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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Barren Advice: Sixteen

This is the sixteenth installment of Barren Advice. You can ask questions that are fertility or non-fertility related.

Barren Advice is posted each Tuesday. If you have your own question for Barren Advice, click here to learn how to submit. Please weigh in with your own thoughts in the comment section and indicate which question you're addressing if there are multiple questions in the post.

Dear Mel:

It seems my blog has been found by fanatical people who are leaving crappy comments about their agenda. I don't want to be password protected. I don't want my blog to be a place where we argue the moral and ethical repercussions of fertility treatments, adoption, or loss. I hate the idea of shutting people off, but that might be where I am. I could just turn on comment moderation, but that means I'll still see these people's posts. I feel like I have lost my blog.

What do I do now?


I am going to go out on a limb here and say that most people know not to shit on my living room floor. I am basing this on the fact that no one over the age of four has ever taken a dump in my living room. Therefore, I find it puzzling that the same people who know better than to go into someone's home and insult their decorating style or spit out their half-chewed dinner onto their plate or defecate on a stainmaster carpet essentially crap in someone's comment section.

Because what is a blog other than a virtual home for your thoughts?

There are those who say that when you put your thoughts out there, other people have the right to respond to them. And I agree with that, somewhat. As long as we're following the same social contract that dictates our face-to-face interactions when we operate in the online world, I think that there is room in the comment section for disagreement, challenge, or compliments. If people behaved online as they do when they're visiting their grandmother in Albany, we would not find the Internet awash in crappy comments, their sole reason for existence to insult and belittle another human being or to push one's own agenda.

I approach my comment box with this philosophy: my home is my home and I get to choose what remains here. I don't allow solicitors to hang up ads in my real house. I throw ads out without looking at them when solicitors slip them through my door knob. Therefore, if someone leaves a comment that is obviously meant to sell a product or site, I delete just as I do actual pieces of paper that make their way to my brick-and-mortar home. Of course, this means that I am determining the commentor's intent without being able to discuss this with them. But I think I'm generally a good judge of what is an ad and what is a helpful comment that happens to include a reference to a product or site.

I also would not invite someone over who looks like they might defecate on my floor. With a blog, I don't have the luxury of setting the guest list unless I go invite-only. But I don't need to leave garbage on the floor. If someone leaves shit, I throw away shit. And shit, of course, is in the eye of the beholder. But if the comment doesn't actually address what I'm speaking about in the post and attacks me rather than the idea, I consider it garbage.

Some people leave up hateful comments, but I don't for two reasons. (1) If it made me feel shitty, it may possibly make another person feel shitty so I remove it and (2) those comments give voice to someone else's agenda. And they are subjecting my readership to their agenda. And frankly, if their words were worth anything, they would have their own readership. Blogs are free; anyone can start one. Therefore, if you want to create a site spouting off your feelings about fertility treatments, adoption, or loss, you may. And you should. You should express yourself and hopefully, you will attract readers who are interested in your writing--either because they agree with the message or they want to engage in dialogue.

But people should not use your blog in order to discuss their agenda. Which is why I recommend the delete button.

By which I don't mean that you should delete anyone who disagrees with you but you should delete the comments that are attacking, rude, or admonishing. I think of it the same way we approach language in our home. The twins are allowed to say any word they wish as long as they're not saying it in anger. Which means every curse word is fine in our house and while they only know a few, I will still feel the same way when more colourful terms are introduced to their vocabulary. I am completely fine with hearing the word "bitch" used in a sentence as long as it's not snarled at another person as an insult.

Which is a long way of saying that I'm fine with any other person's idea, but it's how they're saying it. If they're putting down my ideas in order to promote theirs, belittling me, insulting my beliefs, or mocking other commentors, they get deleted. But if they are acknowledging my ideas or beliefs or nodding towards other commentors and then stating their own point-of-view, I am fine with anything they want to say. Not just fine--I want to hear it. That is the point of the comment section for me. It is a dialogue box where people can react to the post and speak to me as they would if I were stating these words to them face-to-face.

Again, intent is determined by the blog owner, and I clearly state that in my "all about me" section the reasons why I would delete a comment. I may delete someone's comment and they may disagree that it was rude or insulting. If they wrote me directly, and I make my email address pretty accessible, confused as to why their comment was removed and apologizing for any assumed ill-intent, I would most likely replace their comment. But I've never removed a comment and had that type of meaningful conversation. Instead, I get a follow-up comment that is ruder. So...I think that probably supports my earlier assumption about intent.

Not everyone runs their blog like this and I'd love to hear how others deal with rude and anonymous comments. If they keep the comments up, I'd love to hear why. Who knows--you may convince me to change my reaction.

Of course, this doesn't solve the second problem which is that even if you engage in some form of comment moderation, you are still subjected to the rude words. You are reading them in order to delete them or post them. For that, you will need to ask someone else to take over the job of moderating comments on your blog. Or you will need to see these types of comments as shit on the living room floor. You wouldn't look at someone else's feces as commentary on you--you would see it as a statement about their own lack of manners. And, perhaps, that is the only way to deal with those types of comments. Know they are spoken by people who do not have your best interests at heart. And dismiss them with a little bit of pity that no one taught them good manners.

No really, the beauty of a blog advice column is that you get to weigh in with your two cents too. Let the questioner know if you support the advice, add to the response, or dispute it completely.

Leave a comment in the reaction box below--only keep in mind that conflicting advice is embraced and rudeness is not. Want to ask your own question? Click here to see what you need to send in order to be included in a future Tuesday's installment of Barren Advice


niobe said...

For whatever reason, I don't tend to get a lot of rude or annoying comments. I'm sure I have my sensitive points, like everyone else does. But, in general, it's pretty hard to offend me.

If someone said, for example, that surrogacy was the worst thing in the world and I was going to burn in the fiery pit of hell for all eternity, it wouldn't bother me even a tiny bit.

That said, I think that at least on some platforms there are ways to block people's IP addresses if they're really upsetting you.

heather.pnr said...

No words of advice, just wanted to say to Anonymous that I'm bummed this is happening to her.

I've always held to the front porch approach to blogging. If you want rant and preach, do it on your own front porch (blog), not your neighbor's.

Lori said...

Can't beat Mel's answer.

Niobe's too.

nancy said...

I personally put up comment moderation and delete any comments that are exactly as Mel described. The ones that are just a differing point of view? I allow.

Dreamer4agift said...

I also have not had too many rude comments...I count myself lucky. However, I did have one a few mths ago that was very attacking to both me and everyone else that had ever experienced a m/c. I took it upon myself to "expose" them and their rude behavior by making a post about it. I always let ppl walk over me growing up with their rude opinions, and I decided that it was MY playground so I was gonna call them out. I wouldn't do this to every one I got, mind you, b/c that seems like a way to just encourage them by giving them attention. However, this specific comment was very demeaning, and had nothing to do with a difference of opinion. I addressed it and allowed other's thoughts as well. Since then, I have never read another comment from that person.

Tash said...

I just received my first dump on the floor and I left it up and responded for a few reasons.

One, it was eerily similar to a piece of shit I had read elsewhere. And I wanted to make a few people aware of it off line (and a few people who I couldn't reach) in case they found the dumpee again, so IP addresses could be blocked speedily.

Two, sometimes, not often but sometimes, yukky comments can be teaching tools (depends a bit on the comment). I kinda took it upon myself to make a few points. I'd like to think I humiliated the commenter, but I'm not that good -- this person is probably long gone, off dumping somewhere else. This happened at GITW as well -- we took a few comments and realized they were what people were likely hear in the course of their daily lives, and felt they needed response from a unified front. One of the people pushed back too hard, too far, and got booted.

Which brings me to Three, if said garbage comes back, it's getting the instant delete from me and the IP address block, and possibly a nasty note as well.

Anon, look into Statcounter -- pinpoint the comment with the time the IP address shows up, and ban the asshole from ever coming back.

MamaSoon said...

I am clapping wildly at Mel's response. I've been pooped on a few times when I discussed adoption.

1. I removed anonymous posting. I don't want to moderate and I don't want to lock down but I think that if you have something to say, you should at least introduce yourself.

2. I removed myself from google searchability. That keeps my readership limited to those I meet through Mel's blog.

3. Delete, delete, delete. Just like you don't save every card people sent you. They know they sent it. You can delete it.

Good luck!

battynurse said...

Knock on wood but so far I haven't gotten any of the horrible anonymous comments I've seen on other peoples blogs. I've gotten a little spam which I delete without guilt. I've had a few comments that while are probably meant to be helpful I still have found rude or overbearing and they have bothered me. To the point that I can still go back and say I had this comment that essentially said this and it really annoyed me and it was on such and such post. I've sort of felt like I should publish the comment since it's not outright negative but after talking with a friend have decided that should I receive more I probably won't publish. If the person making the comments were to ever ask, I would happily explain my position on the comments. But yes I would have still read them so maybe they would still bug me. I do like Mel's advice too.

CappyPrincess said...

Such a shame when people can't act better on the internet.

I'm also a big fan of comment moderation. From time to time I've had to put it on my blog to prevent posts from a certain individual from showing up (perhaps I'm just not tech savvy enough to figure out how to block an IP with blogger). I leave it up for awhile, just long enough for the postee to get sick of the game, and then I remove it for my convenience.

I always figured our own blogs was the place to push our agenda - not as the guest at someone else's blog.

Jen said...

My comment policy is to take them down if they are deliberately trying to hurt my (or someone else's) feelings. If they just disagree with me or didn't get what I was trying to say (that stings sometimes), I leave it up. But I don't get many mean comments.

Samantha said...

I've been lucky and haven't had many problems with commenters. I like having anonymous comments available, because I've gotten some very touching comments that way, but it is a risk. It seems like most obnoxious comments are left anonymously, because as Mel said, the commenter isn't really isn't in starting a dialogue. If I had to, I would turn off anonymous commenting.

I also like working out how to block IP addresses. That way you wouldn't have to read the offending words because it would be tough for the offender to leave them.

Aurelia said...

Dear Anon,

post this letter on your blog and tell people how you feel. Geunine trolls will still want to debate, and you can ban them but lots and lots commenters are just not aware of how you feel. Some bloggers like me, don't mind debate, others hate it and only want their blog to be a place of validation.

If you never tell someone how you feel, then they have no way of knowing, do they?

Let your posters know how you feel and I'll bet you won't have to ban anyone, you'll just get a lot more nice comments.

Kristine said...

I have nothing to add! I think you said it perfectly!