Commenter Etiquette 101

Generally I labor under the delusion that most people are smart and compassionate. And on the whole, this does seem to be the case. People hold doors for me, say please and thank you, and smile back. Unfortunately the advent of the Internet and the ability to remain cloaked and anonymous has led to some people being able to let some of their worst impulses fly free. No where is that more apparent than a comments section on a blog or news site.

Comments Sections

Comments sections have been popping up recently; now almost all major news affiliates have them, not just the blogs. Usually there are some good, intelligent comments, but all too often you get to see people behaving their very worst. For example, YouTube’s comments section is pretty much in a league of its own for comments that are severely racist and misogynistic, willfully ignorant, and comments that are there simply because the poster is looking to rile people up by being as foul and insulting as possible. I’m not going to give you a specific example, but you know what I’m talking about.

XKCD YouTube

XKCD Commentary on YouTube by Randall Munroe

In situations like these, opinions get heated, challenges are thrown, and then it’s insulting mothers and telling people to die in a fire. It’s led to me avoiding the comments sections on larger media sites simply because I’d like my faith in humanity to remain intact, thankyouverymuch. But if you’re commenting on a blog and you get sucked into the crossfire, what do you do?

Let me back up here. This all stems from an innocent comment I’d left on a media blog. Generally I feel okay posting there since it’s lesser known and generally moron-free. Unfortunately, the blog post in question was linked to by a few more well-known sites and thus the Internet at large leaked into the comments section. My comment was rather rudely replied to by someone equating my I.Q. with my bra size. Because physics does not allow me to reach through the Internet and smack that commenter upside the head, I was left with two options: I could be the adult and ignore the comment, or I could start handing down snark like I was a commenter at ohnotheydidnt. I chose the former.

Because quite honestly, I don’t care how good it feels, but you don’t bait the troll. That way lies only madness. The other side of this argument is to not rise to the bait. There’s a lot to be said for walking away from an argument, wildly if all you’re doing is beating your head against a brick wall. It’s not going to move; you’ll have a headache, and you’ll look like a fool for doing it in the first place.

Now what if you know the person who is causing your blood pressure to rise? I mean, there’s not much we can do on larger media sites, other than grit our teeth and close the browser. Here in the SEM industry, it’s much smaller and therefore if someone’s behaving badly, it’s hard to do so without a cloak of anonymity. Especially if it’s someone you actually know.

The Bruce Clay, Inc. blog had something along these lines with Lisa Barone’s post SMX Advanced Goes To The Dark Side. What started out as a discussion of black hat SEO techniques in the comments section turned quickly into a heated argument. There you can see people having forceful conversations with each other (and disagreeing) without it devolving into name-calling. And then you can see some threads where the reverse is true.

What’s the secret to having a heated discussion without it going too far?

• Keep it impersonal and to the topic at hand.
• Saying you don’t agree with the commenter’s opinion is different than calling them an idiot.
• Disagree! List the reasons why you disagree! But please, do NOT drag their mother/dog/personal hygiene into the conversation. That is irrelevant and will just cause headaches for everyone. Again, I don’t care how good it feels, don’t do it.

These are just some general examples of commenters gone wild. How about those of you out there? Have any horror stories of your own to share?

Oh, and lest you get the idea that our comments section is a great place to test out the “what not to do” in commenter etiquette, let me be the first to tell you that we have no problems siccing Susan on you if you don’t behave. You have been warned.

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FAQ: How can I maintain good commenter etiquette in online discussions?

Conversations online have become part of daily life. The Internet provides numerous platforms where individuals can exchange their thoughts and engage in dialogue. However, with this accessibility comes the responsibility of maintaining good commenter etiquette to ensure constructive and respectful interactions. In this whitepaper, we will explore the key principles of maintaining good commenter etiquette and offer practical insights to help you navigate the digital discourse effectively.

  1. Understand the Power of Words

It all begins with understanding that your words have an impact. In online discussions, your words represent you, and they can influence the tone and direction of a conversation. Before hitting “Post,” consider how your words might impact on the discussion or those involved.

  1. Be Respectful and Open-Minded

Respect is the foundation of good commenter etiquette. Open up your mind to other opinions, even if they differ from yours, without resorting to insults, teasing, or offensive language. Instead, focus on the arguments and ideas presented.

  1. Constructive Criticism is Key

Providing constructive criticism can be immensely valuable in online discussions. Respectfully disagree with someone and state your viewpoints clearly and logically. Support your arguments using evidence, examples, and additional perspectives.

  1. Fact-Check Before Posting

Misinformation and fake news can quickly spread in online discussions. Before sharing information, take a moment to fact-check. Verify the accuracy of the data or claims you intend to share, and provide credible sources when necessary.

  1. Stay on Topic

Staying on topic is crucial for a productive discussion. Avoid going off on tangents or introducing unrelated subjects. If you wish to discuss something else, start a new thread or conversation.

  1. Engage Thoughtfully

Engagement is not just about the quantity of your responses but the quality. Thoughtful responses that contribute to the conversation are more valuable than spamming with short or irrelevant comments.

  1. Use Proper Grammar and Spelling

Effective communication in online discussions depends on clear and correct language. Proofread your comments for grammar and spelling errors to ensure your message is easily understood.

  1. Know When to Walk Away

Sometimes, discussions can become heated or unproductive. Stepping away can be the better course in such situations; rather than continue an argument that has no value, it would be wiser to opt-out.

  1. Keep Personal Information Private

Protect your privacy by refraining from sharing personal information in online discussions, such as your address, phone number, or financial details.

  1. Report Inappropriate Behavior

Do not hesitate to notify the moderators or administrator of a platform if offensive or inappropriate remarks come up, they can take measures to ensure an acceptable and respectful environment for users.

Maintaining good commenter etiquette in online discussions is essential for fostering a positive and constructive digital community. Adherence to these guidelines will enable you to engage in engaging discussions, make an impactful contribution, and have lasting effects. Each word matters. Choose them carefully.

Step-by-Step Procedure for Maintaining Good Commenter Etiquette in Online Discussions:

  1. Understand the power of your words and their impact on online discussions.
  2. Approach discussions with respect and an open mind.
  3. Provide constructive criticism when necessary.
  4. Fact-check information before posting.
  5. Stay on topic to maintain a productive discussion.
  6. Engage thoughtfully and contribute meaningful content.
  7. Use proper grammar and spelling for clear communication.
  8. Know when to disengage from unproductive discussions.
  9. Keep your personal information private.
  10. Report inappropriate behavior to platform administrators or moderators.

This article was updated on November 30, 2023. 

See Katie's author page for links to connect on social media.

Comments (1)
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One Reply to “Commenter Etiquette 101”

Keep it impersonal?
Don’t talk about their mother?
Just state your stance and walk away?

[puzzled face] Why are you trying to ruin my Internet?

The sad truth is you’re always going to have *that* guy who comes by the blog because he’s having a bad day and feels the need to take it out on you. It’s really easy to tell people to take the high road, not to respond emotionally and to find their zen place…but when you’re the subject of that attack, it’s really, really hard to subdue your hands and NOT hit the publish button. Because even though you know it’s wrong and it’s only going to fuel the fire, it just feels *so* good. :)

That said, you’re right. Feeding the bad people does nothing to make the blogosphere a better, more intelligent place. And though Susan has had to talk me off the ledge a number of times, I think I’m getting better at keeping my cool. Or if I’m not, please don’t tell me. I at least like the illusion.

[Also, yey for the addition of Katie to the blog. This one has personality. We like!]


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