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Closing the Comment Box

I was reading about how Blag Hag is closing her blog for an indefinite amount of time.  I have no feelings about her blog one way or the other — I simply don’t know it well enough — but it’s always sad when a voice leaves the blogosphere, especially for the reasons she states she is leaving.  She writes,

I love writing, I love sharing my ideas, and I love listening to the ideas of my readers. But I simply no longer love blogging. Instead of feeling gleeful anticipation when writing up a post, I feel nothing but dread. There’s a group of people out there (google the ironic term FtBullies to find them) devoted to hating me, my friends, and even people I’m just vaguely associated with. I can no longer write anything without my words getting twisted, misrepresented, and quotemined.

I know she is a controversial writer who holds strong opinions, therefore, it doesn’t shock me that she is met with a controversial response — sometimes eloquent and sometimes simply nasty.  Again, this post isn’t really about Blag Hag because I am not familiar enough with her blog but is instead on the general vitriol on the Web, which ranges from admonishing comments on the low end to death threat bullying on the other end.

It’s not as if hate is a new entity, created by the Web, but the anger online and in the face-to-face world feels like it has been building for the last year or so.  Prior to this point, I joked with Josh that it was all part of the Mayan’s predictions for the world ending on December 21, 2012.  It feels like we’re always tottering on the brink of implosion, with people quick to jump to an angry response, either in a comment or a tweet or giving you the finger on the road or muttering things under their breath as you pass (since I find that most people don’t speak as loudly when they are being rude face-to-face as they speak emphatically online).

Myself included.  I find myself quick to anger when I read a headline that is clearly meant to provoke the reader to click over.  I mutter to the twins how other drivers are idiots who should have their license revoked.  Things that would have provoked an eyeroll in the past have been making me feel rage-y.  And I don’t know if I’m feeding off of the anger that I’m observing around me (anger begets anger?) or if there really is a shift in the universe turning us all into inflexible, unforgiving assholes.  Again, myself included.

I have been getting rude comments — about three a day — on old posts; always from first time commenters who are writing to let me know that I am a loser who must have no life if I have taken the time to write X post.  My rage-laden internalized response is to think, “aaah, and you are obviously not a loser even though you have taken precious minutes from your important life to write me a rude comment on X post.”  They are entitled to their opinion, so I read their comment, file it away, and go on with my day.  There is no point responding because it’s obvious from the name-calling that they’re not really looking to form a lasting friendship with me where we’ll hold hands and run off through the bucolic fields of the Internet together, giggling as we read posts and weave daisy crowns.

I was telling Josh about the Blag Hag post just as another rude comment popped up on yet another old post (seriously, people feel inclined to tell me I’m stupid on posts that were written in 2008.  Shouldn’t we all feel that enough time has passed on a 2008 post that it’s not worth going backwards to it to tell the person they’re a horrific human being?), and I read it aloud to him before filing it.  If I held strong opinions, I would understand receiving the harsh responses.  Tit for tat?  But I think long time readers will agree that I’m not really known for having strong opinions.  Some might call me wishy washy, but I prefer the more complimentary description of seeing the world in greyish hues which amounts to asking a lot of questions and soliciting a lot of opinions.  So the anger in the comments in a post that was spoken in a conversational tone, recounting a story from my life, doesn’t seem to warrant being told that I am stupid.  Again.

And then I wondered aloud if the answer wasn’t to close down ones’ blog and stop writing altogether (as Blag Hag is doing) but to close down the comment section.

I know, that was probably the LAST thing you thought you would ever read on this blog.  I started the Commentathon, which morphed into IComLeavWe.  I have been championing for the almighty comment for six years.  It would be like Gloria Steinem saying, “feh, women’s rights, let’s stop fighting for them.”

Josh looked at me strangely and pointed out that this wouldn’t really solve the problem because people would just email me instead.  He suggested turning on comment moderation, but (1) the comments that are making me tired aren’t hate-filled, they’re just rude and (2) I would still see all those comments even if no one else did.  Comment moderation protects the blog readers from seeing disturbing things in the comment section, but the blog writer still needs to sift through all those rude words.  I’d still be affected.  I would use comment moderation if I had a spam problem but not for rude comments.

I know I have angered people in the past by leaving up comments that upset them that they thought I should remove, but here’s the thing, unless the comment is hate-speech or harmful, I’m not going to censor someone in the comment section.  That’s just me.  And hate-speech or harmful is sort of on a I-know-it-when-I-see-it basis, and it has happened twice that I can ever recall.  In one comment, the person wrote something horrific about another blogger and I worried that it would be damaging to her emotionally if she ever saw it.  The other comment held such flat-out-wrong information that I wrote back the commenter that I’d be happy to post it if they could show me research that supported their claims and they never wrote back.  I kept it off my blog because — in my opinion — it could do more harm than good if someone read it and believed the information true.

Other than that, the comments that remain standing that bother me fall in that rude category.  And those I’ve never considered removing because rudeness is often in the eye of the beholder.  What is opinion to one person is anathema to someone else, and I’ve also realized at this stage in the game that I can’t please everyone.  There will be people who will be upset by this post and people who will love this post.  And there will be people who will be upset by the comments and others who will say the comments made them see blogging in a whole new way.  And I can’t win, stuck in the middle of all of this, but I’ve also ceased trying to make everyone happy and simply accept that this is the way it will be: what brings one person clarity is annoying drivel to someone else.

And perhaps that is why I had the thought to close the comment box.  I love writing posts, and I love receiving comments that agree with me or disagree with me, politely in both cases.  Those are discussions, which — to me — is the point of the comment box.  They follow the same path as polite discussions in the face-to-face world.  A friend says something and I say, “me too” or I say, “really?  Is that how you saw that?  I saw it this way…” and through those talks, we either feel supported or have our world view enlarged or we confirm our first opinion once it is put to the test.  And all of that is good.

The rude comments are more akin to giving someone the finger as you drive by them; not necessary nor does it invite a back-and-forth that serves a point.  And yet is it our place to censor the middle finger when we’re amongst adults?  I really don’t know.  My gut tells me no — it’s not okay to censor something that is rude but not hateful or harmful.  Part of it is not wanting to lump giving the finger in the same category as painting a swastika.  One is rude, the other is hate, and they’re not equal in nature and perhaps that is why I’m remiss to treat them equally.  The other part is that what I find rude may not be what you find rude, and vice versa.  And my time is limited.  Something would have to give if I was spending all my time weighing the rudeness quotient in every comment.  Plus, it becomes a very slippery slope: if I start censoring comments, should I also become a gatekeeper determining who gets to participate in IComLeavWe?  What about have someone list their blog in the Roundup comment section?  Where does the gatekeeping stop?

So closing the comment box.  Or in the case of Facebook, cutting off the ability to post comments to your status or post on your wall.  By the time I got to Twitter, I started to realize the whole flip side of not needing to ever see these rude comments; I’d miss out on actually holding a conversation.  I’d be talking at instead of talking with, which isn’t very appealing to me.  Shutting out the hurtful would mean also shutting out the helpful.

There is a line in the new book (the sequel to Life from Scratch) where one character tells another that inviting a single person to a wedding without a guest is like writing a really thought-provoking blog post and closing the comments.  Weddings bring out big emotions.  They make us think about love, and to ask someone to stand there and witness it and not give them any receptacle in whom to express that love they’re sensing is like writing something that will bend people’s minds and then not give them any outlet through which to express everything that is now coursing through their brain.

We have come to expect the comment section to be at the bottom of a blog post.  Just as humans got along fine before electricity (and some people don’t have electricity today), those of us in the western world who do have electricity have come to rely on electricity, to expect electricity.  And that’s sort of how I feel about the comment section.  Before the advent of blogs, we had op/ed pieces and we were fine not giving our thoughts back to the writer unless we were so moved to write a letter.  And that was the norm then.  But the norm now is to be able to give that instant, less-time-consuming-for-the-responder reply right under the post.  When it isn’t there, it’s surprising.  Though a favourite blog of mine used to not take comments at all, and it didn’t bother me because I also had that expectation on her blog: there was never a comment box.  And perhaps rude comments are why she didn’t have one.

Those last thoughts are how I dropped the idea of closing the comment box, even though I can see the benefits of doing so.  It is exhausting to wade through rude comments.  They are disheartening.  And yet, commenters are also equally capable of leaving words that give me clarity on my life, that hold me up, that give me energy.  Such as yesterday when I was feeling very much alone in my response to the twins returning to school.  So I’m leaving it open.

It has been made clear to me already how some people feel about my decision not to censor comments on my blog in the past so I don’t know if we need to rehash that, but I would love to hear from people about how you feel — in general — to the idea of a comment box being closed or what you’ve observed about rudeness on the Web in general.


1 Mud Hut Mama { 09.11.12 at 10:11 am }

I’m sorry you are getting rude comments. I don’t think you are stupid 🙂 It is appalling that people can’t disagree in a civil manner. Online or in person shouldn’t really matter – but it does. Somehow people seem to feel like it’s ok to be nastier when they aren’t looking you in the eye.

2 Geochick { 09.11.12 at 10:32 am }

Rude comments are infuriating. I’m sorry that you’ve been getting so many regularly. I’ve been lucky in that I’ve only gotten a couple, but then again, I have a much smaller footprint.

3 kinna hurra { 09.11.12 at 10:51 am }

I’m a new reader, and I love your voice. It just speaks to me on a very, very deep level. The post that has remained with me everyday since I read it a few weeks ago was what you wrote about Gratitude. (I have my own “pocket of air” that comes and goes; lately it is lingering.) I am imagining that your bubble popped because of all the wonderful support, feedback, and love that you, and many others, received and continue to receive…which is made possible by the comments.

I don’t know about rudeness on the web, but I have observed rudeness in general increasing. People are less patient, less kind, less likely to give others the benefit of the doubt. Not sure if it is because of our narcissistic culture or increased population or what. I am guilty of this too, and need to work on it everyday.

4 Tiara { 09.11.12 at 10:55 am }

That really does suck that you’re getting so many rude comments. I must be naive because I just don’t get the need to bash someone because they don’t like what you say or think. Comment, sure, disagree, sure…but call them stupid? what value is there in that?

5 a { 09.11.12 at 11:02 am }

I wish people had better things to do with their time.

I am often surprised to find no space to comment. I don’t generally feel strongly enough to search out an email address to start a dialogue…mostly because I feel like the author is not actually interested in having a conversation. Sometimes I continue to read there, sometimes not.

6 a { 09.11.12 at 11:03 am }

Also, I find myself being incredibly angry about small things lately too…

7 Sharon { 09.11.12 at 11:24 am }

It’s a sad fact of human nature that we are more bothered by one or two rude comments than we are buoyed up by one hundred supportive or positive comments. But it’s true.

I will never understand why people think it is appropriate to leave a rude comment on someone’s blog. If you don’t like what you’ve read, click away and don’t read the blog again. Simple and easy.

8 KeAnne { 09.11.12 at 11:50 am }

I really don’t like blogs that don’t allow any comments. It seems smug like those blogs are saying, “I think my content is awesome, but you’re not awesome enough to be able to comment on it.” It also makes me wonder if the writer is insecure or honestly doesn’t want a conversation because without that comment box, it’s a monologue. What’s the point of having a public blog then?

I seems silly to get rude comments on really old posts. If I felt that strongly about a post that old, I’d email you.

I’ve mentioned a few times how shocked I am by the comments I see on some blogs, comments telling the blogger she’s fat, a drama queen, a bad parent. I can’t decide if I would be more ok with the comments if they were worded differently (I’m concerned about your weight vs you are a big fatty). I don’t know; some comments I think are rude no matter what. It’s a two-way street though. Some bloggers are quick to interpret constructive criticism as bullying and trolling and make it seem like the only comments allowed are “OMG you are awesome.”

9 tigger62077 { 09.11.12 at 12:53 pm }

I am often sad when comments are closed for posts. There’s feedback or something that I want to leave and I can’t and then I’m a sad panda. Sometimes I wonder about WHY those comments are closed – why would you put something you created out there and then not allow people to express their pleasure or their thoughts? And then I remember that the internet is an angry, hateful place quite often and that people seem to take delight in hurting others. It takes NOTHING for someone to not post a hurtful comment – just don’t do it – but people DO, and frequently. You don’t like something? Don’t comment on it. There’s no reason to tear the creator apart for it.

I’m very very glad you decided not to close your comment box. It would be a very great loss.

10 Alexicographer { 09.11.12 at 12:59 pm }

Count me among those who think that the US, or at least my corner of it, is a lot less chipper and friendly (and by extension perhaps polite, including in person face-to-face). I don’t know, maybe now that I’m middle-aged and matronly I inspire fewer cheery hullos than the young spritely me did, and maybe it’s just that my corner of the southeast has welcomed a number of northeastern tranplants who are culturally less conditioned to smile at and greet strangers as they walk down the street, but I’m inclined to blame the economic downturn and the reality that this is a country that’s seriously debating whether (or NOT) to invest in the health and education of its citizenry. It feels to me increasingly like we feel or fear that stuff is being yanked away from “us,” broadly construed, and that as a result we are more inclined to grab what we can and huddle down to protect it from others. It reminds me very much of some of the corners of the world I’ve traveled in where ordinary people have little prospect for seeing their lives, or their children’s, improve, and not insignificant chances of seeing things get worse.

11 Lori Lavender Luz { 09.11.12 at 2:23 pm }

This is so true (in the sarcastic sens): ““aaah, and you are obviously not a loser even though you have taken precious minutes from your important life to write me a rude comment.”

This kind of ties in with the question I asked yesterday about human nature. I mean, your commenters are, at the same time, overwhelmingly supportive and bright (see your last post). At the same time, a contingent hunts through your archives to find ways to zing you.

Human nature is slippery that way. Hard to get a hold on.

There probably is a tipping point at which I would want to close my comment box, or I would want YOU or any other blogger to close their comment box. But that’s a way out point.

I keep a diary. It’s the comments, for me, that make blogging blogging. Otherwise it’s just a diary gone public.

12 Seriously?! { 09.11.12 at 2:36 pm }

Oh my goodness…I just could NOT imagine EVER not being able to comment here.

You know, I see this ‘instant gratification’ with FB, MSN messenger (before FB) and my students. It’s really gotten to a dark place at times. Please lose etiquette and become cowards, hide behind an ‘anonymous’ comment, and are just plain rude. That’s why I will NOT post any anonymous comment. Own your words…good or bad.

It’s really disappointing. While blogging and the internet have brought us an amazing way to communicate, it also releases the demons and cowards out there. Communication has changed in our society…and in my opinion…I wouldn’t always be leaning towards the ‘quality’ button.

Mel, you do a great job of posting without offending. This space has always been a ‘safe’ place for us all to chime in. For the most part, we accept our difference because we RESPECT one another…and YOU.

It’s hard to let the bad apples not taint the batch. I always think of this during parent/teacher interviews too. I get 20 amazing interviews with parents and then there is always that 1 or 2 that rub me the wrong way, are challenging, and confrontational. Nobody likes that.

Keep up the great work here. I will still lunge in your honour…so I’ll do it now…even though you can’t see me. 😉

13 Pale { 09.11.12 at 3:58 pm }

In a way, I think by letting the rude comments stand … you do a fine job of disgracing the source by allowing all to see that this person couldn’t think of any more intelligent, graceful, thoughtful or at very least earnest way to express themself. Most worthwhile people end up regretting hasty/rude/impatient comments afterwards, although there does seem to be a super-personality-disordered UberRace of trolls on the web who seem to be missing a critical chip, which I think never fails to amaze the rest of us. Having the ugly comment up there for posterity … is not exactly accountability (aren’t they always anon?) … but whether the author has the sense to be ashamed or not doesn’t mean the audience can’t have better perspective. So if you can stand it (I like your analogy about coming into someones house and crapping on the carpet) , like a publishing rudeness seems like a fitting (if not entirely adequate or satisfying, ) consequence.

There is a human-condition quality to all the social (ntm anti-social) tendencies played out on the internet, in the blogosphere … it’s kind of breathtaking when you look at it. It’s so true that you can never please everyone. C’est la guerre.

I’ve been reading a lot of Jon Kabat Zinn lately and he would say that we over-identify with our likes and dislikes, our passions and our revulsions … that we cling to these things, tirelessly manufacturing perceptions of “good” and “bad” as if our perceptions = us, as if our lives depended on these pseudo-definitions of self … and that persisting in this mindless way of seeing is to refuse to wake up. That’s super woo-woo … and yet it might sort of explain the roil … which may, as you observe, be stirring itself up to even angrier heights lately (ironic given how much more religious Americans are supposed to be than their European and other counterparts). The world view that constantly grades everything into categories of what pleases and what repels, what’s pleasant and what is uncomfortable … that brands the “other” (a designation that is just a creation of your own ego) as enemy … is a dead end. And holy crap … the Facebook generation is all about defining themselves and others with likes and unlikes and the size of your cliques/clicks. The fevered pitch can only rise because there is no peaceful end to it, no fulfillment … only more frustration and conflict. I’m in the weeds here ….

Closing comments … jmo (and this is so preaching to the choir, so far from an original, insightful thought) if you take the two-way out (whatever you have to do to feel safe and stay sane is fine) … if you take the potential for connection and community out … you seriously stunt the value and even more importantly, one of the main attractions of the medium. Would blogs be popular if there was no opportunity for dialog? Why not read a magazine instead? Dialog is the point? The trolls are like mosquitoes. No one like them, but it doesn’t stop us from trying to enjoy the great outdoors. Putting up with the BS is the price of poker?

14 It Is What It Is { 09.11.12 at 4:28 pm }

I think of rude commenters, especially those who are Anonymous, as small minded, ignorant, uneducated, shallow people for whom leaving such a comment makes them feel big or ‘better than”. I find that hilarious, especially when the comment is anonymous because how small do you have to be and feel about yourself to post something anonymously to feel better.

There are ways to disagree, object, have a differing view, critique, or be critical of what someone has written without sinking to the level of rudeness and personal attacks.

Really, where does vitriol get anyone? Really.

15 Corey Feldman { 09.11.12 at 4:58 pm }

I got my first real troll like comment the other day and I debated censoring it or not. I decided I would base it on whether it was anonymous or not. Not that I didn’t have their IP and the fact they wrote it on an iPad from my log files, but if they bother to use I real email I would post it, if not trash it. So I emailed them, when it bounced I trashed it.

16 Cristy { 09.11.12 at 7:09 pm }

I’m one of those people who moderates comments, mainly because I don’t like anonymous trolls who simply leave inflammatory comments which are meant to raise response. I equal these to being similar to graffiti artists: part of the high is not only writing the comment but having the opportunity to revisit the site where they left said comment to see the reaction from others. I actually had a troll who was having problems posting (Blogger does this sometimes), so they posted two comments. The first was rude, but in a condescending way that makes it sound like they are just trying to be helpful; the second was blunt and nasty. Both were posted within seconds of one another. I chose to delete those because I didn’t want to give them the satisfaction of other readers defending me, as it was clear they were meant to provoke a fight.

17 Alicia { 09.11.12 at 8:35 pm }

I’m an open book and welcome, for now, all comments. But – I have had nothing but support and well wishes for my posts. I like that your blog is totally open for comments, as your blog is the motherload of all IF blogs and it’s nice to see what others in our sphere have to say about your thoughts.

Things are always changing for me, but for now, I’m proud to be open. The day may come when this is no longer so.

18 persnickety { 09.11.12 at 10:01 pm }

really short comment- but I am reminded of a comment on the Media Guardian podcast regarding insulting tweets to athletes- it’s not that people weren’t saying these thigns before, it’s just that they didn’t have the platform. instead they were muttering (or yelling) these comments in the pub or living room, where often as not they would themselves be told to to behave/ put a sock in it/have some respect.
Perhaps what we need is the internet equivalent of the person in the pub who tells the heckler to put a sock in it.

19 SurlyMama { 09.12.12 at 5:37 am }

Interesting and timely. I just clicked over here after typing a post on my blog basically saying I was taking a break from blogging. I got my first rude comments last week, and also found I was being discussed in an unfavorable way. I had been contemplating taking my blog down for awhile. Initially it was a tool for support among people going through the same thing. Lately I’ve been struggling and as I have blogged about it my viewers have increased but my comments have remained from the same people have been commenting all along. I often wonder why the other viewers are even there (some come several times a day) if they aren’t interested in participating in the conversation. Sometimes I feel like they’re just there to watch the train wreck that I’ve become. I’m torn between wanting to close that window into our lives, and leaving it public so that others can find it and connect with someone who understands.

20 Mali { 09.12.12 at 11:06 pm }

This is a timely post for me, because I’ve just had my first really nasty comment. (Does that mean I’ve arrived?!) I can handle rude or nasty comments directed at me, but this one was not only directed at my posts, but at all the comments I had received too. I read it, knew that it was written only to upset people, and immediately deleted it. I have readers who are in a much more vulnerable spot, and I see it as my responsibility to protect them. If it had been written in reasonable language, with an honest and open desire to enter a debate, then that would have been fine. I can handle disagreement and dissent. But I will not tolerate malicious anonymous comments. And personally, I don’t see why anyone should, especially if it upsets them (you), and doesn’t contribute to the community fostered at that particular blog.

So, back to your question. I would visit a blog that had closed comments. But only if their material was sufficiently interesting to keep me engaged. And part of engagement is an interaction – with other commenters, and with the blogger themselves. That’s why I visit here, and why I allow comments – including anonymous comments – on my blog. I’m fine with being challenged (as long as there is a modicum of manners), and I like to see discussions break out with my commenters, or between commenters.

But if you’re commenting on my blog, just don’t call us dumb asses (and much worse), or I’ll hit the delete button!

21 Mic at K Street (Formerly IF Crossroads) { 09.13.12 at 7:55 pm }

I just want to add a quick *squeeeee* because I’m stoked about the sequel to Life from Scratch =0)

22 deathstar { 09.17.12 at 11:29 am }

Perhaps a special section or post once a year featuring the stupidest or rudest comment. That might be fun. Do you think those trolls would vie for title of the rudest comment of the year?

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