It’s the perfect environment for stupidity to flourish. It lacks any civil discussions or rational debate. It can raise your blood pressure or ruin your day and make you say, “Fuck you” aloud to no one but your cat peacefully sleeping on your lap. It’s full of anonymous assholes who’ve only skimmed the article, posting anything to provoke a response because they selfishly love seeing their vacuous thoughts published, but lack any benefit to the article itself (or humanity in general).
“Just don’t read the comments,” is common advice given to many Internet writers. Unless you post a video of kittens between each paragraph, it is impossible to write anything that will be met with ubiquitous approval. If you are a woman, you can almost guarantee rape threats or some other form of imbecilic misogyny. It seems that about 90% of comments left on articles are pointless, mean, and idiotic. This should not be acceptable behavior. Sure, the Internet exists with the promise of open and free dialogue, but no one could have predicted the amount of death threats and insults casually laid out on a daily basis.
“It’s the Internet, deal with it.”
Well no, you wouldn’t say that about death threats to the President, so why should writers have to “deal with” death threats and harassment? It’s universally accepted that if you post anything on the Internet, you accept the consequences of being torn to pieces by (mostly) anonymous bigots. The worst thing about being a public writer is seeing terrible comments underneath a piece you put in a good amount of effort to construct. There are too many awful people with too much time on their hands, and no tangible punishment for Internet harassment.
In theory, comment sections are a great idea. Giving the audience a voice to engage in a constructive conversation about what they just read seems beneficial. Sadly, people are more interested in trolling and harassing. Putting discussions into the hands of readers has not resulted in constructive anything. Unfortunately, the quality of human beings who enjoy public discussion has been grossly overestimated.
No one needs to journey through the brain of a worthless misogynistic shit bag.
Unfortunately, comment sections are where these shit bags live, on public display, forever. They are not poignant comments, they are car-crash comments–so horrifying you cannot look away. Some online magazines thrive off their communities, where the comment section is more popular than the content itself. However, the majority of these sections are basically full of long-winded YouTube video comments.
Gawker is known for having heated debates in their comment section, and has even hired writers from it. Their comments are moderated, which keeps the community not as terrible as it could be. I’ve read informative and smart discussions on Gawker, as well as The Guardian, and many other sites. Intelligent discussions in comment sections do exist, but it is rare.
xoJane is also known for having a very interactive comment section. While I was a staff writer there, engaging with the commenters was required. I had just recovered from a horrible comment section while writing for Vice, and vowed to never read the comments again. Unfortunately, it was required reading at xoJane. For every positive comment, there were at least ten more negative ones. It took a colossal amount of self-control to not respond to every rude comment with, “Oh yeah? Well the jerk store called, they’re running out of you!”
I love feedback, as do all writers, but it’s becoming increasingly difficult to gain anything positive from having to search through garbage spewed by trolls or (more commonly) the people who claim to know my entire life’s history. I’d love to be able to engage with loyal readers without having to see “You’re a worthless cunt” first. I want to conduct my life on my own terms, not walk on eggshells because something I wrote got taken out of context or offended someone.
There are so many other ways to voice your sentiments than doing it anonymously on someone’s blog. If you disagree so strongly, write your own article why. If you don’t have the balls to own up to your own opinions, then what’s the point? Would you walk down the street and shout out “Cunt!” to a stranger? No, you wouldn’t, so why do it to a stranger on the Internet?
Writers are not thin-skinned or unable to take criticism.
We are, however, not going to easily shrug off insults and rape threats. No one is prepared to do that. Just because we are confident enough to voice our opinions, doesn’t mean it’s okay to tell us to die. The only solution to this is to get rid of comment sections or heavily moderate them. Websites that leave up comments like “fuck u slut” are irresponsible and only adding to the negativity. If your site can’t maintain an intelligent discussion underneath the articles, then maybe you should remove the comment section altogether.
At their best, comment sections are where writers gain valuable feedback and support, and spark important discussions. At their worst, they are a dark abyss of insults and worthless remarks. Moderate them, or get rid of them. I know I’m not the only one who has seen few too many rape threats.
And if you’re one of the many websites making money off traffic from comment sections full of insults and meaningless drivel: (in the words of trolls) kill yourself.