There’s been quite a lot of debate in the blogosphere lately about comments on blog posts, and whether bloggers have the right to disallow them. Of special interest is this link from Indi Cubed, where a number of eminent bloggers expound on this and related issues. The peg was Amit Varma’s decision to disable comments on India Uncut, and fittingly enough the Indi Cubed post itself now has 50 comments with a range of fascinating opinions on blogging dos and don’ts. Do try to read the whole thing.
Many of the bloggers I know have recently had problems with offensive comments on their sites – to the extent of black-marking anonymous commenters, or sometimes even disabling the facility altogether; even the ones with the most interactive blogs sometimes just throw their hands up and say, okay it’s getting a bit much now, I need to take a break for a while.
I don’t know whether this is a trend (like ‘Blogger Burnout’) or something that’s just been happening in my own circle of acquaintances. But here’s my take: I’m starting to feel the pressure of dealing with offensive/antagonistic comments myself.
I never expected this to happen; I figured being thick-skinned, or using humour to drown out unpleasant sounds, was enough to guard against anything. But I’m discovering it doesn’t always work that way. It doesn’t work, for instance, when I’ve just come in from an hour’s traveling in foul weather, already stressed about work and deadline pressure, with personal problems to boot, and then I go to my blog and find that someone has used ‘Comments’ to pillory me for something unrelated to the post. Or launched a vehement personal attack just because he doesn’t agree with my views on a topic. Or put up a long, aggressive comment based on a single sentence from my original post, extrapolated into an easy, black-and-white judgement I never intended to make. At such times, being mature or insouciant is much easier said than done. The temptation is to drop whatever else you have to do and post a long, defensive reply that answers the comment point by point, line by line. (Apart from everything else, you don’t want the commenter to think he’s scored a point because you’re not replying.) Besides causing stress and unpleasantness, this sort of thing takes up far too much of one’s time.
In one of the recent ‘comments-or-no-comments’ debates, Yazad Jal made the point that a nasty comment reflects badly on the commenter, not on the author of the blog. Fair enough, but it still isn’t pleasant to have an abusive comment sitting on your site for other visitors to look at, possibly for several hours, before you discover and delete it yourself.
So am I going to disable comments on my blog? No way, because I’m not ready yet to let go of the high that comes with seeing a new, non-pejorative comment. Also, so far, the positives have far outweighed the negatives. Conversation is, after all, one of the best things about blogging - and meaningful conversations in the blogosphere help build tolerance for other people’s points of view and for the idea that one’s own opinion isn’t the final word on any subject. It’s heartening the number of people there are in the blogosphere who are willing to give other people a hearing, concede a point here and there and, if the other person’s views are really irreconciliable with their own, politely agree to disagree - without allowing the debate to degenerate into petulance or personal attack.
In fact, I’ve even had some rewarding exchanges with visitors who began by posting comments that were more strident/personal than I thought appropriate, but who were gracious enough to accept this when it was pointed out to them. A few days ago, for instance, someone put up a long, angry rant about an article I had written for my newspaper. I blew up and posted an equally incensed reply defending my position and also pointing out that he could have sent me an email, since my ID was mentioned on the site. To be honest, I expected an abusive reply in turn; instead, the guy sent me a much more measured, private email, apologizing for the tone of the original post and then proceeding to make his points about my article (which I, having cooled off, was now able to regard with more objectivity). At times like this one enters the Atticus Finch Dimension and realises that people can be “really nice when you actually get to see them”.
Some people of course will continue to be not so nice and post insulting comments for the sake of it. I have nothing to say to them; the ‘delete’ button will do the talking. But a couple of requests to visitors who don’t mean to be insulting:
1) Please don’t use ‘Comments’ as a lazy shortcut to deliver personal messages. Email still exists, and my ID is on the Profile page.
2) If you don’t agree with something I’ve written, feel free to express your opinion backed by your reasoning, but unaccompanied by personal attacks of the sort “If you don’t like Lewis Carroll you are a single-digit-IQed, cultureless, burbling jabberwock.”
3) It’s flattering when someone is moved enough by one of my posts to send in a 500-word comment, even if it’s to rant against what I’ve written. But please, please expend some of that energy in reading the post through so you get the gist, rather than just picking up a stray sentence and responding to it kneejerkily. It’s a big waste of time when someone posts a long, critical comment and I have to reply “I agree with whatever you have to say.”
And as Amit would say, thanks for your patronage.
“For all sad words of pen, tongue or keyboard, the saddest are these: 0 comments.” - The Anonymous Blogger