Last week, I had a revelation while I was on vacation. I was five days into a lovely excursion through Newfoundland, completely disconnected, when my phone buzzed. Huzzah! Data! Feeling it would be nice to get a brief update from the world at large, I checked my email, only to be confronted by notification of a new comment on this blog.
Never ever get into video games you are the biggest casual I met in my entire life
First I chuckled at how hilariously he’d missed his mark. He’s about 16 years late with that zinger. But it stuck. And it bugged me. I was on vacation, free of any cares, and suddenly I have this guy judging my entire career with one flippant comment on a blog. But it wasn’t the only one. There was another set of comments, all from a different person. The first praised me for an article I wrote. The second was a vaguely racist rant against Japanese game developers. The third was filled with fallacious arguments and faulty logic which left me angry. On my vacation.
It set me to thinking. There are so many opportunities for good faith discussion on the internet, and so many venues to engage with people directly, why do we even allow comments to exist?
Comments have the lowest barrier to entry when it comes to discussion on the internet. Often it requires very little, if anything, to post a comment. Sometimes you have to use a throwaway email (I’m pretty sure that the quote above from firstname.lastname@example.org is not using a real email address). Sometimes you sign up for a blog and it takes a few seconds, and if your account gets closed or your comment deleted, so what? You had your say, and it cost you nothing. With Facebook integration, you don’t even have to sign up, you just post, and it’s a one way thing. Nothing you post from a Facebook login can affect your Facebook account. No barrier, no risk.
Now, one alternative is using moderated comments. But then I am still exposed to the trash that gets posted. Not only that, but suddenly I have to do extra work to make sure that comments aren’t empty trolls or insulting trash? Why should it cost me more to deal with people not willing to put any effort at all into the discussion?
Meanwhile, there are plenty of ways to have a discussion about an article, without using comments. Directly on Twitter is a good one; your Twitter account carries more value than a throwaway comment. If you care about people taking you seriously, then you will act like it and it will be obvious. You could write a post on your own blog; long form discussion is a rarity, but part of that is because it takes more work and effort to actually write a post on a blog. You could start a thread on an internet forum. There are plenty out there with healthy and respectful communities, and if you are a respected member, then you are going to put more effort into anything you have to say. Those also often have the benefit of being moderated such that there is at least a minimum requirement for membership. You can drop me an email, my address is easy enough to find if you aren’t a robot. Alas, that lacks the public spectacle that so many trolls thrive on.
But the other thing I realized is something that I think most people miss: a discussion about a topic does not necessarily have to involve the original author. It is good enough that discussion exists, and if people wish to interact with an author directly, then even better. But I realized that I don’t have to be involved with all discussion about things that I write, I am simply happy if people are moved to discuss a topic that I felt was worth writing about.
So I’ve turned comments off on this blog, and closed comments on all existing articles. No, you cannot comment on this post. But I welcome all discussion.