Monday, September 1, 2008

A Commenting Tutorial

I wasn't going to write anything on Labor Day today, but then I thought,"Hmmmm maybe I will. Dozen of people might want to read a blog here today."

So today, I'm going to do a little housekeeping. See, the vast majority of people who read Fannie's Room never comment here. That's fine. Although I do wonder what you all think, I can only assume I'm doing something okay when my readership has little-by-little increased over the months. And, those who do comment are usually civil about it and generally understand that the purpose of comment threads is to have discussion about a comment thread's related blog article.

Every once in a while though, drive-by commenters come along. They mistakenly believe that other people's blogs are open forums to post ads, leave flaming bags of dog poop, or write monologues about whatever they feel like writing about. This sort of behavior makes for an interesting, yet predictable, study in human behavior. They post their shit. Sometimes their shit needs moderating. They call me fascist for moderating their shit and whine about how their "free speech" is infringed as though Amnesty International should definitely be contacted about this gross breach of human rights. You know. It comes with the territory of having a blog.

But seriously, I think some people are just confused as to what comment sections are for. Accordingly, what follows are some good general rules for comment sections:

1. Re-Posting Entire Articles, Especially Without Commentary of Your Own, Is Inappropriate

For starters, your first few comments on a blog you just discovered should probably not be, rather than replies to other people's comments or my article, pastes of your own and other people's articles. Including a link to somewhere else is fine. But merely citing an entire article as though that speaks for itself and wins your case does not constitute actual dialogue. Secondly, it's just weird to do things you wouldn't do if you were having a face-to-face conversation with someone. For instance, in the middle of a live debate, you wouldn't just start ignoring everyone and start reading a random article word-for-word. That would be weird.

2. Treatises Are For Your Own Blog

On someone else's blog, you also probably should think long and hard about posting treatise after treatise demanding that I, or other readers, rebut your long-winded rant on a point-by-point basis and then accuse the other person of "being evasive" or "eluding" if s/he fails to respond to every single point you've made. Sometimes, people don't have time to write term papers on your genius blog comments. Sometimes people don't know what the fuck you're trying to say. Sometimes people are bored by you. Sometimes people think you're an ass. The possibilities for not responding to every. single. point. you've made are endless, really. Yet something you should keep in mind is that, most importantly, this is my blog space. As such, I typically set the agenda here. If you want to set the agenda, that would be what your blog is for.

Why is this hard for some people to understand?

3. Comment sections are not open forums. They are for responding to what either I, or other commenters, have actually said.

It's quite simple really.

So what I don't understand is why these people don't post what are essentially blog articles on their own blogs. Do they so crave human attention to their half-baked theories that they have to force people to pay attention to them? See, I'm open to having a good debate. I've had quite a few here, actually. It's just that my role here is not to defend feminism and/or LGBT rights against any random person who happens to disagree with anything that LGBT advocates or feminists have ever said in the history of ever. Thus, I'm sort of beyond defending the "nuanced argument" that "all feminists think men are evil." Such statements only demonstrate that you are into generalized thinking and that you don't know enough about feminism to be able to render an educated critique of it.

I speak only for myself, and thus, I can only answer for myself. Accordingly, anti-feminists and anti-gays should restrict their disagreements and comments to things I have actually said as opposed to things some feminists or gay rights advocates have said at some point in time.

Why is this also hard for people to understand?

4. My Troll Radar Is Pretty Accurate

Fourth, I've come to recognize the traits of those seeking actual dialogue. The best discussions I've had are when all parties have been able to stay on topic and everyone begins by assuming good faith in the other party. In observing that notorious and often-banned group blog whose members rarely engage in successful dialogue, I've come to recognize barriers to good conversation. These include immediately accusing others of "being disingenuous" and accusing others of making bad faith misrepresentations. Mistakes happen, especially in written form, whether due to misinterpretation, misunderstanding, or lack of clear writing. But to constantly assume the worst and rarely give people the benefit of the doubt is a real barrier to productive dialogue. Thus, abandoning conversations with some people is often healthier than escalating them.

5. Condescension Scores You No Points

What is also unsuccessful are the (usually male) drive-bys who come here with an attitude that they will "teach" me how and why feminism and/or LGBT rights are "wrong." They either ignore my comments entirely or play condescending Socratic Question Master even when they have no particular expertise in whatever subject it is they happen to be expounding upon. Like so many conservatives, they let their "common sense traditional values," rather than higher education or specialized training, pass for subject matter expertise. It's not necessary to have advanced degrees to comment here obviously, but treating me like a silly little law student when you're neither a lawyer nor a person with any expertise in LGBT rights, feminism, law, or civil rights won't get you very far here.

Yeah, this list is long and detailed. I would like to hear from more of you, so I hope this doesn't scare you off. Most people do understand what comment sections are and are not for, but those few bad apples necessitate something like this that I can, in the future, direct them to when they are confused.

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