Sigh: A Comment Policy

By | May 26, 2010

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Somehow I’ve managed to go a few years now without an official comment policy. Well, I suppose I’d always had one, though it was nebulous and existed only inside my head and was primarily rooted in my intuitive sense of a commenter’s willingness to have a civil conversation, versus a commenter who is more into the idea of hearing their own voice. As a result, my comment policy has been less draconian than many, as it’s very rare that I run across a reader communiqué that I simply refuse to engage with. Hell, even hate mail occasionally gets play! Given that comments here have always been moderated, I’ve been able to just flush the rare shit comment out of the queue with little reluctance and even less explanation.

Though historically I’ve thought that comment policies on blogs written mostly by one person were sort of unnecessary, lately I’ve come to appreciate their usefulness, not so much as strict rules to follow but as guidelines offered to would-be commenters on what sort of comments are unwelcome. I don’t actually expect it will stop the unwelcome comments — they get deleted from the moderation queue anyway — but it might help some readers to avoid phrasing well-meant comments in ways that are problematic, either to me or to my other readers/commenters.

Hence! Here is a comment policy, in the form of a list of things likely to be deleted (though there are always exceptions):

1. Comments that assure me that you hate me and my fat, or that I am unacceptable or dangerous (this is the best) or whatevs. For one: BOOORRRING. For two: I don’t write this blog for personal validation. TRUFAX! I write it to send critical thinking about bodies and fat out into the world. If you disagree with those ideas, and refuse to even imagine a situation in which you’ll ever feel otherwise, and moreover are not interested in discussing this stuff in a constructive and thoughtful way, then that, also, is totally cool. So cool, in fact, that you needn’t waste characters typing it out and sharing your feelings with me. The world is filled with amazing people with very divergent ideas about life, and that is a wonderful, beautiful thing, but it does not mean that you get to express those ideas whenever you want, with no regard for the context.

2. Comments that betray a lack of familiarity with me individually but which make assertions as though familiarity is assumed. Example: “You should get a gym membership, and eat more vegetables!” Very occasionally I will engage with such comments, if I’m feeling patient, but ultimately doing so kind of reinforces the idea that I must defend my tenuous position as a “good fat” (i.e., one who goes to the gym and eats like a Buddhist) on demand, which itself is insulting and offensive. My message to you is to lurk more. Constantly justifying my existence is tedious and brainless, especially when all the information you could want about my exercise and eating habits is already on this blog, in more topical circumstances.

3. Concern Trolling. For those who haven’t heard this term before, concern trolling happens when folks post comments that are attacks cloaked under a disguise of heartfelt worry. Example: “I think you’re great and it’d be awful if you died tomorrow under an avalanche of ten thousand cupcakes which you were trying to eat because you do that all the time.” Alternatively, “My brother/aunt/cousin/elementary-school BFF/gardener/acupuncturist spontaneously died of The Fat and you should consider eating less and exercising so it doesn’t happen to you too!” This guideline is a bit more flexible and intuitive, as many comments that others would instantly dismiss as concern trolling I will often read as genuine queries, and respond to with the benefit of the doubt.

I get very little in the way of problematic comments, to be honest. Maybe once a week I’ll receive a comment that I have to think about before I approve it. Maybe once every two or three months do I get a comment that is so candidly (and often hilariously) awful that deleting it isn’t even a question, though occasionally I will first share it with friends for the LOLs. The policy above really boils down to 1. Don’t be a jerk and 2. I will decide if you’re being a jerk. I welcome dissenting voices that can communicate in thoughtful terms that resist the urge to attack me personally, and a readthrough of recent comments bears this out.

A big part of activism is a willingness to put oneself out there, knowing it makes you a target. I’m not much the kind of person to argue that the more haters one has, the more effective their work is. I think hate is ugly and — perhaps most offensively — unproductive. Hate is the antithesis of constructive communication and critical thinking. I got no time for that in my life. So my habit is and has always been to smile at my haters and to try to find common ground — or at least to find something we can both laugh at together. I am often successful.

But still, one has to draw the line somewhere.

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