Digital Life: Online Comments

Written on 11/19/2018

Department:
Author: Dean R. Heetderks

I sometimes get sick to my stomach when I read what people are saying to each other in their comments online. What can be done about it?

We are humans who live in a fallen world. We have a long history of hating people we don’t know. Online commenting is the latest and most efficient way we allow ourselves to set ourselves up against each other.

So do what I do: Stop reading the comments. Truly, unless I am reading a web page or blog posting on a topic I am specifically interested in, I don’t bother to scroll down the page to see what everyone else thinks. I’ve learned that I—like many of you—can’t be trusted to treat the person behind that tiny little picture or made-up name as a person and respond appropriately. I also know the more interaction we have online—of any sort—makes money for the companies that so cleverly rope us in. (Ironically, the term these companies use for this interaction is “engagement.”)

Can’t stop yourself from reading comments online and responding? Here are some ideas.

First, if what you are reading was not something you went looking for, ask yourself if it’s possible these unsolicited gems are bait—that is, something offered to you because you have a history of responding to them and not because your life is somehow enriched by them. Stay clear.

Second, to the extent that you can, check out the person you are about to respond to. Does this person have a pattern of caustic or bullying behavior online? If so, help this person by ignoring the comment. Attention is the currency of the internet, and the best response often is no response.

Lastly, if you must respond, make sure your response addresses the larger issues raised rather than the last guy’s response. Every now and again, begin your response with something civil like “I appreciate what’s been said so far, but I wonder . . .”

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