Cara Pring

Facebook admin etiquette: when is it OK to delete negative comments?

The practice of deleting negative comments from Facebook and other social media channels has been considered social sacrilege for a long time now. The notion that all thoughts, opinions and feedback should remain on your page for the world to see forever after, regardless of their truth or motive, has been drilled into every social media specialist the world around. Recently, however, my unwavering dedication to this principle has been challenged. I have started to believe that some negative comments deserve to be deleted, and not just the ones with foul language or offensive sentiment. So when is it OK to delete negative comments and even ban their authors? Here is my opinion.

In the world of social media, content cannot be controlled strictly by brands, even within their own channels. And there has never been a better channel to share your opinions with so many people in the history of the universe. Once upon a time if your phone provider cut off your service accidentally for a day and then in some act of absolute customer service failure charged you a fee to have it re-connected…and then rang your grandmother (for some completely unknown reason) and called her a gobbledock, you would probably rant to say 1-6 of your closest friends, relatives and/or workmates about the whole debacle (and then go eat some chips).  Now with a few quick keystrokes and a click of the ‘share’ button, hundreds of your friends know exactly what you think of said telecoms company and you can rest assured it will spring to mind when they are next choosing their provider.

Whilst it’s handy for consumers to have an easy way to disseminate rants without wasting too much breath or effort, it can be a scary prospect indeed for the businesses themselves.  Many a board room discussion has taken place where social media has been relegated to the ‘too hard basket’ due to the perceived risks in allowing user-generated content within branded social channels. 

This, however, is not the right way to go about social. Ignoring rants and reviews don’t make them disappear.  If you are not present in these channels you lose the ability to shape conversations and counteract incorrect information.  You cannot engage with detractors to turn them instead into advocates.  Negative opinions and misinformation will continue unanswered and your company will lose out.

With the exception of some geriatric executives clinging to denial, most of us know this by now.  Slowly but surely companies are establishing themselves on Facebook, Twitter and even YouTube.  They are putting themselves out there and responding to customers’ feedback – sometimes even eliciting it.

But what happens when customers (and sometimes non-customers) have negative things to say? Most of us social-savvy web people are probably hearing some variation of “the first rule of social media is, don’t ever remove negative feedback in social media” in some ominous Edward Norton-style voice [channeling Fight Club here in case I missed the mark!]. This mantra has been drilled into us from the beginnings of social media itself.  Every social media specialist from here to Timbuktu has fought the case and adamantly outlined to senior management why negative comments must not be removed, just because they may not want to hear them.  The question is, does it still hold true?

*waiting until the shocked outcry dies down*

Once upon a time, I steadfastly stood by this cardinal rule of social media.  Many a business Facebook page I manned and never did I remove a negative word. And there were many. Instead it was used as an opportunity to provide top-level customer service and understanding to these unsatisfied customers in an attempt to not only turn them around, but show to other fans or voyeurs of the page that <insert brand here> did care about its customers, and was also confident and transparent enough to leave negative feedback for all to see. Heroes of social media! And all the rest.

However recently my steadfast beliefs have started to waver. Obviously within Twitter you don’t have a choice to delete negative commentary whether you’d like to or not. But when you are talking about your own Facebook or YouTube channel, the power is in your hands.  And I’m starting to think there are times when you are justified in removing negative comments.  And I’m not just talking about comments that are abusive, offensive and/or use inappropriate language.  I’m talking about your average negative rant written by an unhappy customer or member of the public.

BUT let me just clarify the above before you move your cursor eagerly to the ‘comments’ section and denounce me as a true member of the social media revolution.  Would I ever remove a comment written by a dissatisfied customer essentially outlining why the brand had let them down? No. Of course social media is meant to facilitate feedback, thoughts and suggestions from customers – good or bad. I’m not disputing that. But here’s a question for you – what do you do when you get fans on your Facebook page or subscribers (or indeed just viewers) on your YouTube channel who consistently post negative and unconstructive criticism? Perhaps there is a reason behind their anger and resentment, or maybe they just hate your brand irrationally or work for the competition. 

Whatever the reason, it’s not a nice feeling to have someone bringing down the vibe of your social media channel consistently – nor do your regular customers appreciate it.  When you are managing a page with tens of thousands of fans (or more), some of who are quite loyal to your brand, you will find that they can be quite vocal against the negative nancys in your channel.  When the same people continually post negative comments, they may even start actively telling them to leave the page/channel and rant someplace else.  It clearly has a negative impact to the feel of the community.

It is a free country and social media is meant to be an open communication channel. So yes you are meant to take the good with the bad and hope that at the end of the day, the good outweighs the bad. But I would argue that if someone clearly hates your brand, or has some alternative agenda for smearing you in public, you should be able to get rid of them or delete their remarks. One or two negative feedback posts are tolerable if someone has legitimately had a bad experience, or even if they just hate your brand in general. But to post negative comments on all your updates/videos/posts and continually on your Facebook wall, well it’s out of line.

At the end of the day your Facebook page and YouTube channel are meant to be forums for your customers (current or potential) to communicate with you and find out relevant information/updates relating to your brand.  In my mind, if people hate your brand and want to broadcast this consistently to the world, they should stay away from your channels and stick to their own.  It isn’t called a ‘fan’ page for nothing. So that’s why I have started to ban continual dissenters from the page that I am admin for. I’ve only done this for a handful of people, and only after they have posted more than three negative and unconstructive posts in a short timeframe (or clearly have a political agenda), but I know that some people may still be horrified at this practice.

The downside to banning people on Facebook is that every single one of their comments and posts will be automatically deleted – which can become quite obvious if other fans of yours have responded to them.  And this means that sometimes it is noticed that you have removed someone (though more than likely people will think you just deleted the comments rather than banned someone). Also it can backfire if you ban someone who happens to be a VIP customer (this has happened once to me) who then goes and complains through other channels to get reinstated to the channel.  However, at the end of the day I think if you have these detractors in your channel you have every right to get rid of them.  It’s not an appropriate channel for consistent negativity by those who hate your brand irrationally or unfairly. Negative feedback is fine so long as it’s constructive, rational and not so frequent that it is having a negative impact on the rest of the community.

So this is what I’m saying social media-ites: sometimes, contrary to the Edward Norton-esque voice, it is OK to delete comments and ban users. You have to use your judgement and only exercise the right in extreme cases, but it can be justified.

What do you think? (note: I am prepared to be openly flayed on some social media metaphorical cross here!)



Posted by Nick Rameka, 18 July 2011

I have more problems with younger Gen Y staff in denial than geriatrics. Most of the geriatrics here can't get enough of it.

Posted by David, 18 July 2011

I manage my companies Facebook pages and I agree with you that in general, all comments should stay as is. This shows integrity to your customers and allows you to demonstrate how you resolve issues which in turn grows credibility.

However if you have someone on the page continually posting negative comments, I'd contact them privately to try and resolve before deleting/banning them.

The overall well-being of your community is more important than keeping that one negative person around.

Posted by , 18 July 2011

i was quoted in B&T magazine back in 1999:

"The online medium finally delivers the holy grail - one to one marketing. Note to marketers - now that you can talk directly to each consumer and engage in dialogue - WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO SAY" ?

This was 12 years ago... it seems not much has changed...

Posted by Alison, 18 July 2011

Does such a rule actually exist!? There may be a view that one should never *only* delete negative comments, as it should always be actioned with other steps such as escalating the issue, contacting the member privately and publicly communicating about the infraction if required.

Most Community Managers will agree that the interests and health of the broader community need to be considered when dealing with serial pests or detractors. If you're consistent in moderating and enforcing guidelines and have taken all the steps to no avail, banning a member is definitely worth consideration.

Don't forget you can always "hide" comments - they remain visible on the wall to the poster only.

Posted by Mark Parker, 18 July 2011

Hi Cara
I think the idea you've put forward is more than reasonable providing the company that is considering this is consistent and transparent in their actions. A good example I've seen of how this can be achieved is European truck and bus manufacturer Scania. They have an incredibly active Facebook fan page for their European community of truck drivers. What's interesting about their approach is that they have a custom tab called "House Rules" - see here -

Whilst there's always a risk that an admin might upset someone, I think it's a manageable issue.

One point to keep in mind (I'm not sure if you touched on it in the post) is that often, the rest of the community want a balanced discussion and can quickly tire of the user who might be bent out of shape or just consistently negative. So dealing with these types of users can often lift the whole quality of the thread.

cheers Mark

Posted by Craig Ashley Russell, 18 July 2011

I've had negative comments of mine removed. During the Vodafone 'Upgrade' earlier this year I was reading their FB page. They had just announced they had resigned their sponsorship deal for an F1 team. I suggested they might be better to spend that hundred million dollars on fixing their infrastructure for their customers.

Apparently one of the VF FB mods didn't agree with my tone and removed my comment, which had a significant number of likes and other comments agreeing with me or referring to my comment. They deleted my comment and said it was because their site is family friendly and my comment wasn't.

Posted by Cara Pring, 18 July 2011

Thanks for the comments everyone. I will just say it can also be dangerous to try and deal with social complaints offline - it is effectively an invasion of privacy to contact your customers offline without their permission when they have contacted you through Facebook and Twitter. Even if you can identify who they are, it doesn't mean they will appreciate you calling or emailing them about their complaint. In a past company I worked for the customer service team received a terrible backlash from a blogger who had actively complained on Twitter and had received a letter of apology the next week. It seems like you're doing the right thing but actually some people feel that it is quite intrusive.

Also in these cases normally the person is usually so completely against your brand there is probably little you could do to appease them. I'm not sure what kind've person it takes to have the time and inclination to post repeatedly on the Facebook page of a company they hate, but I'm guessing they aint too rational.

Alison, whilst you are correct in saying you can just hide the posts instead, it is effectively the same thing as deleting them in the eyes of the person who posted it.

Mark, good point about house rules - the page I am admin for has this also - however most likely 90% of people don't read them. It is crucial to have though so you can refer back to them. I have sometimes posted a reminder to people if there is a particularly negative thread to read the house rules and respect the community. It tends to help.

Craig, I wouldn't have deleted your comment if it was me, unless you had posted a number of times with similar negative sentiment. I think one or two negative comments are tolerable, it's only when someone is effectively spamming your page with negative sentiment that they should be banned.

Posted by Bliss SEO, 17 August 2011

Excellent article, I think you've nailed it on the head. Social can be a scary prospect when in reality the pros far outweigh the cons.

Some negative feedback, if handled correctly, can add credibility to your profile while showing consumers you are listening and prepared to handle customer concerns or complaints.


Cara Pring The Social Skinny Cara Pring
Company: The Social Skinny
Position: Founder
Social specialist, founder of and trained ninja. I've been fortunate enough to gain experience in marketing, media, events and social media strategy across a diverse range of industries - government, corporate events, club industry, private health insurance and the airline industry Read Cara's full bio

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