If you think the ethics of 'death knock' journalists are bad, you should see comment spammers
One of links doing the rounds on Twitter today is Roy Greenslade's blog post about "The death knock", talking about Chris Wheal's experience of being on the receiving end of journalist behaviour after a tragedy in the family. It is a sobering story that gets right at the heart of the ethics of our industry.
But if you think the ethics of journalism leave something to be desired, you should see the ethics of comment spammers.
Within 20 minutes of Greenslade's piece being published on guardian.co.uk, someone had registered a brand new user account specifically to leave spammy comments underneath it, trying to sell, of all things, life insurance. Our moderation team very swiftly removed them.
Having mentioned it on Twitter I was asked "do you ever consider turning off comments when the content is such that callous spam commenting is a possibility?". The answer is yes - we seldom, if ever, have comments open on the 'Experience' series, for example, where people tell very personal stories, and our readers are not shy of telling us when they think having comments open is inappropriate.
As with all things digital, as an organisation you hope to learn all the time. With the Cumbria live blog, we responded to the concerns, and closed the comment thread. With something like today's Greenslade blog post, you hope it will spark a debate amongst our audience about the issues involved. Indeed, Chris Wheal himself has joined the thread, which shows the value of having the comments open, even if it is a calculated risk.
And to be honest, if you worried too much about link spam in comments, you'd never open any threads at all. This isn't just an 'Internet newspaper comment thread' issue - any blogger who has 'dofollow' links in their comments will know about the barrage of link spam that has to be dealt with daily. The key is to have the right systems in place. The Guardian's 'Report abuse' button has 'spam' specifically as one of the options, and links in the comments on guardian.co.uk are nofollow, so that even if something does slip through, it is of no value for SEO.
But honestly, as a link spammer, how low can you sink?