To work on the internet, or even to spend a considerable time here, you have to have pretty thick skin. You can’t sweat the small stuff, and you have to be ready for criticism. More often than not, it’s not your boss who is pointing out your mistakes, it is the readers — and many of them relish the opportunity to do so.
The idea of “comments” and “comment sections” have become increasingly problematic on the internet. Many websites, including CNN, have phased out comment sections on-site — forcing those readers to express their opinions on social media. When I first started writing for the internet roughly two years ago, the comment section of Thought Catalog was already rough, but I think it has only gotten much, much worse.
Of our Thought Catalog writers, there might be only a few of us left who read the comments at all. Which I think is unfortunate, because they offer so much potential for good dialogue and discussion. But too often, debate and dialogue is drowned out by sexist, racist, homophobic, red-pill drivel that makes the whole section rather unpleasant. And while those thoughts are not fully desirable themselves (at least to me), they may be productive if they could result in some type of conversation. Unfortunately, more often than not, these views are carried by people with immovable convictions and limitless snark. Dialogues become impossible, debate devolves into multiple monologues; commenters sending text into the ether, seemingly directed toward someone else, but ultimately just standing alone in a circular monolith to the writer’s own brilliance. I remember when I submitted my second piece here, and I actually got constructive criticism. I remember when the comment section made me better.
And even when people aren’t downright hateful, oftentimes the filler of the comment section is with minutiae.
“You forgot an apostrophe!”
“You don’t even know how to spell, how can we trust you?”
“There should be a hyphen there.”
I don’t take pride in typos or typographical errors, but come now, everyone fat-fingers a key the wrong way every now and then. Especially when you’re working up against deadlines, and trying to spit out a piece while the topic is still relevant, and you are sweating bullets over a date you have later that day.
And it doesn’t bother me to my core, but when someone creates something there should exist an appreciation for the whole — not the parts. I don’t claim to be an amazing writer, as I tell my friends often. So, critique me. Critique my message, critique my writing style. Tell me that my post wasn’t interesting, or informative, or helpful. Give me advice on how to do those things. But don’t tell me about commas, don’t tell me about typos. There is no courage in memorizing the rules of apostrophe placement, but there always is at least a little in putting forward an idea.
And if you don’t think there is something a tiny bit courageous about putting your thoughts & expressions online, you haven’t done it under your name. The faceless, nameless illuminati of internet “truth” doesn’t bother with mercy. They will read an article about heartbreak and mock the writer for caring too much. They will read an article presenting a new idea about policy, and call the writer a liberal idiot. They will tell someone who writes about depression to kill themselves. These commenters operate by one code, and that is to verbalize the coldest, most stark version of humanity and whatever will be, will be.
Why? I’m not sure. I am confident that many of them are fundamentally unhappy with their lives, and they feel the need to spread that unhappiness without having the courage to do it under their own name. Others, may not realize that their actions have consequences, and have lived a life of dull inconsequence and ease. Others still, may think the Internet is some game, where we are all “in on the joke” and know that everything is satire, everything is humor. I don’t like assigning intentions to people I don’t know, so I suppose I’ll stop with speculations for now.
I think the internet, once an open and free place where everyone can connect, has been walled off into sects and creeds. Far-right groups — people with egg avatars and 13 followers — have their circles on Twitter. So do Social Justice Warriors; with their hashtags and rules about what we’re allowed to talk about. And so comment sections are no longer forums or agoras of discussion, they are battlegrounds for the respective sides to “win.” Our internet mirrors our politics: divided, broken, hateful, petty. It is a world where it doesn’t matter what crack in the argument you find, even if that crack is merely a typo — just find one. Discredit the messenger, and you don’t have to spend time thinking about the idea.
I’m 22-years-old. I don’t have all the answers in the world. I hope I have a long way to go to achieving my full self. I hope I have a lot to learn. I hope I look back on myself five, ten, twenty years from now and laugh at my place in the world. I want to grow, and learn, and become better. And I want as many people to be a part of that process as possible, and so I wish internet feedback was more useful than it is.