Last night I was reading one of my favorite blogs, which I don’t get around to visiting too often because it’s so good that I need to allot at least an hour to just to catch up. With 10,000+ active followers, it’s one of the big blogs where the comments are usually as funny and smart as the posts themselves. The blogger who runs the site admits that although she does profit a bit off the ad revenue that it generates, she has a day job that has nothing to do with the subject she writes about. The blog is mostly for her own fun.
While reading the comments on the latest post, I found one where a commentor complained that the blogger made too big a deal out of the topic of the post. The commentor criticized her (albeit rather politely) for essentially making a mountain out of a molehill when she chose to blog about a specific topic and for using an undue amount of hyperbole. Whether or not the commentor was correct in saying that doesn’t really matter; depending on how you interpret it, she could have been right or wrong. However, the blogger – who does not reply to every comment since doing so would be a full-time job – did come out of the woodwork to defend her words. In the process, though, she pulled out a considerable amount of snark towards the reader, who probably meant no harm at all. What ensued was a comment war of the worst kind where other readers started criticizing the blogger for being too sensitive and hyper-vigilant about the slightest criticism. It was painful to read. Seeing a blogger you like get criticized on her own blog for losing her cool is a lot like being 10 at your best friend’s house and watching her get yelled at by her parents.
Right about now, you’re probably like “Well, what is this blog you’re talking about, Emily?! I want to see too!” To that I reply that it doesn’t really matter. This is only the most recent occurrence I’ve witnessed lately of people dumping all over online writers who are just doing their thing. Hang around the Intertron long enough and you will see it:
A self-published author puts his/her book up on Amazon and the reviews are nasty, angrily chastising the author for wasting the reader’s time with their “drivel”.
A writer of a small blog gets trolled for being “too boring” when recounting how she spent the weekend with her family.
A Twitter user takes personal shots at fellow tweeters who gave one too many details on their inane daily activities.
Each time I run across comments online that skewer bloggers who write for free (or nearly free, as self-published writers often give away copies of their e-book free of charge or heavily discounted to drum up readers), it frustrates me. Next time, it could be me who is criticized for minding my own business online and writing a blog that someone takes the wrong way or doesn’t like.
The fact is, it has been me before. Although it rarely happens, I can easily recall the times when I got comments that were hurtful and where strangers personally attacked me for what I said here. To be sure, these comments were never from regular blog visitors. They have always been from people that dropped in to tell me I suck and then never made a reappearance. One of them commented when I was only five days postpartum. I was sleep-deprived, hormonal, and already thinking that I was a horrible human being for not loving motherhood. The commentor didn’t like it when I wrote in one of my pregnancy posts that babies who wear glasses are really cute and that I hope my baby has poor eyesight like me so she could wear glasses. I thought it was an obvious joke, but the commentor certainly didn’t think so because she wrote that she felt sorry for my baby for having me as a mom. I can spot a troll a mile away and she wasn’t one; while most trolls strive to protect their anonymity, this person was a blogger herself who I could track down simply by clicking her Gravatar image which linked to her own URL and email. Would she have said those things if she had known what a horrible day I was having? Was she just shooting her mouth off because she could? Ten months later, I’m sure she probably doesn’t remember what she said, but I certainly do.
I want to take responsibility, though. I could have just as easily gone down to a store and purchased a blank book to write in, but I have chosen to record my thoughts in an online format and then made them available for everyone to read. I have opened the comments. So have many other bloggers, vloggers, tweeters, and Facebook users. We are allowed to say pretty much whatever we want on our blogs, so can we really be all that angry or surprised when someone uses their voice to condemn the quality and substance of our words? I often wonder if I gave up the right to be offended the moment I started blogging.
This is not just an issue of online etiquette, although that does play a part in it. Since I started blogging, it has been my personal policy to not comment elsewhere if I’m incapable of saying anything civil. No one has ever seen a snide comment regarding something they posted on Facebook and said, “Wow, what a valid point. Please tell me more about how stupid I am so that I can change.” I’ve disagreed with things I’ve read, but if I don’t know the blogger, I’m not going to rip the person to shreds. If I do know the blogger and have a constructive relationship with them, then I will respectfully explain why I disagree. The other day I saw a tweet that was meant to be humorous where the tweeter admired a 12-year-old girl who told a boy of the same age to “suck her d*ck”. I came close to asking her how that was remotely funny, but instead I just unfollowed. Obviously, I am not her audience. I love a good joke but that one was not for me. No commentary needed.
But the ubiquitous “unfollow” and “unfriend” sometimes doesn’t pack that whollup. I am a blogger, and I want to be heard. I want to tell people why I disagree or disapprove of what they’re saying. I want to be snide. Kindly backing into the shadows does little to no good when you read something that incites violence or promotes negligence and ignorance. I often wonder, if I really cared about the world I write about, wouldn’t I want to defend it when others pollute it with hate? Wouldn’t I use my words to stand up to these people, rather than just unfollow them? What about the times when they don’t necessarily say something inflammatory but something that’s just dumb? Should I just close the window and walk away?
I will never close the comments to my blog. (And I promise that that has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that I wouldn’t even know how if I wanted to. That’s a joke for those of you who were wondering if I was even going to make even a lame attempt at humor today.) I value the opinions of the people I regularly converse with here too much to ever let the meanies or the ill-informed spoil this blogging experience for me. But I do often wonder whether I really did waive my right to be offended the instant I started writing here.
What do you think? By making ourselves “vulnerable” in the Digital Age, are we basically saying we can deal with whatever the people behind those screens throw at us?