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It can also be useful to set some ground rules on your social media pages, so that followers know what is and isn’t acceptable when it comes to engaging with you. Something along the lines of ‘We reserve the right to remove, without notice, any disruptive, offensive or abusive posts, including swearing or libellous statements’ should suffice.
Where possible, do not delete comments or responses from your followers unless they are illegal/libellous/sexist/racist etc – people are entitled to their opinion, even if it is a negative one. A comment that is simply negative or that disagrees with your opinion is not grounds for removal. If you do remove a comment, explain why.
A lot of social platforms don’t offer you the option to moderate posts from your followers before they appear online, but you usually can delete them if they prove problematic. However, when it comes to blogging, you’re often given the choice about whether or not you want to moderate comments before they appear online. You may not think much of this, but it can actually be very important, particularly if a libellous or offensive comment is posted.
If you choose to moderate posts before they appear online, you are seen, legally, as the publisher. This means that if you allow a problematic post online then you are the one slandering/offending/posting libellous content, NOT the comment author.
If you don’t moderate comments before they appear online, you are no longer seen as the publisher. However, if a problematic comment is brought to your attention it is then your responsibility to deal with it – which usually means deleting. This is why many newspaper websites will allow you to comment on articles freely, but will also have procedures in place to report problematic content.
We would recommend taking the latter approach and allowing users to comment freely, with the understanding that you will step in and moderate or delete if needed.
It can be very tempting to delete any negative comments posted on your social media channels, all in the name of avoiding reputational damage. While this is usually done with the best intentions, it can often be more harmful than just allowing a comment to stay, as it will seem like you are censoring your followers and denying them their right to express themselves.
Also, you might be surprised at the power of a crowd to defend you: if you hold fire on the delete button when you receive a negative post, there is every chance that some of your other followers will defend you, put out correct information, or just offer an alternative opinion. This can then lead to a stream of healthy debate on your profile, giving you the chance for even more engagement with your following. Don’t be afraid to trust the power of your followers.
It is also very important to remember that members/officers being offended by something does not necessarily constitute reputational damage. It is actually far better for your organisation to either let your followers put forward their views or for you to engage and deal with negativity in a human, social manner, rather than pressing delete (which could be interpreted as the digital equivalent of sticking your fingers in your ears and closing your eyes).