Jennifer: I will begin. I believe today’s discussion is spurred on by a saucy little comedy I call “The Troll, or, Who Is Melinda?” Obviously, this commenter, Melinda is wonderful. I wish she would guest author a post. “You’ll never be people!?” Classic. But I also believe that she is a performance artist. That said, I think her sudden appearence raises questions about how to properly handle internet commenters, especially when they become insulting. Thoughts?
Ashley: Well, I go back and forth on this. I feel like, on the one hand, putting stock in any comment (good or bad) is imprudent. On the other hand, I enjoy reading well-reasoned, thoughtful comments.
Jennifer: Of course. I mean, they say you should never take criticism from someone you wouldn’t take advice from but I WOULD take advice from many of our commenters.
Ashley: We do have some really good ones.
Jennifer: Yeah, we do. But we also have some loonbats. And I feel like my first response is always to call them out for being bullshit assholes, which you cannot do on the internet.
Ashley: “Don’t feed the trolls” so it goes.
Jennifer: Despite the fact that it’s a rational and effective technique in real life. Screaming “you are a bullshit asshole” at people tends to shut them up at least temporarily, if you have crazy eyes, which I am blessed with. But not being able to do that means there are very few ways to defend yourself against assholery on the internet.
Ashley: I mean, the best way to defend yourself against assholes is not to care what they say. Because they are assholes.
Jennifer: Right, but I think not replying at all is pretty difficult. We’ve all watched celebrities, say, Scott Adams, wildly try to defend himself against internet commenters, and he only succeeds in turning himself in a laughingstock.
Ashley: I don’t know who Scott Adams is.
Ashley: Yeah. Wait, the Dilbert guy?
Jennifer: Yeah. He posed as his own fan on a message board to defend himself.
Ashley: Right, right. I heard about this. This is probably the first time in his life someone has ever made Jim Davis look like a stand-up guy.
Jennifer: Garfield, you have no idea how alone you are.
Ashley: FOREVER ALONE. I fall down the rabbit hole too easily with this shit, though. I see an insane comment and want to be like, “I see you there, with your logical fallacies!” But trying to explain to an asssole that he’s an asshole is like trying to teach a dog to stop being such an asshole.
Jennifer: Dogs really just want to fuck your shit up. But we do respond, right? Ignoring it is a) impossible and and b) means that haters will say something to the effect of “oh, they can’t even defend themselves.” I think the only recourse is to make fun of yourself really hard and better than they can.
Ashley: That’s a really good way of combatting it, yes.
Jennifer: Because you cannot attack the commenter without seeming like you care. This is actually the same way things worked when you got picked on in 7th grade.
Ashley: I don’t want to talk about 7th grade. Ever again.
Jennifer: You had to come up with a flippant joke real fast, which is TERRIFYING. Thank God the Internet allows you more time.
Ashley: And more grammatical errors.
Jennifer: Those too, little buddy, those too.
Ashley: This speaks to a larger issue, which I know is a favorite of yours: how anonymity is an equalizing force on the internet. How commenting allows for a kind of savage honesty that most social situations don’t. And whether removing comments for things like, say, bigotry is a slippery slope.
Ashley: Specifically, I did a gallery of women looking good in suits a few months back and it got posted to Facebook and one person said, “Ew. Who wants to look like a dyke?”
Jennifer: Right! That person would never say that aloud! I think the Internet offers us this astonishing ability to actually know what people are thinking. Frankly, I always find it really uplifting that most people, even with the cloak of anonymity, are pretty decent. It’s amazing that we don’t just growl “Fuck you, eh fuck your mother” in every comment, right? I mean “we” as the human race. I guess my expectations regarding human character were too low. PEOPLE ARE GOOD. As a rule.
Ashley: That’s true. But I hate the idea of the Internet as a place for people to just expel vileness and hatred. I think people should be accountable for what they put in a public forum. If not, I think shit like bigotry and hate should be deleted much in the way we delete spam. In fact, I’d rather get spam about “gorgeous movie star pretty shoes you want?” in Russian than see racial epithets in a comment thread.
Jennifer: I do not believe in censorship. Our role is to hold up a mirror to the emotions of the world. We can’t presume to the stature of moralists. That’s better left to… well, it’s best left to literally anyone but us.
Ashley: That’s not my role! My role is to talk about sweet anoraks and celebrities wearing ugly dresses.
Jennifer: MY ROLE IS TO LET THE WORLD SEE THE MIND OF MAN. I love racial epithets, actually. I mean, I disagree with them, strongly, but I always have a little moment of “oh, hey, there are still people who think that way. I forgot that.” Living in New York, watching Ghost World, smoking those American Spirits, it’s pretty easy to do. It’s important to remember that those are still mentalities that exist. So we can remember that it’s still important to fight against them.
Jennifer: Anonymous haters on the internet bare their dirty souls for us to see and shudder at, and the shuddering is valuable. I mean, the racial epithet people. Not the people who think I’m just a pretentious fuck. They’ve probably got something there.
Ashley: I guess I don’t see a comment thread as a raw, unadulterated reflection of mankind and its manifold ideas, so much as a place for discussion about a specific idea. For example, Melinda – commenting under a different name – used the words “mulatto and nigger” the other day on a post about the after-sex pillow. And that could have been excised.
Jennifer: I see the entire world – this comment thread called life – as a place for reflection on man’s manifold issues. Was that not profoundly disturbing, that comment!? Again, as a playful New Yorker who is used to women talking optimistically about how maybe their sons will be gay, I seriously forget that “nigger” is a word people think. I know that’s a testament to the fact that we live in kind of a dreamworld. But if I didn’t get slammed in the face every so often – by internet commenters – I would forget how important it is to be attuned to those issues. I know there are no angels in America but there are a lot of flighty types like myself who kind of forget about stuff because, superficially, it can seem like everyone is getting along just fine.
Ashley: I guess we’re just disagreeing (DEBATING IF YOU WILL) what the point of a comment thread is. I think they exist so people can discuss a certain topic. If the topic is about novelty pillows, there’s absolutely no room for bigotry. If the topic is about how black people are inferior, then racial epithets are fitting, I suppose. And we should delete pointless bullshit the way we delete spam because it’s irrelevant.
Jennifer: No. It’s all too relevant. I mean, first of all, I think you’ve read enough Faulkner to know that the human thought process is insane. I think these Editor Debates sort of indicate that, given that we’ve never successfully resolved anything or stayed on the topic, really.
Jennifer: For crazy people, where I guess the word “nigger” is always at the forefront of their mind, mentioning that on a discussion of lady-shaped pillows is quite relevant. It fascinates me that those people do think it’s relevant. I don’t believe I’m in a position to say what’s not relevant – and I don’t believe that trying to hide bad things, and thoughts that I firmly disagree with, will make them go away. I don’t believe in willful naivete. People need to know what is on the minds of others if only so they can be aware and properly defend themselves against those mentalities. The Internet is no country for judgement. Besides, it’s too slippery a slope.
Ashley: I mean, yes, it’s relevant to the person. But it’s not to the subject.
Jennifer: We start banning that, soon we’d be banning Catcher in the Rye.
Ashley: After that people will be marrying dogs!
Jennifer: And their sisters!
Ashley: All of their sisters!
Jennifer: So, if we do not politely and cleverly respond to internet commenters, it will mark the end of this great country.
Ashley: What were you saying about slippery slopes…?
Jennifer: That they are fun for tobogganing. In conclusion, you’ll never be people.