OFFICIAL BLOGHER '10 LIVEBLOG: How to Start, Engage in and Moderate Civil Political Debate

BlogHer Original Post

Welcome to the liveblog of the BlogHer '10 panel: Change Agents: How to Start, Engage in and Moderate Civil Political Debate. Click here for more info.

Denise Tanton, community manager at; Pam Spaulding author of Pam's House Blend and Suzanne Fortin, the writer behind Big Blue Wave. Join us for a lively discussion, pick up a few tips, and share a few of your own!

BlogHer found success in setting community guidelines. One the bottom of every page. Allows even moderating. Users get an email before post is deleted.

Pam's House Blend moderates. Hosted a Free Speech Week - posters were mad about moderation so they had an unmoderated week and allowed personal attacks. By the end of the week, people were begging for moderation.

Suzanne just started moderating. As far as she's concerned, if there are readers, that is success. "I'm happy when people read my blog, and if you leave a comment that's even better." Wants to know what readers think and track reactions.

Banning - all sites will ban someone who is belligerent and who meaninglessly does personal attacks.

Audience question from - has a problem with "sock puppets." People who comment on their own comments agreeing with themselves. These people are emailed.

Denise looks into sock puppet suspicions but if no one is violating community rules, they can't be banned. They have never had a matching IP Address situation.

Rules of behavior help to prevent threats. You have to be rude to make a threat.

For, all posts are treated the same, be it Michelle Obama, members of Congress, celebrities or anyone posting. Michelle Obama's post got 700 comments and not one was removed. - leaves comments up to the individual blogger. Some bloggers only want their own opinions up there.

If you don't have a policy in place then it is hard to go back and say "hey you crossed the line" because the line isn't in place.

Pam uses images, i.e. a threadjack image that lets people know that the thread has been taken over.

Suzanne focuses on the facts. Personal attacks don't fly. When you stick to facts and arguments and logic it sticks to the debate and not the attacks.

If you get online threats to your life or attacks on your family, CALL THE POLICE! Online attacks are considered much more serious than they were 5 years ago. Can be used to launch an investigation or get a restraining order.

Question from Jack and Jill politics in audience:
Comment threads are taken over by people who have all sorts of conspiracy theories and jack threads.

Pam - engage with them first.

Denise - does the threadjacking negatively affect the discussion. The long rambling discussion between a few people can make it hard for other people to want to comment. So they try to interject and diversify the discussion.

Suzanne gives overzealous commenters a five-comment a day limit.

On BlogHer, the top issue is race. Have a lot of people who just shut down the discussion by calling out and saying "everyone always talks about race, that's not the issue." There isn't any profanity in the comment but it changes the tone.

How do you cure burn out?

Realize that you are not going to change anyone's mind in the context of discussion. People change their minds subconsciously through multiple exposures to an issue and difference sides.

Keeping a civil discussion:
Connect with people who are feeling an equal ground. Call out aggressors.

Audience question by - comment threads are invaluable education tools. Variety of perspectives and comments. When we bite our lips and leave stuff up there that we hate -- but still contributes to the dialogue -- it is preserving opinions.

Do think about your long-term career. If politics are in your future, think about what you say now so you don't have to scrub later. Pam jokes that she could never run for office because of everything online.

Discussions on Facebook and Twitter are harder to moderate.

In staying bipartisan - even if you believe strongly in what you are writing, pull in someone from the other side as a guest post.

Suzanne - Democracy needs both sides. When you let people talk, when you let people say what they think, you find truth.

Sometimes you might have to pull a post you just wrote because you violated your own policy. Be legit.

Suzanne - works to tell people they can't dominate the discussion. You can ban people who don't engage or discuss. Or limit words. You can limit posts to 1,000 words.

Denise jokes that she has a 3 paragraph comment limit. If it is longer than that, it should become a blog post. But for people to argue with that, it could be threadjacking. Or write a shorter post and ask for engagement.

A wonderfully written, smart essay, may not get a ton of comments because it is long and all people are left to say is "great post" or "nice essay."

Some people grab the policy and use it for their site. That is OK - but should attribute BlogHer.