Why You Need a Public Comment Policy

I work with governments and organizations that must be transparent. These are just the types of entities that must have public comment policies. You may need one as well. Take a look at some of the most common questions I hear on this topic.

What’s the purpose of public comments?

The ability for the public to comment on government activities is central to a constitutional democratic republic. We see this in open public meetings that allow time for oral public comments usually about issues being discussed that day. This tradition goes back to early American town halls and is associated with the rejection of closed government decision making.

Now you may not be a government entity but if you receive funding from sources that maintain transparency, you may want to follow these guidelines for transparency.

Can I just turn off comments?

You could but then I want to ask you, ” Why are you using ‘social’ media if you aren’t willing to talk to others?” The difference between your website and social media is the part about conversation. If you aren’t willing to communicate in two directions, you aren’t valuing the opinions of the public (your customers.) You are saying, “My statement is more important than yours” when you reject their ability to communicate. It’s considered rude and pretentious.

If you want the respect of the public, you must respect that they have opinions and that you might not like them. You prove your character when you can handle negativity and/or contrary opinion with maturity.

When do you delete a comment?

Ah ha! Here’s where you’re asking a question I can work with. I don’t generally recommend deleting (see previous paragraph or this blog) but there are definitely factors that justify deleting. By creating a stated Public Comment Policy, you have ground to stand on when deleting is necessary.

stated public comment policy

Great example on a Facebook Page.

Once you state what the expectations are of your community, you have the ability to defend your space. You can set some rules about what is and not allowed within the confines of your page, profile, or presence.

I find that most Public Comment Policies state basic contact information, where you can expect a timely response (usually a main website or contact page), the purpose of the page, and what is not allowed or what will trigger deletion.

Items to consider including as actions you ban:

  • hate speech
  • profanity, obscenity, or vulgarity
  • nudity or sexual content
  • defamation to a person or people
  • posts that perpetuate discrimination on the basis of race, creed, color, age, religion, gender, marital status, status with regard to public assistance, national origin, disability, or sexual orientation
  • name calling or personal attacks
  • promotional posts
  • copyright and trademark infringement
  • posts that are clearly off topic
  • posts that advocate illegal activity
  • those that compromise safety or security of the public or public systems

If you post this on your website, in a static location on your social channels (if you need assistance, contact me), or post semi-regularly about your policy, you are within the expected bounds of deleting comments that don’t abide by these expectations.

Who should write our Policy?

I do recommend writing from an example. Search the term (I did myself) and you will find dozens of examples on the open internet from governments around the country. Work with one that you think matches your scenario and use it as a template. When you think you’ve covered everything, work with your internal legal team or an attorney to fine tune.

Not Sponsored – I use LegalShield. It’s a low cost monthly payment for legal services. When you have a contract or policy you need reviewed (as an example), you call an 800# and they connect you with a big law firm who will act as your consulting lawyers. I’ve been using this service for 10 years or so and each year I use it enough to justify the cost. As a result, you are more willing to check with them when you have a question which will save you money, promise. No huge out-of-pocket legal expenses for me!

Questions for me?

Feel free to ask me in the comments or on my Facebook page. I’d love to hear from you!

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