Hit Publish at Your Own Risk: The State of the Online Commenting Culture

They say if you want to be successful online, don’t read the comments section.

Paige Loren
Oct 21 · 6 min read

If you’re a writer, chances are you’ve had the unpleasant experience of a negative commenter shredding your work into a thousand little pieces (along with a little bit of your dignity for good measure too).

With the click of the publish button, we take the writer’s plunge and throw ourselves headfirst into the abyss of online commenting.

While most comments are endearing gestures of appreciation, more and more it seems like the comments section has taken on a tone and quality more akin to bullying, than thoughtful dialogue.

The comments section is meant to serve as the rhetorical haven for further discussion. The addendum, if you will, for all the things we as writers didn’t have the space to say (because we didn’t want to go over a 2,000-word count), but hope you as a reader will still pick up on.

Instead of being the additional thought catalog where writers can glean ideas and insights about their audience and themselves, it’s become a place of sarcastic one-liners, superficial criticisms, name-calling, and unabashed anger.

Online commenting has taken a plunge off the deep end, and the reasons behind it might be a lot simpler than you think.

Why We Write

We create to connect. Like many, one of the reasons I became a writer was to be a part of the ever-growing internet landscape of new ideas and personal reflection.

When you think about it, the internet is really an infinite idea’s generator, open to anyone willing to take the time to read, grow, and learn.

I write and post articles because I want to grow, and what better way to do that than by sharing and swapping ideas with other writers who are also in it for the same thing.

But sometimes, after scrolling through the comments section of any given post or video, I have to wonder if we are all really here for the same reason.

Are we scrolling through different posts to become more self-aware, or are we just loitering online, looking for trouble?

The Current Commenting Culture

More and more we seem to be turning into a commenting culture more enthralled with pointing out superficial flaws than adding any real substance to the argument at hand.

An online climate that seems to give more attention to the angry and hostile commenter's insults, than to the creator’s efforts.

Alongside this, thank you’s have somehow come to be viewed as superficial gestures. As a noncommittal form of appreciation that some interpret as the reader’s unwillingness to offer up any real insight. I for one do not agree with this, and in a world where we know all too well the constant day-to-day defeat of what it’s like to have our efforts go unnoticed and unappreciated, I’ll take all the thank you’s I can get (thank you very much).

Online commenting has gotten so bad one can hardly take it seriously anymore.

I once came across a cooking blog looking for a baked chicken recipe, that had a disclaimer at the top of its comments section warning readers not to leave negative comments as they would not be posted.

I was blown away. When did baked chicken become so polarizing!

The current online commenting culture reminds me of toxic workplace behavior.

Although I’m not proud to admit this, when I use to work in an office, I participated in the common workplace habit of always having something critical to say about others. When I wasn’t openly, and needlessly, criticizing my bosses and coworkers to their face, I was quietly doing it in my head.

For whatever multitude of insecure reasons, I felt a need to relentlessly question and doubt other people’s actions and intentions, but never my own.

I was in essence, the office asshole (or at least one of them). It was the cultural tide, and I was just one of the many in the sea of a thoughtless crowd of office politics and gossip.

After a bit of self-reflection, I decided that instead of putting all my energy into the things and people I didn’t like, maybe I should try to put that energy into changing my own thoughts and behavior (mind blown).

To achieve this end, I started using affirmations. Whenever I would see someone at work do something that would normally have me spitting vitriol in word and thought form, I would simply say to myself, “stop being such a judgmental jerk!”

I know affirmationists everywhere are probably cringing at my loose interpretation of such a powerful concept, but the core principle remains the same…creating subtle change over time by bringing oneself into awareness of our inner dialogue and true intentions.

I spent so much time questioning everyone else’s motives, that I never bothered to question my own.

It’s not the comments in and of itself that bother me as much as it is the fact that we’ve lost our innate ability to recognize when we are in essence being the office asshole.

Just like in the workplace, thoughtless criticism creates fear, and is that really the online culture we want to create for us writers and creators?

There is such a thing as poor online etiquette and bad commenting practices (hence why you probably have a comment policy or disclaimer on your blog).

I’m all for having an open discourse, but when we thoughtlessly criticize, we don’t honor the craft of writing, we disrespect it on every innate level.

But as I write, I’m filled with a little bit of exasperation, because I know that my true audience, which this post is intended for, will miss the message.

Of course, this is for anyone who has ever been burned by their own comments section. For those who have ever written something with a full heart in the spirit of helping others, only to be called ‘a self-righteous know-it-tall, only concerned with first world problems’, but it’s also for the cynical commenter more concerned with their own ideas than that of others.

As I stand on my metaphorical soapbox (aka a keyboard) and give a heartfelt, impassioned speech (aka a rant), I can’t help but look around and notice only one or two people have passively looked over in my direction, while most don’t even bother to look up from their phone, too busy commenting on something else I suppose…sigh.

The problem is a troll doesn’t know they’re a troll, because through the veil of the internet, we’ve lost the ability of self-reflection.

To put it simply, we’ve lost sight of the importance of questioning ourselves, which brings me to the even bigger question of — are you a critic or a creator?

Are you criticizing because it doesn’t align with your world view; aka a critic, or are you further contributing to the thought catalogue — a creator?

Whether it’s in the actual post, or in the comments section, the creator still offers insight, while the critic offers only judgement.

Someone calling me a name doesn’t make me think, but someone explaining their life experiences and why it is they feel the way they do does.

It takes a lot of courage to create. Nowadays, I don’t know if I can say the same thing about commenting.

No matter which side of the spectrum you fall, just remember it is always easier to comment than it is to create. To be the critic of the content, not the creator of it.

Commenting about commenting may leave me open and vulnerable to further commenting, but something needed to be said. I too have been scared into a writing corner because I’ve been petrified of what others would say, but just like the commenter, I too have something to say.

We don’t need to censor our comments, I’m merely suggesting that perhaps before we question others in the pursuit of ‘enlightening’ them, maybe we should first question our ourselves and our own motives instead.

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Paige Loren

Written by

Writing about the different moments and experiences that shape our life’s journey. https://www.passionwriteslife.com/

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +527K people. Follow to join our community.

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