Long-term care has better commenters
Part of the job for anyone who writes is the potential for receiving nasty comments. In some cases, this can lead to huge problems.
Over the past year, for example, we've seen a bunch of debates about the lack of protection for women writers when they are stalked or harassed for offering an opinion. A recent Pew study shows that while men are more likely to experience name-calling and embarrassment online, young women are particularly vulnerable to sexual harassment and stalking.
So when we look at McKnight's article commenters — in comparison to commenting trolls sending messages that threaten rape, mutilation or destruction of writers' families — we have been pretty lucky. We all occasionally receive comments calling us idiots, liberals, morons, etc., which is par for the course. Two favorites directed at me have been someone threatening to never read anything I ever write again (which, honestly, if you're planning to read McKnight's stories, would be a challenge to uphold) and the one that accused me of being thin-skinned for objecting to comparing the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to Nazis.
Again, I'm lucky. Trolling is on a lot of people's minds this week because of a brilliant This American Life piece by Lindy West, in which she talks to one of her most vicious trolls. It's worth listening to the whole piece, but what is especially worth highlighting here is how she finds that trolls are still human. They have just been blinded by unhappiness, or anger, and forget that the byline receiving their vitriol represents an actual person.
I often point out that the people who spend a lot of time leaving mean comments online are people with the time to leave mean comments online. But we often have this idea that vicious comments emanate from a teenage guy in his mother's basement, and West points out this is not necessarily the case.
“Trolls are among us,” she says. “The boundary between the civilized world and our worst selves is just an illusion.”
Still, it's good to report that long-term care readers tend to veer toward the civilized element of society. On average, is long-term care better about not going crazy in comment sections for B2B publications because it's an industry where people are superior human beings? Is it because it's a small industry where one may have actually met the people he or she slams online? Is it because a lot of our readers don't have time to comment on anything, be it positive or negative? Is it a little bit of all of the above?
There's a common mantra that advises not feeding the trolls, or avoiding reading the comments. But as West points out, that isn't realistic. Writers have to keep an eye on the comments to ascertain legitimate threats and, if necessary, to pursue legal protection. Ultimately, what trolls want, she says, is for certain people to just stop writing, to shut up and go back to being silent.
As Americans, we tend to talk a lot about the importance of free speech, and over whether people have the right to say whatever they want, however they want, whenever they want. But that doesn't make it acceptable for writers (or others) to feel bullied, threatened or harassed, either online or in person. I believe that there are a lot of possible writers in long-term care who don't want to let their voice be heard, be it in a blog or a forum, because they've seen what has happened to others on a variety of websites. It's a shame because we all benefit when a variety of voices is heard.
McKnight's policy is that we take out comments that use swear words, are threatening or constitute a personal attack. We also delete comments where someone is promoting a particular commercial interest. (Note: That's what ads are for.) When people email us to complain, we often invite them to write their own blog post, or a letter to the editor. Not enough people take us up on it, as I'm sure is true at many other business publications.
So let me reiterate a standing invitation: If you have something to say — good, bad or in between — about something you see on your website or other McKnight's publications, please let us know and feel free to chime in. Respectfully, of course.
Elizabeth Newman is Senior Editor at McKnight's. Follow her @TigerELN.