I reached a nice milestone in my writing career this week–I learned to stop looking at the comments when my articles are published on mainstream websites. This wasn’t an issue in the beginning. I only wrote on my personal blog, which I shared with my Facebook circle–a group I feel is full of tactful, educated people. However, when my writing made the leap to a wider audience, I hit a rough adjustment period. Up until then, I spent my days wrapped in a safety blanket of ignorance, only occasionally receiving criticism–and if I did, it was a constructive and usually very helpful.
Jump ahead to the summer when my writing took off a bit, and the floodgates opened to not only a wider supportive crowd, but also a whole different one as well–the rest of the online commenter community. Or, the angry mob, if you will. For a while, I had a hard time looking away from the train wreck of comments that would follow one of my articles–people who thought I was attacking them, people who thought I was lazy, or my personal favorite–people who didn’t read the article (admit they didn’t read it), but rip into the idea anyway, usually talking about an issue in their own lives.
Luckily, I have a very supportive husband and group of friends that taught me to “just say no” to reading, or giving any weight, to nonconstructive online criticism. But as someone who writes about feelings and human interaction a whole bunch, I still can’t look away. I’ve been watching Jon Ronson’s TED Talks , and am starting to read his book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed:A Journey Through the World of Public Humiliation. He has a lot of good points. In his talk last summer, he paints the picture of a time when Twitter was used to display our insecurities in order to connect with similar people. Nowadays, unfortunately, Twitter seems to be out to “get” people, ready to jump on a poorly-worded joke or a less-popular idea. It can be about getting attention for upholding your personal ideologies, even at the writer’s expense. What’s most fascinating, is that many of these people, usually egged-on by groupthink, genuinely think they’re fighting for some good cause.
Amidst all this seriousness though, all I can do at the moment is laugh in the face of negativity. It isn’t right, and not funny for the people who are being attacked. But instead of wasting my anger on them, I will celebrate their comments in the only way I know how–sarcasm.
The 7 types of online commenters:
Type 1: The Judgmental Grandpa
Now don’t get me wrong, the Judgmental Grandpa comes in all forms–middle-aged lady, California businessman, bratty teenager. But they all have one thing in common– they believe you are not doing ENOUGH. They focus on your painful mediocrity (as a writer, person, or parent), use words like “lazy,” “weak” and “boring,” and tell you that their lives are much, much harder than yours. These commenters also like to express their distaste in physical bodily functions like *yawn* or #whydidijustreadthat. Strangely enough, they also tend to be the victim-shamers, pointing out that you brought this all on yourself, and because of this, you have hurt everyone around you, and also that you just generally suck. Nonetheless, you took precious time out of their day, and they need to go walk to school, which is 15 miles in the snow, uphill both ways.
Type 2: The Christopher Columbus
This group earned their name by expressing how they thought they were looking at one website, but WOH, are they reading a different website altogether? They seem to be very lost, and because of this, will wreak havoc on the land they’ve stumbled upon. They use such gems as: “What is this, a Buzzfeed list??!” “I thought I was reading an intelligent website!” “Did they really pay you for this?” This group is particularly confusing because they seem to believe they are the brand managers of the website–when in reality, an editor actually took the time to choose this piece for their audience. Thanks for your input though, bro. I’ll make a note for next time.
Type 3: The Noah’s Ark Unicorn
Essentially, they missed the boat. Recently, a post of mine was published on xoJane regarding women and the imbalance of downtime. In the very first sentence, I use the phrase “my husband and I.” In the 2 minutes that I looked through the comments (before recognizing they were a runaway train of gobbley-goop), I noticed a chain starting about me humble-bragging about dating websites. Uhhhhh…no one said anything about dating websites…but do you need to talk about something? That’s cool and all, but did you just need a public forum to air out your laundry? Again, I feel for you, but not when you project your own issues on the writer. ANYWAY. These are the “I only skimmed this, BUT…” crowd.
Friends. We’ve been working on reading comprehension since first grade. They weren’t kidding when they said we’d use it in real life.
Type 4: The Condescending Professor
Hehehhe I love this one. Favorites include:
- If you were my student, I would tell you that your article didn’t make any damn sense.
- What exactly was your main idea? I think it was lost on all of us.
- Was this tongue-in-cheek? If so, great article, if not…oof! (Actual wording from a recently spotted comment)
- Has this writer ever even written before?
- Can we stop writing about this idea? I’m tired of it.
*Sigh* If only they could write it in red pen.
Type 5: The Center of the Universe
You know, I feel a little bad for this group. This is the gang that takes everything personally, and has confused an online article for a direct email. They tell personal stories to attack the writer, instead of using them to celebrate a connection. My biggest question with this one is: When you turn on the radio in your car, and you don’t like the song, you change the channel, right? You don’t sit there yelling, “Why are you playing this?!! I HATE this song!! Don’t you know, me, Delilah?!”
Type 6: The Misguided Activist
Back to Jon Ronson’s point, these are the people who genuinely believe they are spreading truth. This, perhaps, makes them the scariest of the bunch. They are the ones who have sought out “facts”–true ones or not–to back up their point. They post graphs, quote politicians, or (oh dear) bring a Bible quote into it. I have complete respect for others’ religions, I actually dream that one day we can all hold hands, dance in a circle, and celebrate our different beliefs before having a nice picnic together. I’m not kidding. But either way, I do believe that Jesus wouldn’t like to be brought up in the name of insulting someone else. I always imagine him sitting on a cloud somewhere, face-palming and shaking his head when someone does this. Either way, the Misguided Activist is not in it for a discussion. They are out to prove you wrong and to build an angry mob of pitchfork-weilding town dwellers behind them.
There is a way to have a constructive discussion, it’s one reason the internet has driven so many great causes, but you need to be flexible for another person’s ideas to do so.
Type 7: THE REST OF US
After all that negativity, let’s talk about the other 90% of the internet that follows the “if you don’t have anything nice to say, close the damn browser” rule. I love constructive criticism, I thrive on it. And yet, it’s hard to find. And if you’re on the fence about whether your comment will be helpful to a situation, don’t write it! But I know I’m preaching to the choir here. In my experience, the WordPress blogging community, Humans of New York, the Offbeat Websites, and I’m sure many others, only support positive and constructive feedback. Until I started writing for larger sites, this is all I saw. And all of you are the most important part of the internet. Last night, I read an article about women in theatre that was similar to my own. Yes, I would have written it differently–but that’s the thing–I’m not her. She was making a discovery in her own way, and bravely sharing it with other people who might also learn from her ideas. Yet the comment section was full of crazies. So I posted a study that would back up her point, congratulated her on the article, and went on with my night.
To all those not seeking attention through negativity–I salute you! We need to keep fighting the good fight. Your supportive, constructive, and fact-based comments are appreciated, and one of the main reasons I write. I love hearing about your own life experiences, whether they support my view or not. Either way, let’s talk about it like people.
To the other 6 categories, who may or may not be willing to change–if you’re going to rip my article apart, fine. In the words of P.T. Barnum, just be sure to spell my name right.