A few weeks ago, I wrote about comment moderation. Since then I have noted that the dialogue among bloggers about comments has intensified, but it is not limited to just the issue of whether or not to moderate comments. It is also centered around whether or not to comment and/or allow comments on one’s blogs, how to encourage readers to leave more comments, and whether or not to respond on your own blog to comments left there. The conversation is also centered, from the readers’ perspective, around comment etiquette and strategy.
Recently, Caroline Middlebrook wrote an article entitled “Do You Thank Your Stumblers?” in which she shared tips for noting when StumbleUpon users review your site and explained why she sends a follow-up e-mail to readers who give her site a “thumbs up” for the first time.
A couple of days later, the headline on her blog was “Who Would Have Thought the Idea of a Thank-You Could Illicit Such an Abusive Response?” Sharing and discussing some of the unbelievably rude and tasteless responses she got from her earlier post, Caroline noted: “It makes me wonder how they live their lives in the offline world. What if somebody smiled at them walking down the street?”
I had my own experience with an extremely hostile and coarse blogger this week that, in combination with my earlier article, all the others I have read in the interim, and Caroline’s words has had me thinking a great deal not just about the comments I receive here at Colloquium, but also whether or not I will continue posting comments on other blogs. In the past few months, the number of comments I have left on other sites has diminished greatly because, to be perfectly blunt, I find that there are far too many bloggers who neither want nor appreciate a viewpoint that differs in any degree from their own. Moreover, there is an astonishing amount of inaccurate information posted on blogs and, with rare exceptions, bloggers do not want to be notified when they have posted erroneous data, no matter how innocent.
Case in point: I visited a blog recently where the author made a blanket statement about the law that was patently over broad and, hence, wrong. She then opined about a news article. I gently offered an accurate legal perspective and concluded my remarks with my own opinion on the matter (childhood vacinations).
What followed was an alarmingly vitriolic diatribe in which she not only attacked my legal prowess, but maligned my intelligence, questioned my parenting skills and commitment to my children, and impugned my integrity at numerous levels. I responded gingerly in an attempt to make her understand that I was simply expressing an opinion and suggested that if she did not want opinions other than her own expressed in response to her writing, she might post a comment policy to that effect. When I visited her blog, I noted that she had responded to me again via e-mail but had deleted our exchanges after the initial two, i.e., my comment and her first response thereto in which she vociferously attacked me. So I respectfully suggested that, in the interest of fairness, she delete my first comment as well as her response so that we could just go our separate ways, agreeing to disagree. That evoked “I put you in your place” and “Ha!” in response.
I hope that made her feel better.
Since that unpleasant exchange, I have been giving serious consideration to simply disabling comments on my sites, as well as discontinuing my own practice of visiting other folks’ blogs and remarking on their articles. I am rapidly reaching the conclusion that there is an epidemic of bad behavior in the blogosphere which I call “Anonymitis.”
As I read the words of the blogger who attacked me via e-mail, I found myself wondering what kind of person she is in her offline life and asking this question: Would she have talked to me that way if she were standing face to face with me, looking into my eyes, observing the expressions on my face, and hearing the inflections in my voice?
I would hope that the answer is an unqualified “no,” but given that I have never met her or spoken with her on the telephone, and have only visited her a blog on a couple of occasions, I have no idea how she behaves when interacting in person.
And therein lies the danger of the Internet as a whole and, more specifically, blogging, as well as e-mails. “Anonymitis” leads far too many people to believe that they are shielded from accountability and responsibility when typing from the comfort of their own home, addressing faceless and usually nameless individuals about whom they know nothing. Far too often, people using computers completely lose sight of the fact that real, live, breathing, feeling human beings are going to read and be impacted by their words and deeds.
Whatever happened to the Golden Rule? Shouldn’t it apply to blogging?
As one reader commented in response to Caroline:
I feel sorry for the people who seem to need to spew invective and poison around the web from behind the safety of a keyboard. I think it says a lot more about a person’s general lack of character and manners than the contents of your post does.
I agree wholeheartedly. The behavior of the vaccination-phobic woman speaks volumes about her and says nothing about me.
That doesn’t change the fact that I did not enjoy the experience of being attacked with obvious abandon and downright glee. I do not blog to earn my daily bread. Blogging and contributing to Write Stuff are hobbies in which I engage solely for my own enjoyment. If something is not fulfilling and enjoyable, I don’t believe in doing it. I have no desire to be a victim of “Anonymitis.” Even though I am a thick-skinned attorney (and yes, I have heard all the jokes about lawyers having ice water coursing through their veins), such incidents are as disturbing, upsetting, and hurtful to me as anyone else. What an opponent flings at me in the heat of litigation is far different in character and tone than the ad hominem attacks to which I and many other bloggers have been subjected.
I once again urge all bloggers to “blog responsibly” through self-control and self-editing, employing a cooling-off period when tempted to respond in a purely emotional manner to a fellow blogger’s thoughts, opinions, and remarks. Above all else, if you haven’t already done so, get vaccinated immediately lest you ever come down with a raging — literally — and openly hostile case of “Anonymitis” and infect your corner of the blogosphere with it.
Recommended Reading: Blog Etiquette: The Rules are Quite Simple