Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A Politeness Test For the Smart and Polite Commenter

I guess it would make me happier if online commenters would stop and think before they send in a comment and take a politeness check. I'm not referring to comments on this site, but in general on the internet:

1.Would you be embarrassed to hear your comment repeated to a live audience, perhaps on television, at school or church, or at your funeral?
2. Would you likely get permission, encouragement and approval to send it from your grandparents, your parents, your children, bosses or significant others?
3. Is every word included and spelled perfectly?
4. Is the grammar perfect?
5. Are the sentences complete?
6. Did you even know the opposite sex usually find graphic anatomical references silly and primitive and ignore them? Same with expletives?
7. Put the comment in perspective. Will the comment show knowledge on the part of the sender or ask a legitimate question, or does the commenter just trash aspects, and sometimes even the writer, of the article because of the freedom to do so?
8. Why does the commenter want to hurt the writer with thoughtless comments? Imagine receiving the comment - how would it make you feel?
9. If the commenter isn't sure if a comment might hurt anyone, why not set it aside and read it again later, before sending it?
10. Can a commenter have the humility to admit to a possible mistake and not send a comment labored on and usually typed in haste, if it might not be appropriate?

If a comment doesn't pass with 'yes' to all the above, maybe it's better to delete it and not send it. Truth is important but some comments aren't. They can, at their worst, be toxic, useless and in Rumsfeld's words "notably unhelpful".

Since their inceptions, I have admired the achievements of sites like HuffPost and Daily Beast for fresh news. Professionals in many fields now have the opportunity to air their stories in online forums. Previously, they didn't have the chance and their views were aggregated together in sound bites and commoditized by the more mainstream journalistic venues.

These are people who know what they are writing about, feel strongly enough to write an article, and are literate enough to write an article for all to see. They can be royalty, experts and scientists at heights of lifelong careers giving away the fruits of their knowledge for free. I think of this as a good thing, much as I still like investigative journalism.

The down side to these and other sites to me are the Comment sections after an article I like. Eyes stray on them, whether one consciously intends to; it often can't be helped. It hurts me to think how laceratingly bone-crushing some negative comments must be for the experts who have spent the time to write for free and whose generous intentions were to impart first hand knowledge. Those comments can bite even other commenters who have added an innocent comment only to find it pounced on and flamed.

The world used to be kinder and softer, when extreme criticism wasn't as close and aggressive a neighbor as it has become in the online world. True, reading news isn't the same as to have a satisfying fireside flaming-hot dinner with candles. Some would disagree even with that and say reading news can be preferable, no doubt.

My point is that when some disagree online, whether they intend to or not, they abuse innocent writers and readers, often graphically, in an impolite way. In gratitude, they throw away in public disgust the fresh fruit of their most revered hosts and hostesses. Impolite comments can drive out good commenters who stop reading them, and everyone can lose  by missing out on reading full ranges of ideas. Home-made comments are the verbal equivalents of roadside bombs or bomb missiles, and avoided in some sites, especially if the first ones turn off viewers.

Impolite commenters  must not realize how powerful, potentially harmful and dangerous they are. Their statements will likely be seen by the author of the article. Commenters aren't generally vetted on the internet, but their gender, if not their age, often can be guessed, by their command of the language, choice of words and grammar usage.

Make sure your comments are responsible uses of your freedom and power. Know that your comments can cause others to perhaps form negative opinions of you. Hostile comments intended to provoke tend to be useless and hurtful.

V. Van Gogh, Parable of the Good Samaritan

The Golden Rule from the Bible (Matt.#22:39) should apply to commenters: Do unto others as you would have done unto you. I'm all for the truth and free speech. It's a worthwhile skill to combine them and help others with a gentle touch.

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