Wednesday, April 4, 2012
I was looking at this photo of Errol Flynn and Olivia De Havilland yesterday, touched by this moment of captured conversation. I associate these kind of mid-conversation moments with a type of urgency and vibrancy that makes me want to know more. It got me thinking about what kind of conversations I have online. For me, the comment fields of my blog posts are a form of vibrant conversation. I know that realistically though, this is not always the case. I do a lot of research online as part of my job, and I’ve seen some of the best and some of the worst behaviour from people in the comment sections of blogs. I’ve also been blogging since 2008, and the more experience I gain, the more I reflect on what kind of interactions I like. These thoughts have prompted this post.
I’ve read so many opinions about blog commenting, and I feel it’s time I share my own. However, I want to point out that I’m not discussing this issue with the intent of prescribing what kind of comments should appear on my own blog. I understand that people will interact with my blog in various ways, and I don’t expect them to conform to a singular type of commenting style. Despite all the conferences and tips about blogging out there, I don’t really think we can or should formulate rigid rules for blogging as it will kill diversity. But we can maturely talk about blogging and the issues it raises. Ultimately, each blogger has to find their own comfort zone when it comes to comments.
So what kind of things have I been noticing that have sparked this post? Well, apart from the obvious spambot comments and the excessively abusive ones, there are other, more complex issues:
Comment fields used as free advertising spaces: This is a common comment that I get all the time. Usually, this comes with a standard formula of “great blog! Please visit mine www.linktotheirownblog.com”. I know that in most cases, these types of comments don’t mean any real harm. Often, they are written by new bloggers who are honestly just trying to get some much-needed attention for their own blog. But from the blog author’s perspective these types of comments often read as: “I have zero interest in what you’ve just written or posted, please just give me attention”. The best way to get attention is not to scream loudly for it, but to actually interact with someone else’s blog. I sometimes feel a bit used when I get these comments. And incidentally, it’s not necessary to leave your blog address in the comment box as it’s already linked via your profile/name.
There’s another aspect here though: when comment fields aren’t simply used by individuals but by businesses to promote their companies. If I wanted to have advertising on my blog, I would ask to be paid for it. I’m providing my blog content for free. In fact, my blog costs me money sometimes. To see a company opportunistically try to sell their stuff through my free hard work just smacks of exploitation. I never publish these comments as I quite clearly state that my comments are moderated for advertising. There are ways to approach bloggers via email about promoting a certain company without making them feel like they are being used. If you treat bloggers with integrity and respect, they will respond in kind.
Context is key: I’ve been reading some heartfelt posts lately on other blogs. The blog author will literally pour their heart out on a deeply personal topic. And then I scroll down and see a comment on the image used for that post like, “love that image!” Once again, I know these comments don’t mean harm. I get how busy our lives are, how it’s hard to find the time to read posts, and that it’s often easier to just comment on the photo and move on to the next blog. But sometimes I think readers need to step back and consider the blog author’s feelings: if someone is posting about a deeply personal issue, that’s the context for that image. The context of the words is not something that can be easily separated from the post image, and when it is, it feels like the words are treated like they have no meaning or significance.
Sense of entitlement, much? This type of comment truly baffles me. Luckily, I don’t get it often myself, but I have seen it on bigger and more well-known blogs. It’s usually a disproportionately angry comment by someone wondering why the blog author isn’t reading their mind and creating posts that align with their wishes alone. I.e. “it’s all about me! You’re here to entertain and please me!” Um, sorry, but we’re not. Most bloggers provide their content for free and run their blogs on the side while working full-time. They don’t owe anybody anything. Readers don’t have to pay to consume blog content, so it seems really odd to me to see a rise in these types of comments. That’s not constructive criticism or debate, it’s a sense of entitlement.
Derailing tactics: I get this a lot, especially on my feminism posts. It’s a sly form of commenting, where someone tries to steer the topic away into a completely irrelevant area. I’ve also seen it on other blogs. For example, a blog author will post about an issue such as feminism and rape, and some person will comment “but murder is more prevalent” and then quote some (dubious) statistics. That’s not debate either, that’s trying to ignore the specific issues being addressed in the post by derailing the discussion into an area that doesn’t pose any threat to the systems of power being critiqued. These comments are straight from the Derailing for Dummies manual. As any woman blogging about feminism will tell you, this is a common tactic – a way to make “women’s issues” seem less important and less worthy of discussion. But derailing comments are also a common tactic for many other topics discussed on blogs. They contribute nothing to the discussion and they are not a conversation - they are attempts at shutting down conversation.
I do want to finish by saying that the majority of comments I get are great. Some days, they really perk me up and pull me out of a slump. I’ve formed some real friendships through them. I also think this post is as much about me as anyone else, because I’m sure I made some commenting mistakes when I was starting out, and I probably still do. I get that no one is perfect and every comment is subject to misinterpretation. I still want to talk about this though: the good and the bad.