I have news for anyone with his or her cursor poised over the “Comment” button right now: I will not read whatever it is you are about to say. Nor will pretty much anyone else, except for those who want to argue over your personal qualities, mental deficiencies, and general unfitness to inhabit the world.
Recently I wrote a guest post for Reel Girl regarding an ad for ChapStick. To my great surprise the post spawned a petition and a Facebook page, getting nearly 15,000 hits and coverage by Forbes, AdWeek, BusinessInsider, Jezebel, the Wall Street Journal and a lot of other media outlets.
That was all very unexpected and delightful. On the predictable side, however, were the comments that followed each piece of media coverage. It actually didn’t even occur to me to read the comments, since I’ve never seen any that were particularly thoughtful. But a wildly successful blogger friend was horrified to learn I had not scrutinized them.
“What for?” I muttered.
“To make sure none of the threats are real!”
“The threats! You have to check – always! – for stalkers and serious threats among all the garden-variety haters.” Wow. OK.
I checked the comments for “real” haters but only found the usual: an inordinate amount of time wasted telling me I had wasted my time. And of course the typical snipes leveled at any woman writer: you are an ugly, jealous, whining lesbian-troll-feminist, with no sense of humor, who hates men and sex. (Oh, dahlings, how we sit around in our super-sized G-7XL Summit of Sexism Whining and laugh at these comments – mirthlessly – as we secretly run the world while scarfing bonbons and torching effigies of skinny, beautiful women that consume us with jealousy and/or lust!)
But I digress. Back in the age of print periodicals, people turned eagerly to the “letters to the editor” or the Op-Ed page for concise, thoughtful (and sometimes scathing) commentary on the previous day’s articles. The writer’s comments were always associated with their name, and usually their town, and were chosen carefully by the paper’s editorial team. This system served two purposes: first, if you said something incredibly stupid or nasty your grandmother (and others) would smack you upside the head in church the next week. Second, and more important for the community (as important as a communal head-whacking for stupidity might be), it also guaranteed some level of reflection and editorial thought. In the old system at least someone along the way had thought through a particular comment before it was available to others.
Online, anyone with the intellectual wherewithal to choose a pithy, identity-concealing handle like “ShutUpDumbDyke” can let fly with the first thought that scampers onto their cerebral center stage. Unless they are engaged in a tough round of Pictionary or Charades, however, this is generally not a wise intellectual move. It just leads to an emotional one-upmanship game of Typing Tourette’s.
There is of course no editorial staff censoring bloggers, either, as an astute commenter is bound to point out here. But most often bloggers are putting themselves out there – not hiding behind anonymous monikers – and they are (mostly) aiming to say something. Perhaps there is a blog somewhere consisting endlessly of “Don’t you have a life? You have no clue. Find something that matters, you lazy sack of babble.” But where would its readership be? To be worth reading- to be worth wasting time writing – a thought needs to have a point.
It’s obvious that grandma’s sage advice “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” has had its day: we, as a society, will never pass that way again. Even Wikipedia’s definition of critical thinking seems hopelessly highbrow and out-of-date when contemplating today’s graceless online commentary smackdowns. Alas, today’s forums – for better or worse – allow for all critical, no thinking. But perhaps it’s not too late for another simple, old adage: think before you speak.
So go forth and comment passionately, wildly, sarcastically, amusingly – whatever moves your meter – but please have something to say that advances the dialogue. And by all means refrain from getting into a fight with the next commenter, because his reply will always be that you’re a pigeon-toed idiot with bad breath and no education.