, you are responsible. You absolutely are. When people are saying ruinously cruel things about each other, and you’re the person who made it possible, it’s 100% your fault.
I agree with Dash and I accept this responsibility. I do delete the worst of the comments, well aware that I may be held legally responsible for commentary on my site. But that’s not enough – there have been plenty of times when I have allowed or even chosen to engage people with bad motives and poor character.
It’s very challenging to know whether to encourage, tolerate or stifle debate. One particularly noxious commenter claimed that he had a right to speak his mind because HUS is “public.” This is not true. HUS is not public. It is a privately held business with a stream of revenues and expenses. I open it and invite readers in, the way a store owner welcomes customers, and I reserve the right to kick you out if you drive away other customers. As the sole proprietor of HUS, it’s time I took more responsibility for ensuring the quality of the experience for the 9,900 people per day who do not actively comment, and for the vast majority of the active commenters who are not disruptive. That is my moral obligation.
My Accountability to the HUS Mission Finally, there is the question of how well I am fulfilling my mission and reaching my primary target audience, which is women aged 18-34. (They comprise the bulk of my readers.) Naturally, I want to reach as many as possible, and my name is my brand. Allowing questionable commentary from people outside my market is harming the brand, and harming my reputation. (I have received specific feedback to that effect.) It’s critically important to put a halt to counterproductive activity on the blog.
During this hiatus, my goal is to continue to provide quality and helpful content, writing posts as usual. I will be investigating steps I might take to ensure that participating at HUS is a positive experience for everyone, and that the active community supports and reflects the mission of the blog, which is firmly pro-relationship.