One Further Thought on Internet Commenting
A Twitter “conversation” with our own Tim Kowal yesterday reminded me of something that I neglected to mention in my previous post. Part of why comments sections struggle especially hard to move beyond style to substance is because of the way they manage visibility. After all, if comments sections were just about providing feedback to the author, I’d get a lot more email. If comments sections were just about having a spontaneous discussion with the author, I’d get a lot more tweets sent my way.
But that’s not what comments sections are for. They’re for discussing a post in a way that prioritizes commenter attention-seeking. It’s possible to get at substance there, but I’ve concluded that that’s like swimming against the current. You get substance until someone gets frustrated. Then you get called a fascist in some esoteric way. Then you get called a fascist in a blunt way. Etc.
This is why I use Twitter, by the way. I’m interested in what readers think about stuff I’ve written. I’m interested in explaining more about what I write. But Twitter is structured in such a way that readers who want to respond are actually responding to me without the certainty of a commentariat audience. Ad hominem or abusive attacks there can be easily filtered and blocked. Anecdotally, I’ve had much better dialogue on Twitter than I’ve ever had in comments sections.
One final note: this is what bothers me most of all when people write me (usually anonymous emails) accusing me of “stifling debate” or “opposing expression” or “being an elitist” or “fascist” or etc. It’s not like I’m hiding. I’m on Twitter a lot. I often include a footer on my posts with my email address (email@example.com). A Google search will reveal a few other email addresses. I have a public Facebook page. I try to respond when other bloggers critique my work. I’m not hard to find.
So: if you’re mad that I don’t allow comments on my posts, that’s your right, but don’t pretend like I’ve put up some insurmountable wall to engaging with readers.