It’s so common a refrain at this point the whole Internet should just get it tattooed on its forehead backward so it can read the message in the mirror every time it brushes its teeth:
DON’T READ THE COMMENTS.
“Hey, here’s a great article about female empowerment BUT DON’T READ THE COMMENTS.”
“Read this news story about the Middle East peace process BUT DON’T READ THE COMMENTS.”
“I found this really great blog post on raising children / using blenders / making cat videos / choosing the right soup crackers BUT FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THE GODS IN ALL THE HEAVENS DON’T READ THE COMMENTS OH GOD DON’T DO IT DO NOT GAZE INTO WHAT IS EFFECTIVELY NOT SAURON’S EYE BUT RATHER, SAURON’S WINKING, LAVA-DISGORGING BUTTHOLE.”
It has become the way of the Internet. We have come to understand that the comments section is not unlike the Internet’s own septic system: it sits below every post and video and article, collecting all the trash and shit and evil clowns that have been cast down from above. It’s positively dystopian. Up above are the elites, zipping about on their information superhighway, while below, the underpass has some kind of violent hobo fight club playing out again and again.
Internet comment sections are routinely rife with abuse. People go there not to have salient discussions, but to have those salient discussions highjacked by psychopathic bandits. Or they go there to be the bandits themselves: derailers, abusers, sexist shit-hats, racist fuckwits. That’s not to say comments sections are without positive discussion. That’s hardly ever the reality. Truth is, you can go to most comments sections and find enlightening, illuminating commentary. You just have to wade through a toxic slurry to get to it. That slurry represents the worst the Internet has to offer, and there you are, crawling through it on your belly like someone trying to find his watch in a gymnasium full of medical waste.
And it’s our own fault.
It’s our own damn fault.
We have failed to tend the field and now that shit’s all thick with weeds.
We own this problem. Collectively.
But we can also fix this problem, collectively.
If you own any online entity that offers up a comments section, you need to do one of two things:
a) Moderate the holy hell out of that comments section.
…or, if you cannot manage that task:
b) Shut down the comments section.
If you own a site where abuse is first allowed and then tolerated once its in the door — that’s not all the fault of the commenters. That’s on you. You’ve created the horrible space and let the monsters frolic there while you turn away. This is especially true with big sites that gets tons of comment traffic. (And here, quite likely, the insidious reality is that turbulent comments sections help those sites — because some people click more just to watch the endlessly replaying car crash going on in that “discussion,” and clicks mean revenue.) It’s not just about programmatic filters, but also about actual humans looking at comments and making editorial decisions about what can go there. Humans will moderate other humans. It has been our way before and must be again.
And here you might say, “Buh-buh-wuh!” And you’ll stammer out something about democracy and freedom of speech and censorship. But I’d ask you shift your POV a little bit. Look at a comments section like it’s the letter section of a newspaper. (For those who don’t know what that is, once upon a time young intrepid children rode their bikes down the neighborhood streets of America, flinging these rolled-up wads of murdered tree, and on the murdered trees someone had printed old, vetted, edited news stories.) The letter section was not a free-for-all. They did not print the rantings of every froth-mouthed cuckootrousers who wanted to air his conspiratorial, hate-fueled grievances with the world. They moderated those letter sections.
Consider, too, shifting your POV and trying to remember that the comments section is a public section. And, as such, it should abide by the relative rules of public discourse. Not entirely, of course, and I recognize this metaphor has its limits, but just the same, you can’t go into Target and take a dump on the barcode scanner. You can’t wander around in public space just yelling hateful shit. (Well, okay, you can in some areas, but it’s not actually encouraged and can have consequences.) Every square inch of floor is not a soapbox. Every gulp of oxygen is not fuel for someone’s belligerence. Every open space is not a concert hall for hatefuckers.
You do not own all the comments sections in all the world.
If you host a blog or any other site, then you own one: your own.
Moderate your comments section, folks.
And have a comments policy in place — I just clarified mine, for the record. And have a way to report abuse, too. (You can always report abuse here to me at terribleminds at gmail dot com.)
This isn’t a perfect solution. Any moderation runs the risk of shutting out voices that have dissenting opinions. It potentially creates an echo chamber if taken too far. (Though even here I’d argue that a safe space echo chamber is preferable to a free-for all prison knife-fight — it’s nice to have voices be heard, but the questions you gotta ask are: heard by whom, and to what effect?) If we are to hope that comments sections can actually be a place for discussion or even argument and not, say, the equivalent of an orgy of Cookie Monsters on a permanent meth binge, then we need to start doing something. Tolerating dissenting opinions does not mean tolerating abuse. It does not mean violating safe spaces online. It does not mean letting the Internet look like something out of Mad Max. This is on us to fix. Some sites do it. Some do it well, others do it poorly, but doing it at all is better than looking the other way. It’s not about creating some singular standard — but those of us with gardens are responsible for tending them to whatever extent we can.
97 responses to “Don’t Read The Comments: Comment Sections Are Our Own Fault”
I loved this post but I can’t read the comments – hope you understand, Chuck.
(hmmm – which is not to say that you don’t run a clean comment tank, which you certainly do)
I do endeavor to run a fairly clean ship here. It’s not perfect, as I’m only one fallible human, but I try very hard to prune this tree where necessary. I’m proud when people come up and say, “I actually read the comment sections at your blog.”
You definitely do an ace job – this is one of the few blogs around that I will comment on, because I know that actual discussion will happen here.
(I once read some youtube comments and I think it was actually worse than FB :D)
Crap, i already started reading the comments.
I hadn’t realized this until I myself was in fact commenting – and obviously not paying mind to capitalization standards.
YEEESSS agreed ten-fold. Kate Leth did a comic recently on Comics Alliance where she decided to shut down the comments for a day or two to allow people to read before the vitriolic backlash, but … that backlash also needs to be ritualistically pruned or SHUT IT DOWN.
I love the concept of shutting down comments for a period of time, causing people who truly want to contribute to the conversation to have to think, breathe, settle, and return. It might mean LESS interaction, but it would be much more intentional.
That’s a really good point! Prevents a lot of the gut reaction hate, I bet.
Funny, this and related anti-drama posts have been popping up a lot in my news feeds the last couple of days. What is this mood we find ourselves in?
I’m typing this while not looking at it. #leetskillz
Thanks, Chuck. Well said and well done.
I have had this difficulty on Facebook, but only with two people. I make a policy of respect for differences and respectful response. If someone post vitriolic rubbish, I post to them publicly that I do not tolerate such and I delete the post. I tell them clearly if it happens agin, I will block them. Now others who disagree and could get unpleasant know to post their opinions in respect to me and to others.
I agree; I have opinions on the level of cattiness that I think is appropriate on social media. Recently someone lashed out with a catty status and I replied that I didn’t think it was appropriate or fair. It turned into a Whole Big Thing. Now I sort of wish I hadn’t said anything. It’s just…sometimes people post things on social media that makes me lose respect for them even if I don’t block them.
Not just “quite likely” but “sad reality”: the reason comment sections at big news outlets aren’t moderated isn’t just lack of staff, it’s simply because unmoderated comment sections drive clicks and leads. The more rage-inducing the article, the more comments, the more clicks, the more the mag makes and can charge for ads. And when you need to “log in” to comment, it drives up clicks (you have to click and refresh a couple times just to make your ID) as well as aids in the collection of email addresses for the subscription sales team, so that marketers can claim they have added X “subscriber leads” to prospect database. When you know how the sausage is made, all this insane stuff makes… not sense, but I understand it, from the perspective of a marketer desperate to show one’s value.
Some places are starting to wise up to this – they are all junk leads from hate mongers, not actual leads, and they’re often from people using multiple junk email addresses. So marketers are feeding their bosses crap, basically, to keep their jobs. It’s not a sound strategy for future growth, but with so many mags owned by huge corps only thinking about short-term profit, it’s become regular practice.
With Google changing its content algorithm for time spent on page instead of just clicks, it should help mitigate some of the clickbait-gone-wild we’ve seen, but I’m not holding my breath.
Knowing what I know about why comment sections exist as unmoderated hate pools, though, has helped me stay the hell out of them. I never, ever read the comments. When folks ask how I can resist, well – it’s like asking how I can resist watching hundreds of people urinating on one another in the street for their own amusement. Sure, I could stop and stare at the horror of it all, but really, I have better things to do with my day.
P.S. That was my little bit of mansplaining for the day. Carry on.
BRO. DUDE. BRO. YEAH. FIST BUMP, BRO.
“Knowing what I know about why comment sections exist as unmoderated hate pools, though, has helped me stay the hell out of them. I never, ever read the comments. When folks ask how I can resist, well – it’s like asking how I can resist watching hundreds of people urinating on one another in the street for their own amusement. Sure, I could stop and stare at the horror of it all, but really, I have better things to do with my day.”
Yeah yeah, like everyone here wouldn’t stop and watch the pee-festival, at least a little bit. You know you would.
But would you come back for more pee pee on a daily basis? I think these tactics for boosting traffic are probably counter-productive in the long run, since it’s a bit hard to foster a strong community in the midst of a golden tsunami
Come back daily? No, of course not! That’s terrible and you’re awful for suggesting it.
*quietly deletes search history*
its comments like this that make me want a like button.
Really enjoyed this, especially some of the analogies you used. Frankly, I’ve all but given up trying to have sensible discussions below the line, though I do try to make sure my own garden is well-weeded.
Ah, I should always remember to look for the typos before I hit post.
I think I could stand to be more strict with how I moderate my online spaces. Particularly my Facebook profile, where more than once I’ve had someone pull passive-aggressive bullshit to derail a point.
Agree 100%, and did you see the post from TED talks about moderating the comments on the Monica Lewinsky post? It was very interesting to see their experience with moderating. http://ideas.ted.com/want-to-help-prevent-online-bullying-comment-on-facebook/
This was a really fantastic article, thanks for sharing. I particularly liked the quote they gave from Lewinsky: “We talk a lot about our right to freedom of speech, but we need to talk more about our responsibility to freedom of speech.”
I know my preference for sites to read is not only a site where I enjoy the main poster’s writing, but also one where the comments are moderated with a certain amount of vigour and vim. There’s just nothing appealing about reading a comments section which has degenerated into an argument between two opposing sea-lions, or one where the comment spammers have decided to set up residence, or even one where the main occupation of the bulk of commenters appears to be loading the magazines of the machine guns to be used on whoever they’ve collectively decreed is first up against the wall come the revolution. Life is too short, and I have more interesting things to do, like finishing the housework, or shampooing the cat.
Chuck, I give you a whole lot of credit for your comment sections here. After all the books and posts you writes, tweets you tweet, cons you visit, and whatever other duties you somehow fit into each and every day, you still manage to have one of the cleanest and inclusive comment sections I’ve ever seen.
Don’t think I’ve ever seen a troll, nasty comment, or spam telling me how to earn $5,000 per day on terribleminds.
I agree with Robert. There’s a lot to be said about the vibe of a place. Rudeness is contagious, even to people who aren’t normally rude. The same can be said for respect and good manners. Most people adapt their behavior to the vibe of a place.
I recently got into a big online fight with members of my writing group BECAUSE of the Comments section. How, you might ask? Well, one of them actually criticized my posting an article there, which was critical of a particular writer. I thought he was being rude, I retorted in kind and it grew into an online war of words. Damn you, Comments section!
Thank you for this. And, more to your point: Insert insane, angry, hate-filled screed here.
You know when you were in highschool, and there was a really mean but popular girl who kept saying utterly nasty, humiliating stuff to you, and your brain never really worked fast enough to construct a biting and witty comeback? Yeah, now we comment. It’s very depressing, and wa-aaay too late.
Anytime someone uses the “freedom of speech” or “censorship” argument regarding online communications arenas (bulletin boards, forums, comment sections, etc.) I give them the hand and bring them to a screeching halt.
Privately-owned online spaces are just that: privately owned.
Moderating comment sections (etc) is no different than if some drunk and random shitstain you’ve never met before wanders into your backyard during a barbecue and starts spouting racist rhetoric, and you call the cops and have his ass removed. You didn’t violate his “freedom of speech” and he wasn’t “censored,” you protected YOUR property rights and YOUR freedom to enjoy same-said property in peace, in the manner in which you want to enjoy it.
The shitstains who like to stir up trouble can go start their OWN little corners of snot-infused hell, if they’d like, and say whatever they’d like. They can even do so for free with several blogging platforms, as long as they don’t run themselves afoul of the TOS and someone reports their little shitstain asses.
The problem is, they KNOW that they’re screaming in a bell jar. They slither over to other venues that are far larger and have far more traffic just to break shit and cause trouble, because otherwise, well, no one shows up to their party except guys who agree with them.
Example: *random shitstain makes a horrifically misogynistic point on their own little slice of hell, and some other random shitstain responds* Yeah! Um…yeah. You go, bro.
*crickets ensue once all the agreement settles*
Isolating the shitstains to their own little regions of hell is the only way to contain them. They have no interest in being “educated” and arguing with them and their faulty logic will only aggravate the person trying to do so. Not to mention some of those random shitstains aren’t even doing it for their own belief system–some are literally just random shitstain trolls who stir up trouble for the lulz, because they like sticking it to the system, man. Or some bullshit like that. Which, really, isn’t sticking it to anyone, because it’s not a “system,” and they come off looking like a jackass.
Besides, it’s far more fun to ignore the little shitstains, in many cases. Because if you delete their comments and they have no “voice,” they just go even batshittier and rantier until they finally pop a blood vessel in their brain (metaphorically speaking) and go away in a flounce that no one sees, either, because, yo, moderated.
To me, that’s far more satisfying.
I’m not saying ignore the shitstains general point (we do have to continue battles against things like GG, etc. to educate people) but you don’t have to engage in the mud with a particular shitstain or two.
Control the message on YOUR personal virtual real estate. Don’t let the shitstains take over. No webmaster is EVER “obligated” to allow someone to say whatever they want. I’ve heard people say, “Oh, but I don’t want to be impolite.”
Fuck that noise sideways with a rusty rake. The shitstain isn’t being polite by coming over and pissing all over your virtual front porch.
I do like that idea that one blogger had, where she goes in and actually edits the comments of the trolls, thus infuriating them even more. I think that’s hysterical. Especially if they’re using the same ID and gravatar they use elsewhere, then that will forever stay there as a blight upon their trollage.
Tymber, can you provide the name of that blog? I must see.
I think she may be referring to Jenny Lawson (http://thebloggess.com/). I first encountered this approach in John Scalzi’s blog – he was, at least at one point, editing abusive comments so that they were talking about kittens (which was referred to as “kittening” the comments). But he was apparently inspired to do that by her technique: http://whatever.scalzi.com/2013/01/21/the-kitten-setting/
Please allow me to profess my totally non-creepy nerd-girl crush on you right now. (Great post)
“Fuck that noise sideways with a rusty rake.” I am now enamored of that phrase. *golf clap*
This is why I have the big “Allow comments” switch welded to off on my blog.
You must have read my mind.
THIS. So much this. Thank you for writing this.
Slightly off-topic but I need to say this: if there’s ever a “Chuck Wendig’s Creative Swearing 101” compilation I’m investing my last buck! Sauron’s flaming butthole… man, where does that even come from?? ;p
These things just live in my brain. This blog is the outlet for those things.
Don’t you scare yourself at times though, Chuck? That Sauron line was masterful (and hundreds of other rather descriptive funnies you’ve included in your writing).
I was a member of a FB group that got lively. Moderation was shotgunned and odd. We finally had a massive troll attack. This chick was good, I blogged about her in “Zen and the Art of Trolling.” The admins refused to do anything about it. Finally they stepped in and then told group members to fuck off for bothering them. A previously fun group was permanently crippled by one troll. A group of us took her advice and fucked off. We reconstituted the group with a pretty strict no-drama mod policy. The group tripled in size in a week and so far, so good.
A few years ago there was a study on the life cycle of Internet communities. (Probably funded by the damn gubmint, damn tax leeches, BENGHAZI, flame war!.) Without close, even heavy-handed moderation, within 18 months they degenerated into troll dens, flame wars, and sunglasses ads. My late husband and I maintained a collector society for 13 years (on omg, Yahoo.)
As for myself, I regularly have to be treated for acid burns from reading the comments. Yes, I admit it. A guilty pleasure, like a 1930s freak show. I also find wit in there as well, but overall it can be very depressing. These. People. Vote.
Although I did find this gem buried in one yesterday:
“Crazier than 100 rats in a peyote patch.”
You can’t buy stuff like that.
You do a great job here. Conversations have approached “Chuck, you ignorant slut . . . ” territory, but you maintain a firm line. The cage walls are clearly defined and we know that when we come here, it’s not going to degenerate into a gamer-gate scenario. No one is allowed to personally attack and that is the key. Whatever my opinion is, I know that I’m not going to be told to “Do us a favor, just stay away,” or the time I ended up in a scruff with the minions of King Troll himself, Todd Kincannon (where one of his handmaidens decided that dissing my dogs was a way to make her point.)
These aren’t the government, these are private sites. The 1st amendment does not apply. I regularly (luckily not too often because I have awesome friends) delete FB comments that I find crude, too far off-topic, or just thread-killing stupid. If I’m in the mood to fight, I go to the political mosh pits. However, my virtual living room is rather tidy. Anyone who doesn’t like the decor can use the door.
Site owners need to read the comments. Every time. Great post: Terri
Hooray, and thanks. There are enough sites being deliberately offensive without being so passive they allow themselves to become so.
Completely agree! And P.S. You had to post that clown pic from IT, huh? 😉
I DID. Soon as I mentioned evil clowns in the sewers, that image was pretty much guaranteed.
I honestly thought that part of running a blog WAS keeping the comments section clean?
I’ve never understood why we let people act like that in the comments, but I’m pretty much ‘my blog my rules’ when it comes to comments. If I’m in charge of a shared blog, same policy.
But here’s the thing I don’t understand; Is it lots of hate-filled pus-spewers OR, is it just a minority of really dedicated commenters who boil everything down to a Hitler reference.
Because I expect it’s the former, and that being the case an old fashioned method of “screening out the loonies” will never work until technology can verify our true identity behind the keyboard, which may become the norm one day. But all of that is merely a way for humans to hide the sad reality that many, many….many of us are prisoners in a small delusory world that obviously revolves around profanities and Hitler.
I say let the comments stand! Let the anonymous voices in the dark stab at us with their juvenile cries of “Suck my Balls” for THEY are the dark kernel hidden in all of our “civil discourse”. We need to stop hiding who we are, as a species, less.
It probably *is* an overall minority, though that minority grows with online anonymity because of the power that comes with hiding behind the mask of digital filter. I don’t think removing anonymity is a good idea (it has value, real value), so that means looking out for that very loud, very noxious minority. And if you start kicking those shitbirds out the door, you eventually — over time — start to create an overall (if tenuous) consensus that such behavior is not tolerated anywhere.
though that minority grows with online anonymity
I’m guessing you haven’t seen the comment sections of newspapers that have required Facebook accounts to even comment? Because people simple give no fucks about what they write even with their real name attached at times, it seems.
*insert that Sound of Music with Uzi’s photoshopped in twirl .gif here?*
I’m part of nextdoor, which is people who are neighbors, and use real names, and I still see people calling each other nasty names in the comments to threads. Over who should be cleaning out gutters on a city street.
I read an article over at Slate the other day (don’t know if i can link but it’s easy to find on Google) that gave the number of habitual trolls as 5.6%… which actually made me really happy, some times it feels like most of the internet is trolls…
My general policy with comment sections is to gauge them by volume. If I read a post and see “1311 comments”, or some other absurdly large number, I don’t bother. It’s not just that it’s impossible to read that many comments it’s that if there are that many comments it’s likely a shitstorm.
I also gauge it by site. Some sites have very active comment sections that work very well. I really like Ars Technica first because of the quality of the people reading, second because their editors are aggressive about dealing with what crap does appear, and third because they have an effective up-vote/down-vote system. Often times comments of been buried by the other commenters before the editor even gets there.
I do like comment sections and forums where there is a manageable number of regular commenters having discussions. They do exist! 😉
I’ve noticed it on Forums – Amazon – er hem and the various folks who lurk there and then gravitate to other forums on places like Goodreads. They regularly post on one Goodreads group I hang out on but there they behave… because they’re moderated there, and if they pull any shit they get a warning and then if they do it again they get chucked off. I get the marketing angle, great comment about that btw, but it is short termism at it’s worst. It serves nothing, adds nothing and will only drive normal people away and drive down sales in the end.
Personally, I think any comments section should be moderated, properly, or like Chuck, I think the discussion should be closed. I had some folks do it on a blog of mine once. I deleted all their posts, blocked their ip address and reported them to the owner, which was a school.
Great post and some pretty epic comments too.
I’m a moderator on a website called IMFDb (Internet Movie Firearms Database). Believe it or not it’s a website dedicated to documenting what types of firearms appear in moves, television shows, computer games and so on. It’s a guns site meets imdb. Anyway I and the other moderators keep a very close watch on comments. I’ve banned several people who are nothing but trolls. AS a result the site is very peaceful and adult. AS you can imagine our site might be considered controversial. Fine, We keep it under control. It can be done. Just in case you are curious. http://www.imfdb.org/wiki/Main_Page
I can’t believe no one commented: What happens in hobo fight club?
That’s because the first two rules of Hobo Fight Club.
I love well-manicured commenting sections. They expand on the themes of the article and can offer interesting perspectives, including people who are on the other side of the issue. I’ve actually had my mind changed on some aspects of the gun control issue by pro-gun people who made thoughtful comments that challenged assumptions on the pro-control side (namely our inability to know the names or classifications of any of the weapons we want to ban or restrict).
I love commenting. It allows me to get my head around how I think about an issue and get it down in a somewhat coherent statement. It allows me to flex my logic and discussion muscles. It allows me to make dumb jokes that sometimes people like.
But I stop commenting and stop visiting websites that don’t moderate commenters, or that have a toxic, partisan, binary pool of commenters. I used to visit NPR all the time, but I don’t much anymore because every single discussion devolves into “Well what about BUSH!!!!” “Well what about OBUMMER!?!?” “Religion is for dummies!!” It’s a shouting match with the same ten voices screaming the same scripts. Ugh.
And I think it is easy to get into that same shitty mindset – making things personal, getting REALLY ANGRY about something utterly inconsequential (or utterly consequential that neither you nor the person you are yelling at have any control over). I think it takes constant moderation, and the community telling you to back off to make it work. And maybe auto-blocking anyone who comes to your site directly from Brietbart.com.
I moderate every comment on my blog – I refuse to let my space become a place for hatred and any form of “ism”. I also have no tolerance for spammers that seem to try and infect my space with stuff that has no relevance to my blog content. Given that I write in the M/M genre the potential for negativity is high, and although it is a pain in the ass moderating every comment that comes through – I do it because I don’t want my garden infected with toxic plants.
Clean. Yes. We all should conduct our selfs in a manner, which doesn’t reflect we were raised by beast in a forest. I. W G. Have fallen short to theses standards, and I’m sorry for my fruitcake, monomaniac, beyond all reason: behavior. We’re here to debate (in a civilized manner) and share opinions. Like adults. Amen.
The comments on Janet Reid’s blog and yours are literally the only ones I read these days. I just get too depressed when I realize how many sad, angry people are out there. In fact, I tweeted something about this very thing not too long ago.
Comment Trolls and their cousins, Prejudice-Disguised-As-Conversation Goblins and Unrelated-Obscenity-Proffering Stuhacs, are miserable things that ruin comments sections and disrupt any chance for actual conversation.
But another thing that has really turned me off reading comments is that so often they get overloaded by people who absolutely adore the article, video, site etc and will attack anyone who tries to start conversations that question it.
You read an article about an issue and see that a commenter has pointed out out a possible counter-argument, or questioned an action or assertion the article mentions, and you think, ‘Oh yes, I’ve wondered about that, too.’ You pull on your Learning Pants, ready to be enlightened, only to watch that commenter get leaped on by die-hard nationalists/feminists/vegetarians/sports fans/sports haters/breastfeaders/non-breast feeders/BBC viewers/whatever who support the article. They belittle, patronize, dismiss and attack the commenter, and you end up no better informed but with a sour taste in your mouth about that issue that you didn’t have before.
I know these people are acting out of anger or frustration, because something important to them is being questioned or criticised, but society doesn’t function when you demand people either agree with you 100% or not at all, and you refuse to even acknowledge that their might be other points of view, and that they can have merit even if you don’t agree with them.
There almost needs to be two separate comment sections: an ‘I would like to discuss this further’ forum and an ‘I have made up my mind and want to shout my pro/con opinions at people’ one. Then moderators can gently move comments into the most appropriate one, and everybody wins.
“You read an article about an issue and see that a commenter has pointed out out a possible counter-argument, or questioned an action or assertion the article mentions, and you think, ‘Oh yes, I’ve wondered about that, too.’ You pull on your Learning Pants, ready to be enlightened, only to watch that commenter get leaped on by die-hard nationalists/feminists/vegetarians/sports fans/sports haters/breastfeaders/non-breast feeders/BBC viewers/whatever who support the article. They belittle, patronize, dismiss and attack the commenter, and you end up no better informed but with a sour taste in your mouth about that issue that you didn’t have before.”
This. So much this. Or the (rare) times when you are engaging in an informed debate with someone who actually knows what they are talking about and can respond on a meaningful level, and the thread gets swarmed by people who have no clue about the subject but want to put in their opinion (or worse yet, misinformation) as loudly as possible.
It’s about signal-to-noise ratio. Right now, a large majority of comment sections are nothing but noise with maybe a signal or two buried in there somewhere. Anything that can be done to filter out the noise and enhance the signal is a blessing, and Chuck’s suggestion of active moderation is the best idea so far. It’s not ideal, but it’s like the old joke about democracy: it’s the worst form of government, except for all the others.
“But another thing that has really turned me off reading comments is that so often they get overloaded by people who absolutely adore the article, video, site etc and will attack anyone who tries to start conversations that question it.”
Yep. And this can happen here, too. The goal remains the same — moderation can allow this. Someone has to step in and ask the cheerleaders put their pom-poms down and listen to the discussion.
Yeah, controlling one’s comment thread is definitely important, but the thing is that the overwhelming majority of people I run into on these threads are actually really thoughtful and intelligent people. I think it’s important to bear in mind that the abusive people really are the loud mouthed minority. Incidentally, I ran across an article in IO9 about a week ago (sorry. can’t find the link again for the life of me) that cited a study which indicated a low literacy level in internet trolls (probably not much of a surprise). I can say that in my own teaching practice, I found the worst behaviors came from students who were performing substantially below grade level. I found that forging a personal connection with those individuals, though very challenging, and asking them to examine why they were saying these unkind things helped diminish acting out. Encouraging empathy helped as well. Again, I understand the difficulties inherent in such an approach, but I guess I’m inviting all of us in the comment section to help bridge the gap. Going through life pissed off and confused isn’t pleasant either, and a lot of egregious behaviors stem from that place.
Bravo! I wish more popular sites would do this. The absolute worst is YouTube. I never read the comments there–they make me weep for the world. I sincerely hope no one actually feels as bad as those comments would make you think. It can be anything–a little girl in a tutu or a bear cub playing with a wolf–and people will jump all over it with the nastiest remarks.
I’m not big enough to have a problem, but I’ve had a few trolls and I’ve deleted their comments and blocked them. Life’s too short for that kind of shit.
I’ve always hoped that with You Tube (and other comments cesspits) there are maybe ten people or so who are responsible for the lion’s share of the shit that’s flung and they each have something like fifty accounts that they’re doing it from all over the web.
I’m probably wrong, but if I dwell on that possibility too long, I want to crawl into bed and not get out again.
I don’t know you if you ever visited the Warren Ellis Forum on Delphi back 10 to 15 years ago, but he ran that site with an iron fist, using moderators to basically enforce civility. Anyone who got mouthy got banned. It was pretty peaceful for a forum.
I agree that comments have to be moderated, either before or after they are put up. When I make a comment, I don’t like it to be moderated before it’s posted. But if the owner of the blog or site doesn’t like what I have to say, they can delete it.
I try to be polite and salient, but my opinion may be contrary to that of the blogger. Okay, take it off. The First Amendment applies only between the individual and the state, not between individuals. The blogger has a right to delete my comment based upon its content.
For my own blog, I moderate after the fact. I allow the post to be made, but I get notice of it and read it. If it’s spam, or from a person of foolish disposition, I delete it. It’s easy for me because I may get ten comments a year. I don’t know how a blog like this one could be moderated, unless you hired someone. From what I’ve seen, though, most of the people making comments are relatively sane.
I don’t moderate based on opinion — er, unless that opinion is something what I consider harmful, abusive, toxic.
Here it works because I think I cultivate a good environment for discussion. Weeds beget weeds. So, gotta pull them weeds.
“A person of foolish disposition.”
That is the best, most polite description of trolls (and other crazies) that I’ve ever heard.
After a good few years of visiting this blog on a regular basis, I would say if there’s anyone who practices what they preach it’s you, Chuck, Inventor of the Spam Oubliette (yes you did and I won’t hear a word of argument against that.)
YouTube is one of the worst – and yet, something inside me can’t help but believe the solution is really quite simple… if only we could get EVERYONE on board with it. Don’t reply to them in any way – not a single word, no matter how douche-baggy their (troll)’comment’ is. Just hit the thumbs-down ‘dislike’ button to downvote their comments, pushing it further and further down the list until it disappears into the ether. There’s nothing anyone can SAY to a troll/asshole that will crush them deeply enough to hush their mouths… but deafening indifference might make them change their attitude or get the heck out.
Thanks for posting this. My blogs are in no way threatened by this problem yet (I am but a weeny ant, squeaking in the vastness of cyberspace) but I certainly intend to keep tabs on the douchebaggery if it occurs in the future.
On the other side of it, I know 1 of 65 comments that takes another point of view troll troll troll, a lot of online content isn’t great or well written or even well thought out. Its too easy for anyone to get a voice and be taken seriously. And when you go to comment on that, tell them they are full of shit, your comments somehow look exactly like the other comments of people who have agendas or are just dicks. Twitter is the worst for this, its like I don’t agree with *this*, but I certainly don’t agree with all *that* either.
I guess I don’t quite follow what you’re saying? You’re saying that dissenting opinions can look like trolling?
Yes, sorry if my post was confusing. I see a lot of things online that are either opinion disguised as news, or just inaccurate or sometimes dumb, and if I feel compelled enough to post a comment about it, no matter what I put I feel like I look exactly like one of the trolls or A-holes etc, especially on twitter. This is especially frustrating on topics that may involve sensitive subjects (idk race, gender, etc) because I may post something that says I agree or disagree and someone else will piggyback and say “right on, those people suck blah blah blah” which is not at all what I was going for.
A very good reminder that I need to set up a comment policy on my website. I ran into a (mild, comparatively) firestorm last year when I blogged about the Harris VS Hale debacle in my comments section. You work wonders here! Your comment section is always really interesting to read. 🙂
You want to know the absolutely bonkers thing?
I was literally JUST thinking of writing a similar post. As in, ten minutes ago. On the john. Thinking about comment sections, and freedom of speech and my freedom to shut out vitriol.
Also spam oubliettes. That one’s on you, I think.
Point is: This post couldn’t have been more timely.
And now I need to come up with something else to shout into the void about.
Hi, Chuck, I’m a Brazilian journalist and here we have the same problem. A famous blogger, Eduardo Sakamotto, recently has decided to shut down the coments in his blog because people were saying really agressive things against him and with other readers. It’s impressive how people confuse being honest with say every shit that comes to their mouths.
Hi, Chuck, I’m a Brazilian journalist and here we have the same problem. A famous blogger, Eduardo Sakamotto, recently has decided to shut down the comments in his blog because people were saying really agressive things against him and with other readers. It’s impressive how people confuse being honest with sayingevery shit that comes to their mouths.
Great post and very true: comments sections can quite easily become the cesspit of humanity where people seem to think it’s okay to spout whatever prejudices and aggression they like (usually accompanied by bad spelling and horrible grammar). It’s a pity that some people can’t express their opinion with a bit more decorum and skill!
With blogging, I’ve found the comment sections to be relatively tame and well-moderated, but I have to make myself look away from comment sections on news articles. When did this become a thing? If reporting is supposed to be a factual pursuit, getting some stranger’s opinion on it is like seeing a comment section under an encyclopedic entry or dictionary definition.
Since I’ve walked away from Facebook and Twitter, my intelligence and anger quotients have changed inversely. Those platforms aren’t exactly think tanks and rage reading ruins my day.
[…] Don’t Read The Comments: Comment Sections Are Our Own Fault It’s so common a refrain at this point the whole Internet should just get it tattooed on its forehead backward so it can read the message in the mirror every time it brushes its teeth: DON’T READ T… […]
This is brilliant. I can’t stop reading your various blogs Chucky.
You’re a mad yet truthful writer, who inspires me to pursue some literary focused career when the time comes.
Thanks and Cheers 🙂
Dirge Magazine planning meeting, Day One: “Yeah, so I’m disabling comments, because people are mostly Hefty bags full of trash and noise, and I don’t want them bursting all over my lawn where I have to rake it up.”
Staff, unanimously: “Fuck yes.”