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.
Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.
18 thoughts on “Why I Hate Online Commenters… Well, SOME Of Them Some Of The Time”
Love the illustrations you chose!
They’re so very spot on, aren’t they??? Grrr.
Of course you’re right. Now that you’ve laid out the contract, when you read any comment that disregards the contract it means you are free to disregard that comment. Do not take that comment to heart. Those who actually read and consider your well written and researched pieces will not be influenced by those comments either. Pfft, be gone!
Of course you’re right, Heather. But most publishers and sites encourage writers to engage with commenters to build readership – and it can. But the exercise can also be soul-killing so one has to pick their battles. When it gets personal and really ugly, as it too often does, I have to step away. But I still have the stink on me… at least until I can walk the beach, shake it off, simply process it through. It’s quite the journey, this job. Which is why I’m all the more grateful for people like you!
Wait! What? You get to walk the beach? Who gives a flying f..k what those idiots think!
Of course, that’s not the point. As one of the walking wounded, I will never understand why people are cruel or how being unkind to anyone else gives themselves some kind of sick satisfaction. I believe sociopathy is much more prevalent in society, and in human beings as individuals, than is currently recognized.
I hear ya, Nancy! Yes, the walks on the beach save me, but then it’s back to work, back to the fray, and noise back can be so caustic and wearying. Lots of ugly in the world today, that’s so true. The message that comes to me repeatedly is that we have to focus on the other side of the spectrum; those who GET it, those who write in support, those like you. Counter-balances the crap. For which I’m grateful.
I have to tell you that I was absolutely thrilled when a famous author actually responded to something I said, so thank you so much for that! I do love your writing because you are clear, intelligent, sympathetic, saucy, and, often, funny. I have been accused of being “over-sensitive”, and have been told (usually by my daughter) to “not take it personally”, to, which, I reply, everyone should be sensitive and it is always personal. You are a sensitive soul and that is what makes you real. So, if you never answer another comment, or read one, because you are right, “no” is corrosive and depressing, please remember there are many of us that want you to keep writing, touching our hearts. Thank you for doing it.
You’re very kind, Nancy. I appreciate your words. It’s a fine balance between staying sensitive and aware and not letting the corrosiveness get to you. Most days I can do that; some days it just wears me out. But I was sincere when I said lovely comments like yours reminds me that there are some people out there who can participate in this cultural conversation with intelligence and civility. Even when they’re debating, even when they might be espousing a different view. It CAN be done and I’m always delighted to hear from people like you who understand that! Thank YOU for being a positive part of the dialogue. LDW
I refuse to even read comments under articles anymore. Ugly shit and too many assholes. Which is too bad because it can be cool if you get into a good discussion with smart people. But it ain’t worth it anymore and it gets my blood pressure up! I don’t know how you writers do it. It would drive me crazy. (I’m leaving a comment here because it doesn’t seem like that kind of crowd, by the way!).
Joe: Thanks for your comment. Frankly, I don’t think my blog is public enough to attract the hate-mongers. Occasionally one pops up, but I monitor the comments and if people get personal or stupid for no reason other than to attack me or attack another commenter, they’re gone. I won’t tolerate it and I wish other sites wouldn’t as well. I know the Huffington Post monitors comments, but I don’t think many of the other sites do so, yeah, it sucks.
As for what we writers do; it’s tough because publishers encourage writers to engage with readers who comment – good for building readership – and I do, occasionally, with those who actually have something meaningful to say. But I’ve now decided NOT to respond to the negative stuff, even if I’m tempted. It’s like throwing gas on a fire and it leaves me feeling singed. I tend to not spend much time looking at comments. Which is too bad, like you say, because some lovely people often leave them. It’s a balancing act that’s not easy in this current climate of hostile people and very active online trolls.
But thank you for your comment, I do appreciate it! LDW
I just read your excellent article, What Trolls Are Doing to Our Politics, Our Culture… Our Brains, on HuffPo and wanted to say ‘BRAVO!’
So often it’s the trolls that complain about censorship or their 1st amendment rights to free speech when it comes to comments, as if hateful/racist speech directed at the author or any group is a right that should be cherished. Yet websites allow it, which gives the appearance of validity to their words. That feels wrong to me.
Thank you, Carole. I’m finding it interesting that so many of those commenting on the piece are fixated on how giving up their anonymity equates giving up their free speech, as if somehow the only way one can express themselves is from behind a fake name. Why is that? I always figure if you can’t put your name to your words, you probably shouldn’t be publishing them.
And the notion that their safety is at risk is also absurd; all the writers are in full view, using their real names, writing about topics as controversial as guns, religion, LGBT issues, politics, etc., and somehow they survive, they are not stalked on a daily basis. The meme that commenters who use their real names will somehow be in mortal danger is absurd; using that as an excuse to stay anonymous to continue trolling is also absurd.
And yes, your comment about the 1st amendment issue being a smokescreen is spot on. How is it that a demand to take ownership of your words by using your real name constitutes an attack on free speech?? It doesn’t, clearly. This is just, unfortunately, another excuse to hold dearly to the ability to hide behind anonymity… while you’re viciously attacking writers who’s courageously write and express their views under their real name.
It’s all about courage, about standing behind what you say, and finding a way to express your views with civility, smarts and decorum. No one should have a problem with that. If they do, they shouldn’t be commenting.
Thanks so much for writing, Carole! LDW
I found my way here via your article on HuffPo about the effect trolls are having on us as individuals and as a society. Thank you! As a member of the LGBT community, I wake up every day in a world where (if I want to stay informed and join in the discussion about issues that directly affect me) I am bombarded by hateful, cruel, vicious and dehumanizing comments about the very existence of people like me. I’m all for removing the anonymity aspect of online message boards. If I’m going to have to endure bullying, then darn it, it better be “face to face” so to speak.
Let me echo some of the other comments here by saying that I also don’t understand how you do this! Sometimes I go weeks without joining the conversation, because I am unwilling to face the inevitable “attacks” from internet trolls. It can be so stressful! Regardless of TOS and moderators, trolls invariably find a way through. Thank you for bringing up this topic, and thank you for writing! As I continue to wander through (and enjoy) your blog archives, I promise to not post any mean/ugly comments. 🙂
Eric: Thanks for taking the time to come by and leave a comment.
Yeah… it’s a beast out there. I find it so telling that even on a piece ABOUT trolling, the trollers are still there flinging their poop. It’s like they can’t help themselves, even when the spotlight is firmly focused in their direction.
I can imagine it’d difficult for anyone in any community that walks the line of controversy in this crazy world of ours to contribute to the conversation. The minute one does, it’s “fair game” for the haters. It is so very tiresome. As for how I do it, two things: 1. I really do spend very little time actually looking at comments, though I do make sure to glance over them enough to make note of the intelligent, thoughtful ones, to which I sometimes reply, and 2.) I balance the hate and ugliness against the kind, considerate words of people such as you. Amazing what a balm thoughtful words can be!
Thank you for yours. LDW
Do you ever think you’re in the wrong business? I get your point but people have the right to say what they want, that’s the whole point of the open web. You start telling people they can’t express themselves it’s like censorship. I agree that it shouldn’t get threatening, but sticks and stones, right?
Actually, I do sometimes think I’m in the wrong business… at least to the extent that being a writer seems to invite the haters. I agree that people have the right to say what they want… up to a point. What about decency and decorum? What’s wrong with that? People keep saying “oh, you just want people to agree with you” but NO, that’s not the issue. I want people who, when they don’t agree, can express their disagreement with some class and respect. That seems to be missing from the cultural conversation and it’s sorely needed. LDW
Oh, you read my mind! I HATE even looking at the comment sections on articles, much less reading them. I’ll only write on places where I think the comments are moderated, which I presume yours are. Good article.
Hey, Kathy – Yes, I do moderate comments. I see no point in letting trolls muddy up the page. I don’t mind dissent, disagreement, debate, etc., but the minute the sneering uglies come out, they’re gone. So welcome… you’re safe here! 🙂 LDW
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