Why We Reserve the Right to Truncate Your Irrelevant, Whiny Comment

Posted in Blogging, Community Manager, Rants

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Here at aimClear, we’re proud of our in-house authors. Like many publications we also open our pages as a community platform to host guest bloggers. Sometimes guest posts are written by industry professionals whose practices are perceived by some as controversial.

Wait. Let’s stop right there. “Controversial.” That word can carry a negative connotation, one of altercation, agitation, even acrimony. But on the flip-side of the coin, “controversy” can be a beautiful thing. Controversy when hosted on a public, unbiased, progressive platform, such as a third-party blog, can function as an open invitation for conversation- healthy debate, passionate exchange of perspectives and core occupational beliefs. Other times, visitors with an unrelated agenda attempt to ruin the discourse.

As with all of our articles we hope such conversations germinate in the form of lively comment threads. We all thrive when readers absorb content and feel moved to take the experience to the next level by engaging the author or other commenters– right then and there. Harmonious, supportive comments are always nice… but sometimes there’s nothing better than a spicy swap of opposing points of view. Hell, we’re no strangers to a fight.

I may be stating the obvious but, when we publish a guest blog post, aimClear is not the author, or some schmaltzy endorser. We’re not saying we love or hate the blogger or topic. Think boxing: we’re not the referee breaking it up. We’re not the coach dabbing sweat and holding the spit bucket. A good blog editor is the Master of Ceremonies offering the mic. We’re hosts.

To emphasize, we’re careful to conclude each guest blog post with the same standard disclaimer: Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily aimClear. It’s crucial to note that our mission with guest blog posts is to provide a neutral platform where industry professionals can explore their perceptions, practices and principles, even… or especially… when they may be taken as contrarian.

Two weeks ago, aimClear published a guest blog post by Dennis Yu called, How To Make 45K a Day Scamming Facebook Ads. That’s a controversial sort of title, no? If you’re unfamiliar with Dennis Yu, note that there are differing opinions surrounding his work as an affiliate marketer. We have no opinion.

Back in November of 2009, Jeremy Schoemaker (@shoemoney) published a blog post that really dug into his personal and professional experiences with Dennis Yu (not all sunshine and pussy cats). This was totally Schoemaker’s prerogative as it’s his blog and he can certainly write about any topic of his choosing. The post accrued 210 comments, many of which disparaged Dennis and thanked ShoeMoney for the heads-up. This may not have been the friendliest post or comment thread, but the relationship between one and the other, the relevance, was obvious: the post was about Dennis Yu… the comments were about Dennis Yu.  Everything was above board and everybody stabbed everybody else in the front. Bravo!

On the other foot, Dennis’s guest post for aimClear Blog explored the anatomy of alleged Facebook PPC ad scams. It did not address his professional work, his personal life… in fact, he barely used the words “I,” “me,” or “mine” at all.  The post was about marketing! The thread amassed over a dozen comments, agreeing with the post’s perspective or opposing it… a.k.a. healthy conversation surrounding an apparent controversy. Bravo again!

That said, one comment in particular offered genuine criticism speaking to the alleged Facebook ad scheme discussed in the post.  The commenter even shared that he had a sketchy past himself.

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Spliced between the penultimate sentence and the final sentence of this comment, Harrison decided to add, “For all of you please see [this],” including a link to the ShoeMoney post, “to see the real dennis” (his capitalization, not ours).

Really, Harrison? Was that necessary? Doesn’t almost every affiliate and their mother know about ShoeMoney’s post? Why do our readers have to know Shoe’s vision of “the real dennis” in order to understand the main points and intent of this blog post? What value did your external dropped-link resource contribute to the topic at hand? That’s like saying you need to know about Michael Jackson’s trials to dig the song Billy Jean. Bunk!

After aimClear President, Marty Weintraub, allowed the comment, our publications manager (moi) asked herself a few salient questions and decided to trim the comment, removing the “take a look at how Dennis sucks” afterthought and irrelevant link to the ShoeMoney post. We no found redeemable merit in attacking the author. Out of respect, Harrison was notified via email.

Shortly after, Harrison left another lengthy comment, pictured below. We removed additional language  where he went into some detail regarding experiences with Dennis Yu and, uh, shared unrelated matters  regarding Dennis and Harrison’s mom and dad. We also thoughtfully pruned parts where Harrison reproached Dennis’s participation in various ventures and flat out called him crappy names, all the while proclaiming that he himself was simply “trying to help [us and aimClear Blog’ readers] not fall for [Dennis’s] con and just feed his reputation with free publicity.” Fail!

We contacted Harrison, again to let him know we had edited personal attacks out of the comments thread and publicly made note with an inline bracketed message. That’s just how we roll, above board.

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Marty even inserted a short and general disclaimer about aimClear Blog etiquette as a separate comment. This was out of respect for Harrison and our readers. We do this in the rare occasion when we feel compelled to remove user generated content.

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While we don’t reveal private exchanges that take place between our staff and readers, suffice to say that multiple individuals raised the concept of freedom of speech-impinged to us via email.

To those confused persons who believe this matter to be a freedom of speech issue, y’all could learn something from limited-time-only Miss California, Carrie Prejean. Horrified by the aftermath of her controversial (there’s that word again!) response to a pageant question about gay marriage, Ms. Prejean argued to the point of tears that her holy first amendment, her freedom of speech, had been ripped away.

Newsflash, hotshots: freedom of speech is “the right to speak, or otherwise communicate, one’s opinion without fear of harm or prosecution,” and that’s prosecution in the legal sense. If we were the government, and you typed that comment, and we trimmed it here and there, then you might consider your freedom of speech impinged. But we ain’t. We’re aimClear.

“Freedom of speech is not a blanket guarantee,” Marty pointed out the other day. “For instance, it is against the law to engage in hateful speech that results in a mob being incited to murder, even if the victim is a pedophile. You can’t yell ‘fire’ in a crowded movie theater and it’s against to law to liable, which means saying disparaging things in public that are not true.”

Here’s a simple run-down of our blog comment-expectations, in the ever-eloquent words of Marty Weintraub (who was visibly upset) for you and the “sniveling immature monkeys who think they know about American law:”

  • “If you take issues with the alleged facts, call us out. We’ll publish your comments right away and admit if there’s been a proven error.  Our blog is replete with appropriate redactions, apologies and respectful discourse. Otherwise, fuck off.”
  • “If you have issues with any content’s tone, hoist the flag, pal, and we’ll step right up.”
  • “If all you want to do is publish some out of context bullshit case study to prove that someone sucks, go somewhere else because we’re more ethical than that.”

The Editor’s Take
To my mind it boils down to this: had the blog post been a flagrant touting or damning of Dennis’s character, Harrison’s comments would have been applicable, and therefore, remained intact.  By truncating the comment, we weren’t defending Dennis Yu’s  honor like some knight in shining armor- we were preserving contextual relevance.  We barely know Dennis Yu but the post raised what still seem to be serious issues regarding Facebook’s ad platform.

If a blog post addresses marketing tactic, blog comments should address the tactics, and not question the personal constitution of the author.  This is not “Law and Order.”  You’re welcome to tell us we’re wrong. Tell us the assertions are off the mark. But discuss the freakin’ point at hand as opposed to using our pages as your personal pissing posts.  Take your petty playground name calling outside and grow up, please. </rant>

  • john andrews

    Good for you. And be prepared for the lawyers to attack you in the future with claims that since you admitted you edit user comments, you forfeited your safe harbor protections. Yeah, I know that’s not true, but the lawyers will try it anyway and use this post as an example. You may end up paying to prove you are right, and answering all sorts of nit-picky specifics pulled from this post (your example skewed the facts, influenced the tone, etc etc etc blah blah blah.

    My approach? Don’t feed the trolls… any of them. Do the right thing, of course, but ignore the h8ters.

  • Les

    Ah, “freedom of speech” arguments. Unless I misunderstand, aimClear and it’s blog are private property. As such the owners, editor and staff have every right to moderate the content here in any manner they see fit as long as they don’t use any libelous or defaming commentary themselves.

    Beyond that, it’s perfectly within their rights as the owners of the “forum” to allow/not allow any and ALL content as they see fit.

    Excellent explanation, Lauren. Keep up the good work!

  • Marty Weintraub

    @john andrews: It’s always a pleasure to have you stop by here. Lauren is out of range so I’m manning the console this evening. We think your advice regarding troll feeding is spot on. Thank you. We’ve got great attorneys in our corner. I hope to see you in Portland in March for SEMpdx.

    @Les: Glad the post resonated and thanks for supporting our writers.

  • SEOmom

    Bravo, Mr. Weintraub. I hear your frustration; you spend a great deal of time, effort, and money to present thoughtful, intelligent conversation about an industry. Keeping it clear of nonsense, irrelevancies, and particularly personal acrimony is a real challenge. I am impressed by the strength of your convictions and by your candor about your processes.

    • Marty Weintraub

      @SEOmom: Thanks, the credit goes to Lauren, or blog editor extraordinaire who put so much thought into this post. The key point is relevance. If a blog post profiles a person, then he or she is what the dialog should be about. Instead what we had here is sour grapes. Mr. Yu’s post apparently struck a chord because the result was out of context personal attacks. Still nobody has stepped forward to debunk the substance of his FB scam post, in any serious way.

      Whenever you have folks allegedly gaming a lucrative system, lots of money can be involved. Bringing the game to light, I suppose, can cost people money. Why don’t the gamers behind the alleged scams step out from behind the curtain, say there names and explain why what they do is ethical–l instead of oblique accusations regarding an author’s character? To me, in combination with the alleged scams themselves, portend the cheesiest kind of coward.

  • Lauren Litwinka

    @John – right on – thanks for your legal heads-up, it’s always important to keep that in mind in cases like these. And I agree with your approach towards trolls – ignore them like you’d ignore a brat throwing a hissy fit, or a bully- sooner or later they’ll tire themselves out or move onto another audience where they can get attention.

    @Les – you’re quite right, aimClear blog *is* private property, and therefore reserve the right to truncate your… wait, you get the idea :) thank you so much for the props, my friend. They’re always appreciated!

    @Marty – thanks for manning the console and the props!

    @SEOMOM – thank you for taking time to leave your comments about the post!

  • Jonah Stein

    Marty

    Don’t apologize for removing the personal attacks. I would go further and say that the affiliate marketers who are attacking Dennis for his articles are mostly the very people who are loosing money because this shit stops working when exposed to sunlight. The speed at which Facebook and MySpace reacted to the Spamville series makes it absolutely clear that none of the name brand companies want to be associated with exploitation.

    This is not some morally neutral, victimless crime. These people target the young, the old, the uneducated and more frequently than ever, the unemployed. They prey on the desperate and they hurt us all.

    The damage to the web economy is real and affects all of us. The latest statics show online marketing is getting about 25% or all marketing dollars in the U.S., compared to over 50% in European countries like the UK that have better consumer protection regulations. The gap, I suggest to you, is largely because brands are still reluctant to go all in on the internet because of an accurate perception that it is not a safe place to do business. The solution to this problem is for marketers to realize that WE are also the victims of these scams and to stop turning a blind eye to reverse billing scams, stop allowing them on our network and to rally around those people who are willing to suffer the consequences of publicly outing scams and taking money out of scammers pockets. These scammers may be your drinking buddies, but they are not your friends.

  • SEOmom

    @Lauren. Sounds like”Brava” is in order instead.
    @Jonah Stein Well said! I often liken the search marketing industry’s reputation to “Timeshare in the ’60s”, when people were sold ‘off-shore land’ in Florida… in other words, land under the Atlantic. It took a long time for the industry’s reputation to establish itself as viable and it suffers still today, nearly 50 years later.

    The sooner search marketing becomes a reliable business partner for the manufacturing, service and retail industries, the sooner it will take its place as the heirs to the traditional ad/marketing agencies of the last century. And let us all note, there’s a lot of good money to be made when it does. (http://advertising-agencies.suite101.com/article.cfm/biggest_ad_agency_groups)

  • Keith Wilcox

    It’s amazing how people bandy around the term “freedom of speech” without understanding the first thing about it. When people write equally silly things on my blog I feel compelled to remind them that my blog is NOT subject to the US constitution on Freedom of speech. I am a dictatorship. If they don’t like it they can shove off. One of the problems with the internet is that very uneducated people feel empowered to say very stupid things. Whatever anybody’s personal feeling about Dennis, the fact remains that his post was not about him, it was about facebook practices and scams by affiliates. It was a great article and it was exactly appropriate for this forum and for readers like me who wanted to learn something. It was not a Dennis marketing effort. Anyway, I’m aware that there are many who disparage dennis on personal grounds. None of it is really relevant. You were correct to focus the discussion.

  • Lauren Litwinka

    @Keith – “I am a dictatorship.” I love that. You’re so very right – one enormous drawback about the accessibility of the Internet is that it’s accessible to *everyone*. Good for you for taking that importance stance with your own blog- and hey, thanks for taking the time to share your thoughtful two cents on the situation. I officially deem your comment relevant and of substantial value!

    @SESmom – thanks for the brava!

  • ldii

    I like the good idea of open the site to community platform to host guest bloggers. We can compile other expert thought while increasing the rank of the site. I am interested in following your insight.

  • Blaise

    It’s never good practise to start fiddling with the content of people’s comments, for several reasons:

    Ethically: If I posted something, the sum of the words are what I meant. By chopping my post up, you change what I meant.

    Legally: By meddling with words, you open yourself up to legal attack in case you get sued for the hosting of the content of the comments. You might win, you might not, but it’s costly either way.

    Best practise for everyone is to stick to “Pass/Delete” – I’d rather you culled my post completely instead of having my words mangled, you don;t have to spend time sweating over walking a legal tightrope.

    Interesting post!

  • Lauren Litwinka

    @Idii – right on! It’s often a rewarding win-win situation.

    @Blaise – Thanks for taking the time to leave your opinion on the matter!

  • Stephen van Egmond

    You are spot-on in trying to keep your discussions civil and on-topic. It’s always a question of when, not if, flame wars will start, and it’s a turning point in any community when the community’s managers decide to step up to, or abdicate, their responsibilities.

    “Freedom of speech” does not mean what such people think it means. This is your property, and if they don’t like the rules they can take a hike.

    As a practical matter, my advice is to save yourself the time: just delete posts with personal attacks outright, and ask the commenter to try being less personal in their commentary.

  • Lauren Litwinka

    @Stephen – Thanks for contributing to the conversation :) I agree with your point of view. Too many people are guided by the misconception that blogs are public property, but the rules exist and are ready to be enforced whenever the blogger sees fit. A more effective approach might be for the disagreeing reader(s) to write their own blog posts in response to the issue- then they’d have the opportunity to be super snarky with the anchor text they use to link back to the original post… but I suppose that requires more work than simply adding their personal gripes to a comment thread…

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