Everyone’s a critic. Everyone’s a better writer. Everyone knows what you should have said, what you said wrong, why you’re an idiot, why they could do better; how stupid you are, what a pointless article you wrote, what shoddy journalism you practice, how you’re like Sean Hannity (yes, I got that one), and why you should just “shut the fuck up and get a life.” Yeah… quotes. Cuz someone actually said that.
Commenters. Can’t live with ’em, can’t live… well, we’ll leave it at that.
The comment feature under every article, every image – in fact, pretty much everything online – was designed to engender interaction, create involvement, and inspire a dialogue. Its hopeful intent was to connect readers with each other and with the writer (or artist of whatever medium) in the spirit of public engagement. It was a good idea and when it works, it can be a powerful forum: great for feedback, lovely for compliments and support; convenient in terms of exchanging interesting ideas, getting new angles on the subject matter, even tangling in hearty debate. When it works.
When it doesn’t, well… the image above is a pretty accurate depiction of how it goes. And, to be honest, that’s how it goes too often. It ain’t pretty and, frankly, I hate that part of my job.
Because, tell me, when did the job description of “writer” come to automatically include the addendum of “punching bag”? I wonder if college professors have created writing courses now to teach “how to endure commenters”? If not, they should.
Where that rare phenomenon of commenting productively happens most is on Facebook. Not hard to figure; most people are there with their real names and faces. If they have access to your posts it’s because you know them, they know you, they requested to become a “friend” because they like your work, or they connected to you via someone else you know. They’re a fairly welcoming bunch and even when it gets feisty, it’s more “friendly fire” than the hardcore volleys experienced elsewhere. And if it does get out of hand – as it is wont to do when you’re a “public figure” and unknown subscribers come aboard – it’s a simple matter of blocking the more heinous participants from the firing line.
Twitter is usually pretty benign, as well. Not quite as intimate as Facebook, but anyone looking at and able to respond to your tweets is there because they chose to “follow” you or someone else who’s following you, so it’s unlikely they’re going to get too aggressive in 140 characters (though it’s been known to happen!).
Where it does get down-dirty ugly? In the comment sections under your articles. Dear God…
It’s as if being given the ability, the permission, to comment on the work of others has unleashed the hounds of hell in some people, given them carte blanche to be incredibly hostile, verbally assaultive, vile, insulting and aggressive in ways that tell me they see this whole commenting thing as an outlet for some deep, personal rage. I’m a pretty tough chick but there are days I feel like I’ve had more poop thrown on me than the mother of a one-year-old.
It doesn’t appear it’s enough for these types of commenters to just say, “I don’t agree with you,” or “I think you missed some things,” or “You made a mistake,” or “I love the Post Office.” No, it goes from reading however much of an article their attention will hold before they’re compelled to spew (which is sometimes just after the headline!) and then it’s a straight shot below the belt, with as much snarling, sneering vituperation as they can muster and still type.
I always wonder, and sometimes actually say, “Why don’t you do the work of researching, writing, editing, fine-tuning and carefully putting together an article; do the work of getting it out to publishers and websites, go through the vetting process to get it accepted and published, and after you’ve done all that, how ’bout I come over there and punch you in the gut, call you names, and castigate you in every way I can manage… how about that?!”
Because that’s pretty much the drill. It appears some people think you’ve traded your humanity for the generic, faceless role of WRITER, a replicant at the mercy of their slings, arrows, pitchforks and… poop.
But here’s the deal: that isn’t part of the bargain. That isn’t the contract between writers and their readers. The real contract?
My part: I write. I’ll always deliver my very best (because that’s how I roll); I’ll research the hell out of what I write but if I make a mistake, let me know and I promise I’ll fix it (and give you credit!). I’ll do my utmost to make sure the copy is correct, the names are spelled right and the facts are accurate. I’ll put in the work to create flow, rhythm, pacing and verbal acuity. I’ll offer depth, background and context, maybe I’ll even make you laugh. And I won’t put it up for publishing until it’s the best possible article I can deliver, for your sake and mine.
Your part? You read, preferably all of an article before you jump. Don’t latch onto a word or phrase and then rush to counter; take the time to take it all in and see, if viewed as a whole, it makes sense. When you’re done, if you have something to say, BE CIVIL. Don’t get personal. Don’t insult me, call me names, condescend, patronize or attempt to make me feel stupid. Say what you have to say, share your ideas, offer your counterpoints, but be intelligent and congenial about it.
THAT’S the contract.
Writers’ pictures are generally affixed so you can see they’re real people. Treat us that way. Be decent, for God’s sake. Because, in most cases, that hard-working writer you’re busy flinging poop at is a decent person too. And there’s just no call for all the mess.
Monkeys image: Howlers @ Flame Warriors, by Mike Reed
Follow Lorraine Devon Wilke on Twitter, Facebook, Huffington Post and Addicting Info; details and links to her other work @ www.lorrainedevonwilke.com. And don’t forget to fill in the subscribe box above for updates when new material is posted!