One of these days, I’m going to learn not to read comments on Internet articles. It’s honestly the quickest way to sap your will to live with other humans.
However, as a blogger, I understand the importance of comments and love it when they result in productive dialogue. I know I appreciate the time people take to share their words of encouragement or disagreement, and I wouldn’t want to ditch comments altogether.
But there’s got to be a way to make it less soul-suckingly awful.
So I humbly offer the following guidelines based on my comment reading experiences. These go for comments on posts and articles, on other people’s comments, and on social media sites like Facebook.
1) Before you post a comment, make sure you read the article or post in its entirety. It’s shocking how many commenters clearly a) only read the headline, b) only read the lead, or c) skim the article and end up completely misunderstanding the point.
2) Make sure you actually do understand the tone and purpose of the article before you make a comment. If you aren’t sure if you understand those things, ask questions. Don’t make erroneous assumptions and then formulate your comment around those assumptions. It makes you look silly, and quite frankly, ignorant.
3) If you’re sure you fully understand what the author is saying but don’t agree with it, take the time come up with a thoughtful, courteous, intelligent rebuttal. Do not call names. Do not resort to extreme or vulgar language. Those things also make you look silly and ignorant.
4) Speaking of looking silly and ignorant, please learn to spell and use punctuation, at least most of the time. An occasional typo is normal and expected, but if your comment is rife with them, no one will be able to take you seriously. (On a related note, if you’re commenting from a device with autocorrect, go back and reread what you wrote before posting. Your iPhone might have changed “those days” to “goose hoes” or something equally hilarious.)
5) Actually, it’s a good idea to ALWAYS go back and reread your comment—and give it a quick evaluation—before posting. Ask yourself if it’s thoughtful and courteous (yes, people can disagree and remain thoughtful and courteous). Ask yourself if it’s helpful. Ask yourself if it’s encouraging. If it’s none of those things, don’t comment. Just move right along.
6) If you think what’s been written is stupid and a waste of time, for the love of God, please don’t comment. Whoever is reading your comment has already read the article, so it’s pointless to tell them it’s a waste of time. And then you’ve not only wasted your time reading the article, you’ve also wasted your time commenting on it, which again makes you look—yep—silly and ignorant.
7) If what’s written doesn’t apply to you, stop reading as soon as you come to that realization. It’s not hard. Just stop reading. Then leave the page, and use the time you were going to waste with your comment about how that article didn’t apply to you to find some more relevant reading material. There are a bajillion other articles on the Internet to choose from.
8) If you’re only trolling the Internet to find opportunities to insert inflammatory, insulting remarks on articles to get a rise out of strangers, I beg of you, get a life. I mean that sincerely. Go out and get an actual life. There’s a whole real world out there with all kinds of awesome, fascinating, fulfilling, helpful, productive things to do. Don’t waste the precious moments of your time on Earth intentionally being an a-hole online.
9) Follow the 80/20 rule. Believe it or not, writers generally put a lot of time and thought into the articles they write, and many of them do so with little or no pay. And unless you have some sort of masochistic tendency to seek out things you hate, you probably read more articles that you like and agree with than ones you don’t. Post positive comments on those posts and articles. Strive for a ratio of eight positive comments for every two contrarian ones. It actually feels really good to post something encouraging, and it helps make the Internet a better place for everyone.
10) Most importantly, remember that you’re interacting with real people. If you wouldn’t say it to someone’s face, don’t say it online. Don’t hide behind your keyboard and spew ugliness. Follow the Golden Rule. Practice kindness. As Glennon Melton says, “If you’re not kind on the Internet, then you’re not kind.” That’s truth.
The Internet can be an awesome source of inspiration, beauty, and lively, intelligent discussion. Or it can be a cesspool of filth, hateful ignorance, and negativity. I’m assuming (hoping?) most of us would prefer the former. To totally butcher the wise words Gandhi didn’t actually say (always do your research, folks): Be the change you wish to see—even in the virtual world.
I know what you’re thinking at this point, and yes, you’re right—most of the people who really need these guidelines are probably too busy doing Westboro Baptist Church impressions in the comments sections of other sites to bother reading this post. But I hope you’ll share it anyway. A little less ignorance and vitriol would do us all some good.