In the distant pre-pandemic past, I used to take public transit. Public transit is a fascinating place where you meet people from many different walks of life. Just kidding, nobody talks to each other. This possibly varies from culture to culture, but in my experience people mostly want to mind their own business on public transit.
When strangers do talk to me, that’s alright with me, but my expectations start super low. The most common kind of comment I get, is basically homophobia. Another kind of comment is people saying that my husband and I are a cute couple–innocent enough but vaguely objectifying. Then there are the comments that I just don’t understand. I have auditory processing issues, and it can take a while to acclimate myself to someone’s voice before understanding them. But it’s hard to explain that to a stranger, and it’s not like I wanted to talk to them in the first place.
There’s a similar interaction that happens online: getting comments from randos. By “rando” I’m referring to people that for whatever reason, come across my internet writing–often via internet search. Typically they only read one article, months or years after its publication, and probably not even the whole thing. Comments from randos can be better than comments from strangers on a bus, but they usually are not. Randos systematically produce the worst comments I get.
Basically every blogger has the same experience, so I’m just explaining this for the benefit of people who don’t blog or haven’t blogged enough to attract randos.
What makes comments from randos bad? Just like strangers on the bus, there are a lot of comments that are basically just homophobia, transphobia, racism, misogyny, or random hate. I delete most of these comments without ceremony, so you never see them.
Then there are a lot of unintelligible comments. I have some sympathy, because I think writing a good internet comment is harder than it looks. However, all the sympathy in the world will not help an unintelligible comment.
Beyond that, most rando commenters are just not getting it, for one reason or another. Sometimes they just missed the main point, probably because they’re not reading carefully. Sometimes they got the main point but the only thing they can say is to assert the opposite point. Sometimes they miss the timestamp, or else they just have an irrational belief that I care intensely about something I wrote five years ago. Sometimes they make incorrect assumptions about my beliefs. Or they try to recommend something very long, which I most certainly will not read because a rando’s recommendation is worth about 2 seconds of my time.
And some of these I could respond to, but if I do, I don’t do it for the rando, because the rando is unlikely to ever show up again. What, are they going to google the same phrase and click on the same article just to see if I responded? The knowledge that any interaction will be brief and one-sided really undercuts value of those interactions.
Comments from randos aren’t always bad though. And it’s worth noting: sometimes we are the randos. So how can we play that role well? A few basic tips:
- Hardly anyone will complain about receiving generic positive comments. However, avoid making it so generic that it could literally be a comment on anything, since that’s what spam looks like.
- You may find yourself having to read between the lines to figure out what the author believes. That’s okay, but please say that you have done so, and leave open the possibility that you have misunderstood. When randos make an assumption about me, and it’s not clear what that assumption was, that’s a bad comment.
- Make a temporary bookmark, and check a few days later for a response.
- Ask honest questions. Questions are relatively low effort for the commenter, and it’s hard for bloggers to complain about them. Also if you think about it, you’re far more likely to get an insightful answer to a question, than you are to persuade someone with an argument.
I also want to say, put some effort into it. But I know everyone’s time is precious, and why waste time on some rando blogger that wrote one article you read? So just remember that if you don’t have enough time to put effort into it, lurking is always a respectable choice.