Bil Browning

An experiment: Can we do it?

Filed By Bil Browning | November 18, 2010 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Site News
Tags: blog comments, stressful times

We've had a lot of complaints lately about the comments section of Bilerico being so negative. One commenter in particular seems to garner quite a few heated responses from both contributors and other readers. (No, I'm not naming names - and neither should you!)

It's not just in our comments section though; I'm noticing it on plenty of other LGBT blogs. In fact, I'll admit that there are a few sites that used to be in my "favorites" category of my RSS feeds that I've bumped down to the general "queer" category just because I couldn't take their constant negativity any more. I've stopped reading them for the most part. Even I'm not immune though; I've made my share of pissy comments and sour posts.

sun-clipart.jpgSo let's try a brief experiment, shall we? Pick any of the posts on the front page today - any one you'd like - and leave a positive comment. Compliment the post, show some appreciation for the work the author put into it for no pay, or commend another commenter for saying something intelligent and helping to advance a conversation.

Our major goal with Bilerico Project was to start some general conversations that seem to be difficult to have off line. We want to let the disempowered speak. So let's get back to the basics. Let's lift each other up during these difficult and stressful times instead of tearing each other down. Why don't we get back to the business of discussing our issues with grace, fervor and some common courtesy.

Let's see how this experiment goes and how many positive comments we can generate. Are you with me? Can we just be kind to each other today?

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That's a brilliant idea.

Thanks. Let's add to this experiment...

How many people can share it on Facebook to see how many positive comments we can get on the site today? Let's try to spread some sunshine today instead of doom and gloom. :)

[Bil opens can of worms. They spill out in a contorted, squirming heap and promptly start popping out babies]

But seriously :-)

I don't think the problem is with whether or not the comments are negative or positive, or perhaps we ought to define what we mean by those terms. I read lots of stuff on blogs that I can't possibly be "positive" about because, frankly, their politics are so horrifying - and I'm talking about liberal/progressive blogs. In those cases, I generally leave them alone because I limit my energy to changing the world in, ah, the real world. If I do comment, I'm pretty clear about what my issues might be and I learnt a long time ago that even prefacing my comments with words like, "While I admire x..etc." would not prevent the writer from lashing out anyway.

As a blogger, I really don't care if people disagree with me or want to be "negative" about a point. I mean, hey, if you disagree, you disagree, and there's no need to sugarcoat anything. And, frankly, I'm not going to learn a damn thing or develop my own philosophy if I simply talk to a bunch of polite people who are uniformly nice to me to boot. The blogosphere is what it is, and that's why we should all work on maintaining healthy networks outside it.

No, what irks me is that we have commenters who make careers, of sorts, out of stalking certain bloggers (and we shall take no names), going so far as to use different names or change their names in an effort to be anonymous (a futile task when all their information is easily spotted the minute they send in comments). They then proceed to use every smarmy tactic in the book, including demanding to know personal information that has no bearing on the issue ("who were your parents, anyway?") or insisting that they, anonymous people who exist in their own heads, for the most part, are better than you ("I grew up poor and unloved - my life is more meaningful than yours, you sod!"). These are utterly futile arguments that are impossible to prove and completely irrelevant. Some have gone so far as to deliver veiled threats via e-mail. And then, they rinse and repeat the exact same points on the next blog without ever addressing the points raised. To me, all this is beyond the pale of "negative" - it's something much more akin to the kind of vicious bullying we have recently begun to decry in high schools.

I think we can have great, productive discussions on blogs without having to be agreeable to each other - the issue is not the tone we use, the issue here consists of the tactics employed by a small band of vociferous, bullying, cowardly people who wouldn't have the guts to say 99% of what they say on our blogs to our faces.

So here's what I propose as an experiment instead: the next time you (I mean, of course, the widest possible "you") comment on a blog, write your comment EXACTLY as you would SAY it out loud, at a table, sitting in front of the writer or to a co-worker, and in front of a group of real, live people. If you wouldn't have the guts to say it out loud in civil company, don't bother writing it down. If you're not used to talking to or in front of others, ask an acquaintance over for dinner and try saying what you write in your blog comments out loud to them. See how often you can actually make intelligent, thoughtful points without repeating yourself every time you're challenged. If they leave with a real assurance that they will meet with you again, even after a heated discussion, you'll have learnt something about how to have an actual, intellectually engaged discussion.

That's not necessarily easy to learn, btw. I facilitate public conversations for part of my living - and you'd be amazed how often I have to stop people of vastly different ages and backgrounds and instruct them to stick to their points and "address the point, don't attack the people" etc.

And in case anyone is wondering: yes, I do sound like this in real life.

As Yasmin said.
And Bil, thanks for the reminder that snarkiness only creates frustration.

Bil thank you for taking time to promote better understanding and communication. There is no reason we can not be civil to each other.

Since we all share the same issues it is most important we stand as one. Discussion and disagreement are fine but int he end we are all people and deserve respect.

Great reminder! Thanks again.

That was a thoughtful post, Bil. It simply asked that we consider our actions more carefully, and not to use criticism as our default. Taking the time to compliment someone is a generous, gracious act. So, thank you for this. So there.

Bil I agree that commenter's should be nice but so should posters.Those who choose to post against things (DADT or gay marriage)that are important to a majority of LGBT Americans and do so in a very rude and in your face kinda way shouldn't be crying when they get bitch slapped for it.I have worked construction for a good part of my life.I have stood on construction sites surrounded by ten or more men explaining to them why they shouldn't be opposed to gay marriage and I'm still here.So I would say to any poster don't be so quick to assume none of us would tell you the same to your face and maybe even worse.Bil I was both surprised but pleased you didn't yank my comment in response to the anti DADT post on Veterans day.As a Veteran I grudgingly respect their rights to hold those views even if they are retarded for it.Thanks for starting Bilerico and 99% of the time I like what is posted here that isn't to shabby pat yourself on the back.

sarahallison48 | November 18, 2010 6:11 PM

Thanks Bil, positive upkeep of the site!! Youo are so Awesome!!

Hooray Bill!! Thank you

Oh F*ck off Bil. You think we should play nice? What kind of stupid idea will you come up with next? Sheesh it sounds like you want to go kiss Maggie or become a Republican. Why the very idea that we should blow kisses to idiots and losers with less brains than a snail is revolting. I mean really Bil, people who disagree with me are an abomination to God and should be stoned. Especially Andrew. That nitwit needs to get a life. Oh, I forgot - no names. You know I am just teasing.

Like Mae West said....I generally avoid temptation unless I can't resist it.

But my favorite Mae West quote is ... A hard man is good to find.

Have a wonderful day. Kisses to all.

I don't mind the negative comments. They -- the smart ones, anyway -- help me clarify my ideas and see where I can be more clear next time. (Of course, there are those repeat commenters who have an axe to grind and it doesn't matter what you write, they trot out their agenda. But you can spot them a mile away and ignore them if you want.)

Compared to other gay blogs I read, Bilerico's comments are usually pretty thoughtful and often edifying. I like Yasmin's rule. I like the debate.

Great idea.

I would also like to suggest that people not take things so personally. I agree that people sometimes need to express disagreement and often that is very positive. Some times a person posts an article (or comment) and then they are appalled because someone disagrees. That's life.

Have a large night. ; )

It is about time you showed up. A large night sounds ...uh... very interesting. You 2. :)

I dunno. I'm pretty jaded. But at least I use the same username all the time everywhere I comment. People who go to the same sites I go to can recognize my username, so I'm not really anonymous.

I don't blog because I think it comes with responsibility. Especially if you're an "LGBT blogger" or you have a blog where you're trying to inform and lead discussions as opposed to just a personal blog. I don't really expect much from the comments section.

Offline is a whole other dynamic. The question isn't whether we'd say any of this to someone's face, but whether it'd ever get to the point where we're ticked off enough to say it. There are a lot of missed social cues online.

Admittedly, I have a pretty thin skin, given that, I still find myself shocked sometimes by the ferocity with which we lgbt folks attack one another.

Spirited debate is essential for evolution within any movement. Unfortunately, some folks do not understand the difference between vigorously defending a position and seeking to invalidate the opinion of others. Perhaps, these people, being so committed to being "right" at all cost, simply do not care. Whatever the motivation, personal attacks, vicious attempts to discredit and spinning-off into shameless hyperbole are self-defeating strategies. We all lose in their employ.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | November 19, 2010 8:28 AM

I think it is healthy to keep in perspective that none of us really "know one another personally" and the focus should be to share ideas on a topic rather than always tacking toward the same agenda points.

We know "prison industrial complex" jargon and we are well represented by the socialist point of view generally. Some love our national flag and others actively hate it and the veterans who served and the active military. Some just begin as friendly folks and then turn unpredictably into not friendly people. One learns to skim and my former days of spending hours now devolve to a half hour and weeks go by without my visiting at all.

I have learned a lot from this site both when I was a contributor and now just a reader. I have learned much more about transgendered persons than I knew before and appreciate the postings that concentrate on advances in health care and concentrate on our ragtag movement as a civil rights movement for "the remainder" of all disenfranchised Americans. I like the site best when the postings are positive and do not call attention to race, class, supposed wealth, or dismissing someone as "privileged." I like them too when they are about new information rather than "ain't it awful" expressed in some new way. "Ain't it awful" is another way of losing before we start.

I am sure Bil knows all of this (and more) and takes his responsibility seriously. I believe him to be a decent and fair person who has an impossible job trying to herd cats.

The short answer to the incivility is that people are unemployed, or fearful of being so, and are letting off steam. We just got two years of disappointments with more on the way. I can still assure anyone that where I started from was a much tougher neighborhood in the 1970's. I would suggest punching a pillow or taking a walk instead.

I've said this to Bil before and I'll say it here again.

The attraction of the Bilerico Project to me is that it does represent the multiplicity of voices with the LGBT community moreso than any other LGBT blog, it seems to me.

So yes, along with that multiplicity, we are going to get dissenting voices; and some can be quite vitriolic.

But then, I never really considered Bilerico as being a "safe space," exactly, but still...

It's Bil's blog and if he wants us to be nice foe a day (lol) then by all means...

And yes...I've met Yasmin before and I can testify that she does sound like that in real life.

Robert found the word I want to emphasize: civility.

Many who comment are passionate about their points, and that's great. It continues the conversation. But passion can be off-putting if it disregards its audience. I "listen" as I write, attuned to how I sound to others. No one will ever change my mind by screaming at me, in person or in writing. Walls go up and defensive posture is automatic.

I know that if I wish to be heard, I need to show respect for my audience, no matter how much I disagree with their point of view. I can't tell you how many times I edit my responses until I get the snark out. I don't always succeed, but I think that most of my writing will not come back to haunt me.

Bottom line is, shouting will only garner those who already agree with you. It's great for rallying the troops. But changing minds and hearts takes a different tack, and we must use our inside voices.