Here’s an email I got in this past weekend (from “denver,” who is one of my best commenters):
I’ve been reading your blog for a while now (love it!), and most of the time can get into the comments and discuss and debate and feel better for it. But sometimes, when people start getting nasty and mean and snarky, I just have to throw my hands up in the air and walk away. It’s not that I can’t handle divergent opinions; in fact, I usually welcome the opportunity to debate online with people of varying opinions. I find it fulfilling and challenging and (and hopefully not just for me) informative. It’s just the nastiness that gets me. I am not saying I have never said a mean word in my life or any such thing, but when I am trying to respectfully state my point and someone can’t seem to muster up an equally respectful response; when name-calling and vitriol start spewing forth; when a carefully thought-out and often enough researched post is greeted with the equivalent of “you’re wrong, stupid, so why don’t you shut up?”, then … then I want to become a hermit and never deal with human beings ever again. I realize the internet is just a giant welcome mat for meanness given the anonymity of it all, but really, it bothers me.
So I guess my question is, how on earth do you put yourself out there, and take all the nasty commentators (I’ve seen some that you’ve posted on your Facebook page that just blew me away, both from the blog and from Huffington Post!), and not let it get to you? How do you then want to blog another day? …. Some days I vow to not ever comment or post on anything even remotely controversial, ever again, just to avoid the hostility—but inevitably I just can’t. I can’t not care, I can’t try and pretend these things don’t exist, I can’t not engage in conversation in the hopes of building new bridges (enter cheesy music here).
I’ve often wondered what it would be like to start my own blog. I’ve had enough positive moments to seriously consider trying my hand at blogging—I just love to write! But I can’t even take the nasties on other people’s blogs. So ….
Am I just developmentally delayed, or (as I have been often told I am) too sensitive? How do you do it?
I’m sure you get a mountain of these types of emails, so if you don’t have time to respond to all of them, I totally understand. I just figured it was worth a shot asking, because I keep vacillating between “I want to blog!” and wanting to make like Thoreau and find a cabin in the woods somewhere.
Hmmm. How do I handle nasty commenters?
Well, first of all, I don’t have to “handle” any commenters I don’t want to. I can instantly delete any comment I find too offensive, and can then block that person from ever commenting again. Anyone on my blog is here by, essentially, permission. So that control is really nice.
Negative comments seem to fall into certain types:
Extremely negative/vile/nasty. These comments always freak me out just a bit, because they’re so harsh. But I also really enjoy deleting them and their “authors,” so it works out. (I especially enjoy that I never finish reading such comments; once I can just see they’re Pyscho Bombs, they’re gone.) I forget about them as soon as they’ve been excised. From their writing style I can tell they’re written by crazies at a public library somewhere, or by someone who’s down in their mom’s basement typing furiously while they inhale airplane glue from a paper bag. It’s like watching someone barf in public. You turn away.
Really quite negative to me personally. These types of commenters don’t bother me too much, because it’s always clear how new they are to my blog. They just don’t know my work. My response to them will vary depending on the mood I’m in. Usually I’ll just delete them—but then not block the commenter, as I like to give people a second chance. But two such comments from the same person is pretty much my limit. I have short tolerance for bad manners.
Really quite negative about something specific I’ve said in the post. Again, depends on who they are, what they’ve said, and how they’ve said it. If they’re respectful and even semi-articulate, that’s usually good enough for me. People in this category usually just like to pick at one little aspect of what I’ve written: they want to clarify something for me, or enlighten me in some way. They often focus on individual words they think need further exploration or explanation. I usually just think, “Okay, Skippy, it’s a blog post, not a book.” I always kind of feel sorry for these people, because how good can your life be if you’re trying to prove how smart you are by what you write in a blog comment? These are the untrained French poodles of commenters: annoying, but harmless.
Really quite negative about something they thought I wrote, rather than something I actually did write. It’s extremely common for readers to get upset over what they assume I meant, rather than what I actually said. I got a lot of that, for instance, with my post, “What’s Wrong With Dressing Sexy?” It’s hard to get too excited about this category of comments, because … well, they don’t have anything to do with what I actually wrote. It’s like someone criticizing you for not tying your bathrobe belt into a double Windsor knot, or trying to impress you by hurling a football at a darts board. They’re like, “See! I hit the bullseye!” And you’re, like, “Good for you! But wrong game. Wrong ball. Wrong target.” Wrong knot.
Really quite negative about stuff that my post is sort of about, but not really. A good example of this very common kind of comment came in today, to the post, Conservative and Liberal Christians: They’re Both Losers (and Winners):
“Agree with the title–at least the non-parenthetical pert [sic]. I make decisions based on facts and data… Something that theology is sorely lacking. There is nothing to suggest of an afterlife. Morality can be defined by causing pain to others. Denying people the opportunity to enjoy life is generally immoral. Forcing views on another person is equally immoral. Arguing is a waste of time. I’m done with the whole religion thing.”
See? It’s sort of what I wrote about—but not. And clearly, this guy showed up with a pretty serious chip on his shoulder. I rarely if ever respond to this sort of comment, because … why? They’ve already shown they don’t listen.
Christians angry at their perception of my version of Christianity. This is actually pretty rare. I do get called a “false prophet” just often enough to strike me as truly weird, but … whatever. I never take this stuff too seriously, because I always end up right away feeling sorry for the people who leave “Them homersezualz is goina bern in HELL!!!!!!!!!!!” type comments. How can I not, when (frankly) it’s always clear how almost tragically uneducated they are? Such “comments” always read like they were written by Testy, the Village Idiot. They’re just … too sad to be angering. I almost always end up blocking such commenters off my blog. Life’s too short.
Seriously pissed off at religion generally and/or Christianity specifically. Can you spell “Huffington Post”? That’s the great majority of what I get over there. I don’t take that stuff personally, because those commenters aren’t angry with me personally. They don’t know me; to them, all Christians are exactly the same: homophobic, narrow-minded, misogynistic, anti-science, irrational nutjobs. Such commenters aren’t angry at me. They’re angry at what they think I represent. And they like their anger, too; you can see it helps them define themselves. I leave them be. To do anything else is like poking a rabid dog with a stick. It just makes things worse.
So that’s a little of why negative comments on my blog posts don’t bother me too much. I just … don’t care, basically. I try my best to say the best things I can in the best ways I know how–given the limitations of the form, and the amount of time I think it’s reasonable to put into these things—and I’m done. To blog is to create (at best) disposable art; a post lasts a day or two, at most. If I let negative comments to what I post on my blog get to me, I’d be on one heck of a messed-up roller coaster ride.
Here’s really the main thing, too. I’m pretty good at writing a blog. There’s only one thing in this world I’ve trained myself to do well, and it’s … well, this. I’ve been making a good living writing stuff for public consumption for some fifteen years now—and it’s all been material that I’ve had to produce at least as quickly as I do these posts. So the truth is I’m pretty invulnerable to the suggestion that I somehow just don’t know what I’m doing here.
Plus, I care about the stuff I write here. I don’t play around with what I publish on this blog. I’m usually awfully certain about the material I present here–or at least sure of it enough to care to share it with the readers of mine whom I know … are actually listening to me. The ones whom I know I can trust, basically.
I’m safe here. This is my home. Here, I get to feel however I want to. And rude strangers don’t get to take that from me.
Plus, you know (and this is the main thing, really): Shore Family Motto.