Blog Comments: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

“Nobody steps on a church in MY town!”

I may have gotten into blogging for the self-expression, but I stayed for the comments.

All of the comments I have ever received as a blogger have added richness and thoughtfulness to my life. Even the comments critical of various posts have been measured and well-reasoned.

The same can’t be said for many comments on the big media sites, like the WSJ, USA Today, EOnline or, as those who follow the topic of infertility know well, The New York Times. I stopped reading EOnline altogether, first because of its continuous coverage of a certain famous family I refuse to acknowledge, but also because every single photo or story about a celebrity featured lengthy user comment sections noting that so and so was fat, or too thin or too old, or lost their looks after they had a kid. I don’t think there has been one positive comment on there, ever, unless the story was about Ryan Gosling. In short, I hated the hate.

Now it is rumored that Fox News is considering getting rid of their comment section altogether.

Cecily Kellogg wrote an article for Babble about this development, and she also wrote this memorable, thought-provoking post, which caused some debate when it came out few months ago.

By posting about our lives freely online, do we automatically open ourselves into criticism? True, most of us don’t become huge targets like Mckmama (Justine’s amazing article covers what’s happening there so well) but after reading about Mckmama, I discovered that most of the big female bloggers have some intense detractors who scour each post for ammunition and even create and comment on “hater” sites.

So maybe not giving people a say doesn’t matter, and they will find a way to have their say elsewhere? Maybe someone will set up a site just to post the nasty comments that would be missing from Fox News?

I have never deleted a non-spam comment (probably because I have never gotten a nasty comment, just constructive criticism) but I have deleted posts which have caused pain. I don’t regret doing this and I do regret the posts in question.

Anyway, I guess I don’t have a point but have questions. As usual.

Is not having a comment section like censorship? By deleting comments do we stop dialogue or do we stop trolls? Or is it not that simple? Have you ever deleted a comment? If so, how did you feel about it?



Filed under Blogging

17 responses to “Blog Comments: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

  1. I don’t read American news websites, but I know that the comments section of my newspaper is guaranteed to make me scream. I guess if they only get negative comments it is fair enough. It seems different to blogs as well because with blogs there seems to be more community – usually more debate and discussion than just trolling. Like people who are happy to steal from stores but would not steal from someone they know. (Probably a bad example, but the first that came to mind!). If the newspaper is looking for cost savings, not having to moderate comments when they are detracting from articles rather than adding to them probably seems a good idea.

  2. It occurs to me as well that people commenting and following a smaller blog like mine are going to be people interested in and probably experiencing something similar to me. So I value their comments and what they have to say. Usually it us encouraging or sharing their own experience. But people read whatever article they stumble across in a newspaper. And comments can come from a place without much knowledge or just be a gut reaction that even the poster might not agree with after further thought.

  3. Esperanza

    First of all, THIS! “I may have gotten into blogging for the self-expression, but I stayed for the comments.” Yes, yes, triple yes!

    I have to admit, as someone who has never gotten a troll comment (I’m still way to small for trolls to give a shit about me) I doubt I would consider closing my comment section. In fact, I find closing comment sections kind of weird (on personal blogs, I totally think it makes sense on big news sites). I’ve only read one or two blogs that don’t allow comments, but I noticed that the writers still address their readership in the posts, which I think is odd when they won’t let them respond. What is the point in writing part of a dialogue with someone when you don’t want them to write back. I don’t really get it. But then again, I never get hate comments to maybe if I did, I would understand.

    I think the comment section can be hurtful, but in a different way, when it remains sadly empty. Few things hurt me more than writing a post that is important to me and having no, or few, people respond. Leaving your comment section open leaves you vulnerable not only to attacks but to realizations that what you say might not be as important to others. That is a hard pill to swallow, but one that all bloggers have had to force down at one point or another.

    So, enough of my tangent…I guess my answer to your question is this, I would not shut down comment sections but I would silence trolls, because as Cecily so poignantly stated in that post you linked to (you always link to such amazing posts in your own amazing posts!) “On my personal blog I have a comment policy and I don’t allow nasty comments to stand (I support your right to talk about and publish whatever you like, but that doesn’t mean I’m required to give you the platform to do so).” That makes sense to me. People can say what they want but we don’t have to house what they say on their sites. They can always start a hate site if they really care that much (these are new to me and scare the shit out of me, by the way). So yeah, that is my two cents.

  4. Great point about the lack of comments being hurtful. That is so true: it can be devastating to pour your heart into a post and have…crickets.

  5. There’s definitely a different purpose and vibe in blog comments than major news outlets. I think Fox cutting off comments is a lazy/cheap way of fixing the problem – many people have suggested ways to make the comments in those sorts of outlets more effective and polite but it would take more effort than Fox apparently thinks it’s worth. The way most of those sites are run, I don’t even look at the comments because I don’t want to sort through the pile of refuse to find snippets of real conversation.

    As for my blog, I said to you that I’d probably lack some motivation to write without the comments. Blogging is a way to get things “out of my system” but without some feedback too, it would feel incomplete. I don’t write just for me – I write for an audience. I don’t want a huge audience (because then the trolls come out and mean comments would probably crack me) but I aspire to a small, active one. I feel like the comments on my posts have dwindled lately… I guess because I’m a boring mommy blogger now? I try not to be boring though 🙂

  6. Wordgirl

    I am so rarely on the computer (except now…omigod please staysleeping please staysleeping) that I’ve fallen out of the commenting habit — even when I want to I can’t properly express myself on my phone — and my autocorrect/dictation is laughable — Mel did a great piece on commenting a while ago — asking about how the platform changes the game — and I remember being struck by someone saying that they hadn’t seen a blogroll in months — largely bc we all access things through our phones….which led me to muse about the creativity of the blog page itself being lost like artwork on vinyl (jesus I am OLD OLD OLD …and in a funk about it so please excuse my getting off track…)

    I guess I always went into blogging with the mindset of a writer — and no writer can control the critics — all she can do is put down the paper or not read her press — different, of course, with blogging because the form begs a conversation — and it truly is like sending a letter out in a bottle and miraculously hearing a reply — and it does suck to send out those bottles into the ether…but I’ve been writing long enough and had a handful of steadfast commenters and lurkers and friends who either comment or don’t but I have faith that they are out there — sometimes my own writing doesn’t invite comment — or my persona doesn’t or something… not sure — I, in fact worried on my last post that in criticizing my longtime best friend having found testimony with evangelical Christianity — that I was going to get comments I’d have to brace myself for. *Nothing*

    I have never deleted a comment. The nastiest comment I ever received was on my other blog when I lamented snarkily over Giada De Laurentis’ pregnancy of all things — a particularly rabid (and not particularly articulate) fan went on about how this is why I wasn’t a mother — I was so bitter and negative and so on and so forth. The other comment that sticks in my mind was a good friend who at the time was new to my blog (hi Oro!) and she called me out on my own martyrdom about some issue — I can’t remember whether I was talking about step-parenting or what — but it was her thoughtful and insightful critique that made me (after hurt feelings and taking a lot of deep breaths) step back and acknowledge it.

    Blogging is about the connection — whatever else it is — the form itself evolved as a dialogue — I have a difficult time imagining a blog without it.

    I’ve been meaning for some time to thank you for the kind words you’ve sent out more than once on behalf of my blog — thank you Jjiraffe — you are one of the reasons I’m still blogging at all.



  7. I once read a blogger’s post about why she wasn’t going to do IVF or adoption or some such thing and it was well written, but her blog is closed to comments. So I thought – why blog? I always thought it was about connection – and sure some people may not like what you have to say, but that’s what the delete button is for. I once wrote about my not too high of opinion of doctors and a blogger, a doctor commented with quite a bit of heat. I thought she was off the mark, but I let her comment stand because it said more about her. I didn’t continue the conversation because she wasn’t listening, only justifying and I noticed she stopped commenting. I knew she was offended but sometimes we have to agree to disagree – politely.

    • I totally remember that post and I remember feeling EXACTLY the same way you did – I was like, WHAT IS THE POINT OF THIS! It was so odd. She never allows comments though, and I find that so strange. I just can’t imagine addressing my readership and then not allowing them to address me back. It feels almost unfair.

  8. Mo

    Well, you know very well the single comment I deleted. But I would never get rid of comments altogether. And I would never delete something only if it was disagreeing with me. Destructive trolling abusive a-holes on the other hand….

    • Mo, I remember that situation so well, and that was just a straight-up troll, out to cause pain and grief. Like, if you looked up a troll in the dictionary, that comment would be there. There was no gray area there, just the delete button.

  9. This is such an interesting question. I think that websites are different from blogs. I don’t know why you would want to have a blog and close it to comments. Seems to be antithetical.

    As for sites, specifically new sites, I’m thinking of the old days when news was one-sided. The newspaper or the evening news was delivered in a 1-way direction. If you wanted to have a voice, you would write a letter to the editor or the station. The editor then had complete discretion what the public would see.

    None of that means I have an answer to your question. But you’ve made me think!

  10. What a great thoughtful post! Thanks for reading my stuff. 🙂

    No, I wouldn’t get rid of comments either, although I do delete comments now. When I first started blogging, my comments were always smart and lovely. Later, I had many critics and those criticisms were insightful and I often took it to heart and thought about it, and even wrote posts in response about my thoughts on the criticism.

    Now, though, I have people who aren’t critical. They are cruel. Things that say, “You’re so pathetic. I can’t believe you’re so stupid.” or “Why did you post that photo with your ugly ham arms?” or “Stop writing. You’ve said all there is to say.” I also have a huge number of people that talk about my body, my daughter’s teeth (she has a gap between her top front teeth and there are some readers that are sure she has “bottle rot”).

    I explain it this way: disagreement or smart criticism is, “I disagree, and here’s why.” Insulting is, “You suck, and here’s why.” I let the hateful comments on my blog – even ones from people that wished I would DIE – stand until the toxic nature began making me heart sick and unwilling to blog. In March of 2011 I had a breakthrough, and I began both ignoring the haters, refusing to respond to them, and deleting their comments (I’ve mostly held to this standard; it can be very, very hard to turn away). It’s been wonderful. Although Babble doesn’t have the same comment policy I do, so now those commenters head over to Babble to insult me (often about what I’ve written on my personal blog, which is hilariously out of context). Ignoring has worked wonders, though.

    Thanks for writing this. It’s really a good discussion! One last thing: something that’s interesting to note, particularly for news sites, is that the comments are from roughly 1% of the readership – so does it serve the community? Interesting, no?


  11. Mel

    I can’t see closing the comment section as censorship. People can still say what they wish; they just need to do it elsewhere. I don’t see it any different from the baseball stadium telling me that I can’t shout curse words at the park, but I can certainly shout them at home at the television screen when I watch the game there. There are plenty of reasons for why someone would want to close their comment section altogether or close it on certain posts. And if that is their wish, I can support that. And if I have something to say about their post, I can go to my site and write about it.

    I think the comment section is only constructive and helpful if it follows some loose code of behaviour. As it stands now, some comment sections are merely gathering spaces of hate thoughts or rude commentary. And just as we don’t want to see that as the meat of the blog or news site, I also don’t want to see it in the comment section.

  12. I follow a blog that doesn’t allow comments, ever (which is different than shutting them down for a post now and then). The reason I follow her is that aspects of her adoption situation appear to be very similar to ours, and I always learn something when she shares her perspective. I often find myself wanting to comment and get frustrated that I can’t. But she is not necessarily an interactive blogger. I think she blogs more to chronicle her journey, and as a form of personal expression and catharsis. And she is a wonderful writer. Not everyone blogs for the comments. And that’s ok.

    I’ve been blogging for 4.5 years (not so actively, of late) and while I’ve never had the traffic to warrant a major troll situation, I’ve gotten 2-3 nasty comments from people who were extremely anti-adoption. the only comments I’ve ever deleted were those that launched personal attacks on me and my extended family and the reasons we are joined together. they were disrespectful and left to enrage. they were not intended to provoke dialogue. yet in both cases, I did try to email the commenters to respond privately, but both were bogus addresses. clearly hiding behind anonymity.

  13. This is such a great post … it does make me think about the naysayers (I’ve never really had one, and never deleted a comment) … I suspect if I did have negative comments, I’d respond to them, and see them as part of the dialogue; people who would take the time to read my thoughts and leave me negative comments *probably* have something to say that’s worth listening to, at least.

    I’m probably going to sound judgmental here, but I find that the kinds of people who gravitate towards Fox news are not generally people who leave thought-provoking (even if contrary) comments. I don’t read the comment section of my local state aggregate site, because I find that people don’t say things that make sense … they seem to shout just to be heard.

    I sort of feel that this is one of the differences between individually-authored blogs and big media sites. On individually-authored blogs, you cultivate personal relationships with your audience. I don’t think that Fox, though, has the same investment in personal relationships. Sure, they want people to relate … but do they really *care* about the feedback, on such a “micro” level? I suspect not. I, on the other hand, like you, LOVE the comments … that’s what it’s about for me. Not so for Fox, whose mission is delivery of media, not conversation.

    Just speculation … ?

  14. It has taken me far too long to comment on this post. Great questions posed here. I don’t think it’s censorship to remove comments or close them, but I do think it says something about the blogger and his/her motivation for blogging. Far too often I read a so-so or questionable post and the comments are entirely rabidly adoring of the blogger. It’s one thing to delete a insulting, trolling comment; it’s another to delete a critical or dissenting comment. Deleting the latter tells me you can’t handle criticism and may consider blogging to be a narcissistic outlet. Or maybe I’m just cranky today.

    As for personal blogs that don’t allow comments, I don’t get it. I think those bloggers are selfish and more interested in being read than having a dialogue. If you don’t want feedback, then don’t blog publicly.

    I’ve never deleted a comment and probably wouldn’t but my one and only bad comment was from an anonymous commenter on my old IF blog who said something snarky about circumcizing D, and I was so infuriated, I wrote an entire post in response.

  15. Ed

    The Reason you are were not seeing the “Comments” Section on FOX in your browser anymore probably is that they (Fox gatekeepers) banned your computer’s I.P. address most likely. You probably made incendiary comments or pointed out the Hoax that it is the Left/Right paradigm. They don’t like that! As long as you keep comments within the Left and the Right parameters you would have been OK….but as soon as you deviate from that model or paradigm, and start pointing out the fact that the Left and Right is a hoax….well…that will get you banned. Also when you start predicting that false flags attacks are coming to restrict the 2nd amendment…they don’t like that at all as well…..Remember Fox News is the other side of the gate keeping information machineery, MSNBC is the other…..Tune in to infowars instead!
    ps—It seems now that Fox has made it official and they stopped the “comments” sections for everyone.

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