Rules? For renegades and free thinkers? Isn’t suggesting blog comment etiquette for people like us antithetical to our natures? No. Even badasses like us have a code we live by. The modern Ronin do not have lords we serve, but in our hearts, we are still Samurai. The Internet is the Old West, but even Texas had expectations of how people should conduct themselves in public.
What spurred this post
Sometimes I notice comments that afflict bloggers. This isn’t about me, by the way, you’re all awesome. However, those negative commenters irritate me. I’m not talking about Internet trolls. Trolls should be ignored completely. I define a troll as anyone who says something nasty enough that, without the protection of anonymity and distance, they’d be walking away from the conversation with a bloody nose.
Today I’m talking about nasty people who think they’re contributing to a conversation but mostly they’re stirring up feelings of anger and resentment. They might even have a point buried deep. Unfortunately, logic was obscured because they were dicks about it. They are Negative Nancies, full of condescension, who offer no transcendence. Criticism is best delivered quietly, preferably buffered by a gracious comment on either side to cushion the blow.
So what’s the rule?
It’s what Mitt Romney got so horribly wrong in the last election. It’s a rule in comedy and in commentary that has stood the test of time:
PUNCH UP, NOT DOWN
If you must make fun of anyone, mock your betters. Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Speak truth to power. Stick it to the Man. Harsh words should be measured out in proportion to the crime. For instance, no, you should not suggest that genocide and smoking marijuana deserve the same punishment. Self-monitor and — man or woman or transgendered — don’t be a bitch.
How do you know for sure you’re a bad comment offender?
When you mock the helpless or powerless or disrespect people who are trying to help you, you’re being a dick. If you go through life assuming everyone’s an idiot but you, bingo! If you’ve used the sentence, “I’m just being honest,” more than once in any given week, you’re undoubtedly the problem.
You’re not adding to the conversation because you’re not interested in free expression for others. You’re not listening, but you want to be sure we all hear you. You’re not pausing to understand before rushing to make us understand what a smart person you are. If it’s your secret wish that we all bow before you…okay, bad example. We all want that. However, if you actually do find a mistake and seize on it with smug, smirking glee? Warning!
Confirm your blind love of self here: You find a mistake of “your” mixed up with “you’re”. Do you assume it’s a mere typo or do you assume the person who made that mistake really doesn’t know the difference? Now try “just being honest” with yourself.
If you’re part of the problem, you have options.
1. Zip it and realize you don’t have to utter an opinion about everything. If you’re right and we are all idiots, you’re an idiot for associating with us. Consider scuba diving as a profession. You’ll have less of all that nasty human interaction.
2. Work on your social skills. I recently went out of my way to appear especially nice when I otherwise wouldn’t. No one can tell the difference if you do it ironically and, oddly enough, acting nice put me in a better mood. It felt good to pretend and, if I acted nice and came to feel good about it…wait…maybe I really was nice? Oh my god! We are what we do! We become what we pretend to be! (I am Batman…I am Batman…I am Batman!)
3. A person’s blog is their home and their home is their castle. Don’t say anything in a comment that would land you in the dungeon and chained to a wall drinking molten lead if you uttered it to the king or queen in person.
4. If you can’t be polite for us, do it for you. You’re hurting yourself. When someone is mean to anyone in particular, I check out their links, their blog, their book or their business. I do so not so I can buy their product or service because I’m struck by their brilliance. I want to remember them so I won’t buy anything from them. Voting with your buck may be the only vote that really counts for much, so vote for civility.
5. If you feel you must say something worthy of the dungeon, stop and reconsider. Is it your business to correct them? Are you being helpful or is this about the joy of gloating? For instance, get on Facebook and call somebody out on a mistake on their blog for all to see and your sin is worse. You aren’t acting like much of a Facebook “friend”. Consider sending them a helpful email and let them know you think they made a mistake privately.
6. If you don’t have anything nice to say, you know the drill. However, if you have transgressed and you want to reform, apologize to a human and go pet a dog. Say something nice to someone. They’ll probably think you want something from them. Shock them by walking away without a single acid criticism. Like Dalton says in Roadhouse, “It’s nice to be nice.”
For the afflicted bloggers:
A. Moderate your comments so commenters feel your blog is a safe place to express themselves as long as everyone stays civil. This does not mean everyone has to agree with you. It’s not free speech and opinion we’re trying to stamp out. It’s name-calling, unreason and harsh comments that hurt feelings. Don’t dumb down your blog with comment moderation. Elevate the tone of the conversation and encourage more conversation by setting that helpful atmosphere of civility.
B. There’s a theory that controversy on a blog will make it more read. That’s true. We will read more. Who here doesn’t read JA Konrath’s blog? (I do recommend Konrath’s blog, The Newbie’s Guide to Publishing, anytime. He can be cantankerous, but he’s not illogical and he is helpful. I find him funny, especially when he’s angry, but maybe that’s my daddy issues talking.)
However, in most cases, unless someone is a clear victim in a word skirmish, it’ll probably just give you stress without yielding more sales. I’ve seen many blow ups. Conflict is passively interesting, but I’ve never bought anything because of a flame war. Some bloggers seem bent on being negative for its own sake, without the substance. That doesn’t works. If you’re going to be constantly pissed off and kicking, you have to be twice as smart and funny as you are mean.
I do know of one blogger who sold a lot of books stirring up controversy and even started negative memes about himself. He now seems to regret that strategy and is trying to reinvent his brand. His rep seems to have negatively affected his life personally. I don’t think many of us have the willpower and natural predisposition to tell the world we’re jerks, loud and proud.
I’ll tell anyone I’m a contrarian, but that’s different. I’m punching up, not down. You know my motto: Question Authority before Authority questions you.*
C. Many blogs have the option of a star rating on each blog post, independent of comments. Delete that option. I did. I don’t see how to take the star grading system off blog comments, but since no one uses that, no harm, no foul. Grading posts contributes nothing to the blog. Mostly, you’ll get four or five-star ratings, anyway. Occasionally, some anonymous coward will click one star but leave no comment. You’ll be left bewildered what they objected to.
I rarely feel I have to deny a negative comment here. We’ve got a good thing going on with a lot of nice people. You’re all sexy butterflies and I thank you for reading ChazzWrites. However, any website that gets decent traffic will always attract the odd ugly moth. When that happens, I burn them before they come to light.
*Therefore, you know I’m making suggestions here, right? I’m not aiming this diatribe at anyone in particular and certainly not at anyone who is powerless in the world. I mention this to remain somewhat adorable in the face of knee-jerk critics. There, I think that should assuage the skeptical. As for the champions of unreason, who cares?
Filed under: blogs & blogging, Blog, blog comments, blog moderation, blogging, good comments, speak truth to power, writer, writing