Short answer: don’t be a jerk. (just like Wheaton’s Law, but, you know, less gendered)

I have learned a lot from the comments section on this site, and on the internet in general. They can — and I’ve seen this firsthand — be a positive, healthy, safe space for exchanging of ideas and exploring difficult subjects.

Comments are important. As one example among hundreds of this importance, without them I wouldn’t have likely come up with the second version of my genderbread person (which has gone on to be shared and downloaded hundreds of millions of times, and inspired a ton of new GP versions by others based on the -ness model), something I attribute almost entirely to the discussions I had online with thousands of you (but also definitely to the clarifying conversation and cup of coffee with a good friend).

But comments are also toxic. Without them, I likely wouldn’t have ever had to write this piece or ultimately this one, exemplifying the can’t-win-can-only-lose-less situation that is working/writing on the internet. This penchant for toxicity is never more apparent than in the thousands of folks have used comments on my site to threaten my safety and the safety of other commenters.

Here are some things I would love to see in comments on this site and other IPM outlets (like the IPM Facebook or Twitter profiles):

  • people sharing their stories, experiences, and dispositions — using “I” statements and adding their perspective to a global conversation;
  • affirmation and dissent, but in ways that focus on the ideas being discussed, and not the folks presenting them;
  • and finally, when done well this can be the most valuable: helpful suggestions, constructive criticism, and requests for future work.

Here are some of the reasons your comment was deleted or not approved:

  • comments pendingit got lost in the shuffle (Sorry! At the time of writing this, I have 4,583 comments to tend to on this site alone, not mentioning Facebook, Twitter, email, etc);
  • it was (or included)…
    • a threat (or a veiled threat — popular deletions on the site here are “watch your back” type comments);
    • a libelous claim (against me or another person — popular on social media include that I’m a “known child molester” [I think started because of this NOM article?] or a “known plagiarist” [addressed here] or “intentionally destroying traditional family values” [tots because of this]);
    • some other fallacious argument to derail an otherwise positive conversation;
  • or it was otherwise cruel, hateful, spiteful, or just plain mean.

This policy is enacted as fairly as possible, without regard to the person’s identity who made the comment. As difficult as it is for me to delete comments from folks who represent marginalized voices (it really, really is), it’s a sad reality that “jerk”-ness infects folks of all backgrounds.

That last bullet point is controversial, but so is everything else I do

That last reason seem a bit subjective? It is. It really, really is. But everything I do is controversial. Everything on the internet is controversial to someone, so pour that on top of the “radical” belief I’m “proselytizing” here that people of all identities should be treated with love, dignity, and kindness — on the individual, systemic, and global levels — and we find ourselves in a coliseum worthy of the days of lore.

But here’s the thing: there is nothing objective about this space, or any other community space I’ve created online. There is no right to free speech or free assembly in the comments section of an article some person on the internet wrote and shared with you (for free!). That’s not just this space — that’s the internet in general. You visiting this site or anybody else’s site isn’t a right you’re entitled to — it’s a privilege (just one of many you likely possess).

One of my friends turned me on to a Brené Brown quote (from this talk), which was based on a Teddy Roosevelt quote. Here’s the Roosevelt quote first, for context:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Brené Brown, in her candid and admirable (and oh so Texan) wisdom, said this:

“If you’re not in the arena also getting your ass kicked, I’m not interested in your feedback. If you have constructive information — feedback to give me — I want it… I love that. But if you’re in the cheap seats, not putting yourself on the line, and just talking about how I can do it better, I’m not interested in your feedback.”

love-and-equality-zero-tolerance-color-white-300I’m doing my best here. I really am. And I believe I’ve done a lot of good, and I know I have a lot of good left in me to do. I’ve erred, and you helped me realize that, and for that I’ve been forever-thankful, made my apologies (like this one), and redirected my future actions.

But when push comes to shove, on this site and elsewhere, I’m just a person making things for you on the internet, if you want ’em, in the hope that they make the world a better place for all of us. I’d love help in doing that better, and I’m easy to get ahold of, but you do not have my consent to use the spaces I’ve created to satisfy your want to be cruel.

This is not a space for your hate. Why you gotta be so mean?

-sK

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