I got rid of comments so I could hear the conversation

This week in Sunday Life I remove comments from my blog. Just for a bit.

111735 5 600 I got rid of comments so I could hear the conversation
Illo by Geoff McFetridge

When I’m feeling a tad on the smug side of my life situation, I find a little visit to the comments section of my blog sets me straight. In the main, comments on my blog are helpful sharings of tips and links. But every now and then a snarky interloper pipes up, like a foul air bubble in the lower intestine, to pull apart the most banal detritus of my existence.

Such as whether I Photoshop out a gap in my teeth.

Or how many times I say “um” in a podcast.

I find it a practice in mindful ego control, mostly. I observe the snarkiness bubble to the surface. Smile. And accept that I put myself out on a limb by having a public blog, ergo I must accept some flack. And then I let the stinky snark float on past, ignoring the urge to pop it with well-crafted comeback. It’s a bit like handling a toddler: acknowledge good behaviour, ignore bad behaviour. With time, I’ve developed a lovely Teflon calm from the process.

I’m lucky, though. I’ve only had to remove two comments in almost two-and-half years of running my blog. But this is not the norm. Monitoring comments has become a laborious chore for many (some bloggers I know remove 40 per cent of contributions daily). So much so, a growing number of the big blogging names have dropped their comments sections altogether, despite the commercial reality that comments are traffic drivers, which, in turn, are monetisation drivers.

This is no trifle issue. It’s dictating news agendas, hurting people in humiliating and irreversible ways and driving some to suicide. Nasty comments can be hate-bombed into the interweb by cowards who hide behind pseudonyms and there’s nothing that can be done to discipline or control them. Unlike a hand-posted letter to the editor of yore, these comments are not carefully and mindfully prepared. And social media commentators argue commenting contradicts the original notion of the social media “conversation”. They’re more akin to an impulsive heckle at a footy match – unaccountable and mostly about me too-ism. As a result, the Australian Press Council last month called for a discussion on online reader comments as part of their broader enquiry into media standards.

Apropos of something, I love the Swedes. They’re so often the first to buck the system, mostly in the nude and incorporating a community garden. Last month they led the way once more when three of the nation’s four newspapers banned anonymous online comments.

All of which has got me thinking: should I take a stand and drop comments on my blog? Those who have often say they did it to streamline their lives, although interestingly they generally took the plunge only once they’d become popular and profitable (a difference as profound as being Bono and stage diving into a crowd and being Saturday night’s act at the local RSL and trying to do the same). Danielle La Porte ditched comments on her White Hot Truth site to “make space for creative credo”. She likens it to “sitting around a campfire, under a big sky. We need room in order to hear, to be with our thoughts. We banter and converse and show up enough “out there, don’t we?”

carl johan paulin photos I got rid of comments so I could hear the conversation
I would like to have run this as the main pic (by carl johan paulin), but got a grip...

Gala Darling and Zen Habits’ Leo Babauta have done the same. They felt in danger of writing with the commenters’ opinions in mind, rather than creating content they believed in, a phenomena not limited to blogging. Social commentators are increasingly lamenting the way politicians, artists, schools and media outlets knee-jerk to the nagging and fractured opining of the masses, rather than leading from in front. Caring about what the “twits” and “snarkers” think has taken the place of vision and leadership, they say. Too true. And wholly dispiriting.

Anyway, as an experiment this week I did delete my comments section. But I only lasted two days. Perhaps my ego is needier than I make out.

But there’s also this: I think it’s better to be at a dinner table where everyone’s shouting, than at a silent one.

We’ve always needed a space for the over-the-back-fence chat, so we can be challenged and grow. We need this space more than ever. The challenge for anyone providing the meal, then, is to serve up nourishing fare that inspires the masses to shout stuff that moves us forward. Perhaps this is what the APC and lamenters should focus on….




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