Against “Don’t Read the Comments”

Here’s a spoiler: Preventing abuse online requires the people running a site or an app to invest time, effort and attention into protecting their community. That’s the bottom line.

Now, many times, people saying “Don’t read the comments” are making a dark joke about the inevitability of abuse on the particularly communities they’re connected to…

Similarly, we might offer “Never read the comments!” as a reminder to people we care about, urging them to be mindful of self-care as a necessary part of dealing with the grinding, exhausting, never-ending stress of sustained online harassment campaigns…

There’s a grave cost to assuming online interactivity is always awful. The burden is felt most acutely in denying opportunity to those for whom connecting to a community online may be the only way to get a foot in the door. Those underrepresented, unheard voices are the most valuable ones we lose when we throw the baby out with the bathwater and assume online comments are necessarily bad.

I am one of many people, I think, who do not participate in broad, public internet discussions. For anyone who already experiences marginalization or straight up bigotry in their day-to-day lives, the lack of tools available to protect ourselves makes it that much more difficult to actively decide to participate in a space where we know we’re likely to be harassed and attacked.

That said, outright dismissing all comments sections everywhere leaves a lot to be desired. It leaves those who have spoken up isolated. And it leaves those who leave bigoted or attacking comments without dissent.

A large part of why there are no comment forms on this site is that I did not have the mental capacity to be moderating conversations when I started this site. And knowing what I wanted to post about, I expected at least a few to come. I could not invest the time to protect any community that might build, so I didn’t open the floor.

I hope I get to reassess that in the future and see a different landscape.