March 23, 2016

A Comment on Comments

A couple of weeks ago, I went on a date with a man who was very hostile. He had asked me out without knowing anything about me, but by the time I arrived at the cafĂ© he had Googled me and decided he didn’t like me. I know this because he immediately began criticizing my opinion writing (he only believed in ‘facts’), my public profile (he is very ‘introverted’), and my social media use (he doesn’t even have a FB page).
He should have cancelled the date, but instead he arrived, barely looked at me, and then left after a cursory 29 minutes. I would not wish to repeat the experience.
Why am I telling you this? Because this, my friends, is why I don’t read the comments on my articles.
Reading the comments on the big websites I write for is like sitting down to coffee with someone who can’t stand me. They don’t know me, but they hate everything that I represent. I don’t want to subject myself to people who don’t like me, and so I choose to stay away.
Let me explain. Yes, there are some positive comments on big websites. But for the most part, people don’t comment a lot when they agree with an article. They might share it on their social media feeds, or press the ‘like’ button, or even message me about it, but they won’t bother logging in to the site and leaving a comment.
People log in and leave a comment most frequently when they are angry. And they are angry when they strongly disagree with the thesis of a piece. And when they strongly disagree with the thesis of a piece, they often decide the writer is a moron/an idiot/an *insert your choice of insult here*. Because angry people don’t see shades of grey. They see right and wrong, and if the writer is ‘wrong’, then they must be ‘bad’.
And so these commenters tell me how bad I am. They tell me how wrong I am. They tell me in all sorts of colourful language, with all sorts of capital letters, under all sorts of social media handles, most frequently anonymous. And they are allowed to do that, just like the dude I dated was allowed not to like me. But I didn’t have to date him, and I do not have to read the comments.
It doesn’t enrich me to read negative comments about my pieces. It frustrates me to read comments about me that are not true, and it frustrates me more that there is nothing I can do about it. And it depresses me no end to know that people like these commenters exist – people who are homophobic, anti-feminist, anti-choice, racist, or anti-whatever it is I have written about at the time.
Now, it’s true that there may be a useful comment in there somewhere. It’s true that someone may have a point of view that would enlighten or inform me. But sadly, I would have to wade through hundreds of insults to get to it, and the cost-benefit equation doesn’t add up in my favour.
When I stay away from comments, this frustration doesn’t exist. When I stay away from comments, these people don’t exist. And – whilst I know intellectually that they are still out there, just like the dude who didn’t like me still walks this earth – I don’t have to experience the frustration and sadness they bring to my life.
Happily, I still have this Facebook page, where people can leave a comment and communicate with me directly. For the most part, people are polite and friendly on my Facebook page, partly because they usually choose to visit my page if they already like my work, and partly because commenters are easily identifiable on Facebook. People are far ruder when they are shielded by anonymity than they are when you can see photos of their children.
But until such time as commenters are accountable on websites, I will continue to shield myself from their onslaughts. I am just a writer doing my job. And I would rather sit down for a coffee with someone who likes me than with someone who wants to tear me apart.

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