Not so long ago we posted an article that attracted a critical response. The article was seemingly innocuous enough, and despite not really agreeing with the commentator’s thrust I felt the essence of the comment was fair enough, if unpleasantly expressed. After all, you can’t please everyone all the time, and if you have an opinion you can bet your life someone else will have a contrasting point of view.
But it didn’t stop there. Next came emails, and sinister ones at that. Soon it became obvious that the person concerned had gone to a fair bit of trouble; setting up a separate email address under an alias and tracking down where we might be at a certain time. We both felt strongly that this person was a coward and would lack the balls to actually come down and present their grievances face to face.
Turned out we were right.
And in the grand scheme of thing this was a relatively mild experience. Just a bit of trolling really. Other people we know who write blogs have had similar experiences. I sincerely hope I’ll never have to receive anything similar to Guardian writer, Suzanne More.
But this experience did get me thinking about how easy it is for people to behave a certain way online and the role of comments pages in facilitating debate. Are they useful? Do they really add anything meaningful to the reading experience? Should moderator standards be more stringent? Should the IP addresses of people who send threatening emails be passed on to the police?
It’s an interesting debate, one that I can see both sides of. On the one hand, it can be argued that a bit of stick every now and then is the price that you pay for having a platform. However, bulling in any profession or walk of life should be unacceptable.
@zephyrtron presented some interesting points in his post over at Write Now. If comments were locked into social media platforms (which in turn are locked into a person’s offline life) then we would most likely see people begin to comment with a bit more thought. He also presents an interesting point about free speech being built on personal responsibility.
I agree with much of what is said in his post, although I would be sad to see the end of comments completely.
Often comments on certain articles can add another angle to the story or contribute information that’s relevant to the topic being discussed. But it really gets my goat when people comment on Mariella Frostrup or Pamela Connolly pieces just to say something along the lines of “once again Mariella/Pamela has given some rubbish advice.” You can almost see them rolling their eyes derivatively while they type, filled with a false sense of superiority.
Perhaps it is time we began to apply the rules of what we consider acceptable publicly to the way we behave online.
Follow the conversation on Twitter: #killcomments