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Don’t Read the Comments: Why I can’t stop reading the comments

August 13, 2013

Why do I bother reading the comments? Seriously. Why? Why can’t I read an article, absorb its contents, and exit the page without seeing what the rest of the world thinks?

This is an addiction I’m struggling to break. I’m not alone, either. A Google search for the phrase “don’t read the comments” brings back more than 1.5 million results, including a July 2013 article in Scientific American about how the desire to read and respond to comments relates to anthropology.

via theoatmeal.com

via theoatmeal.com

There are more than 4 billion internet users, worldwide. No matter the piece of content, you’re bound to bump into a wall of negativity and disagreement.  I’m hard pressed to find anything that everyone can agree on. For instance, 7% of Americans believe the moon landing was a hoax, 14% believe in Bigfoot, 15% believe the government adds mind-controlling technology to TV broadcast signals, and 4% believe “lizard people” control our societies by gaining political power (source).

Good luck trying to get them to agree with just about anything else.

As an occasional writer, I’m faced with a bit of a double edged sword: the fewer people read my article, the less likely I am to end up the subject of internet vitriol; the more readers, the higher the likelihood of ending up the subject of ad hominem attacks.

In the past week, one of my articles was published on two popular sites, Thought Catalog and xoJane. This was huge for me. Writing a piece about my experience as a transgender woman, and having it read by a mainstream audience was a delight. Eventually, though, as is the case with nearly all pieces of internet writing involving transgender people, the comments sections slowly peppered with accusations of being some sort of freak, not a “real” woman, and so on. None of which really had anything to do with the content within my article.

For instance, here’s a comment a user named “fckoff” left at the bottom of my article on xoJane (TW: transphobia):

One of several negative comments left by this user

One of several negative comments left by this user

On Thought Catalog, hidden in a pile of mostly-positive commentary was this:

tc

The thing is, most of the comments were so positive. Why is it that I can’t just brush off the negative ones? Knowing that some transphobia and gender policing will always find its way into the comments section, why can’t I stop myself before looking at the comments?

Anonymity gives people the courage to say things online that they ordinarily wouldn’t share. Anonymity makes it so easy to forget that comments like the two highlighted above are aimed at individuals of a group with a disproportionately high rate of suicide attempts.

Sometimes its good to stay cloaked in anonymity, but please never forget that when you say hateful things, there are real people on the other end. Step back and breathe.

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6 Responses to “Don’t Read the Comments: Why I can’t stop reading the comments”


  1. I have trouble ignoring the comments too…I suppose it would be better not to give these people the attention they deserve but I always feel like staying silent puts me in a position of neutrality, and neutrality means automatically siding with the bad guys.

  2. mynta1011 Says:

    Forget about that guy. He has an extremely simplistic and childish view on the world.


  3. […] post originally appeared on the author’s […]

  4. Mathew Says:

    I’m sorry to hear you’ve faced such ignorance. Negative comments are everywhere – just yesterday I got a Youtube comment calling me an “irritating paedophile” because I mentioned school but look old for my age, for instance – but it’s worth remembering that, as you said, the majority are positive. I agree with Martha’s comment above that “neutrality means automatically siding with the bad guys”. Comments give us the platform to challenge these awful ideas wherever they crop up.

  5. Mike Says:

    Parker,

    I just wanted to say that although these hurtful comments seem to frustrate you a lot (understandable), I think there is a bright side to them as well. This is because for every mean, ignorant comment I find below your articles, there are several replies defending you and more importantly, providing more information.

    I am a cis, hetero male who has never known a transgender person and has had almost no exposure to the topic until today (not on purpose, it just never seems to come up). When I first read that you were offended by a doctor marking your sex as male on a document, I honestly had no idea what the problem was. I understood why the rest of that person’s comment was mean and unnecessary, but I figured, “The doctor is just marking the biological sex rather than the gender, right? Isn’t that the correct thing to do? Why is that offensive?” I then read your article, “It doesn’t get better,” and I still did not understand very well.

    Then I delved into the comments section, and I finally began to get it. I became aware of things like how regardless of whether you wanted to be marked M or F, you were detailed and up-front about your medical history; how in general, hormone replacement changes what diseases a person is prone to; how what the doctor did was not in line with legal guidelines; etc. If all the comments were supportive, I wouldn’t have learned any of that.

    My thinking (I could be totally wrong) is that your biggest problem is not bigots. It’s people like me. People who have good intentions but just haven’t been exposed to your way of life, your struggles, and your humanity and therefore don’t have much reason not to be apathetic, let alone defend you. And it is people like me who benefit so greatly from the information generated in response to hateful comments.

    So my point is that there’s a silver lining in the bad comments: they provide a means of education, which I’d imagine is your best weapon at this point. Hope that helps.


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