spam, trolls and back-channelers

One of the best aspects of blogging is the creation of communities. When I first started blogging, the community that formed around wmtc came as a complete surprise. It amazed me, and I loved it. I still do.

Not everyone who reads blogs wants to be part of a community, at least not on every blog they read. Most people read without commenting. But there are those who try to have it both ways - they want to comment without being part of the conversation. These people irritate the hell out of me.

The first kind of commenter who wants to comment but not have dialogue is the hit-and-run poster. Most of us, at times, read a blog post, leave a non-controversial comment, and don't return to the post. We forget, we're busy, or it's just not very important to us. No big deal.

But many people purposely post controversial or provocative comments, then disappear. They want to have their say - they want everyone to read what they have to say - but they don't want to defend their position. They don't want to deal with reaction. They want to make sure they get The Last Word.

For my money, the worst kind of hit-and-run poster is the copy-paster. Every so often, I'll find a comment waiting in moderation from someone I've never heard of. The comment arrives very soon after the post goes up, sometimes immediately after - a clue that the commenter has an email alert set up for that topic.

Another clue that it's a hit-and-run-copy-paste is that the comment doesn't respond specifically to the post. Nothing from the post is quoted or even referenced. It's just on the same general topic.

I immediately suspect this person looks for posts on this topic, has a pre-written comment ready to paste in, and moves on.

If I'm reasonably certain that's what's happening, I reject the comment.

Recently I posted something about the Southern Poverty Law Center. A few minutes later, I received a comment from someone who hates that organization, making accusations and directing readers to his blog that purports to expose the organization's perfidy.

Now, this guy might have something interesting to say. Maybe there's an issue we should know about. I don't care. I reject the comment. He's not reading wmtc to read it. He's using my blog to promote his own. To my mind, that's little better than spam.

And sure enough, the commenter never returns. Never asks where his comment is, or why it didn't go through. Never tries again. Because he's not coming back. He's hit-and-run.

I can't always be certain if a comment is hit-and-run-copy-paste. But these days I'm so sick of trolls and of spam that I'd rather err on the side of caution. If some random comment doesn't get posted, it's not a big deal. But if I let someone use wmtc as a billboard, it annoys me too much.

But the commenters that annoy me the most don't even leave their comments - they email them to me.

Before I increase anyone's paranoia, I'm not referring to regular commenters who occasionally want to tell me something in private - off-list or back-channel, as we said in list-serv days. No problem there. And I'm not talking about "this may interest you" emails with links to stories that I might want to read and/or post about. Those are always welcome.

These are people who don't comment, who won't comment, as a personal rule, instead choosing to email me the comment they would have left. I've been trying to figure out why this annoys me so much. I may not be able to articulate it fully, but let me tell you, it drives me around the bend.

Some of these email commenters say they don't want to have a public presence on the internet. They think it's dangerous, or they think it might damage their careers, or they think it's unseemly, unprofessional.

Frankly, I think this is stupid. I understand that some people's professional lives demand a low profile, or that a playful or outspoken internet presence might cause conflict and embarrassment, depending on your lifestyle and line of work. And some people are simply paranoid. That's fine. Simply register any name in the world, don't connect it to a profile, and that's that. Don't reveal personal information, and no one will know who you are.

But is this fear of internet exposure real, or just an excuse? Other people are more revealing. They say, "I don't like to leave comments, because I don't want to have a discussion." And, "I don't want to argue." But they do want to express an opinion, or they wouldn't email me.

So these email-commenters want to have their say, but they don't want anyone else to challenge or comment on their views. They don't want to engage in dialogue, don't want to be part of the community.

You don't want to get into a discussion? That's fine. Then don't comment. But if you're not going to comment, don't email me what you would have posted.

First of all, email-commenting seems disrespectful of my time. I'm as busy as anyone else. I'm juggling several different pursuits, and like all busy people, I have a lot of email to sort through. If every wmtc reader emailed me her/his comments separately, and I had to respond to each one, that's all I would do all day.

It also seems self-important. If you want to comment, why not join the conversation like everyone else? Why is your comment so special that it must be delivered privately? (Again, I'm not referring to specific information that someone wants to share privately with me.) Some of the email-commenters don't seem like arrogant or self-important people, so I very well may be misinterpreting them. But damn! They drive me nuts.

Imagine you're at a party, or a meeting, or some other group setting, and someone insists on speaking quietly and confidentially to you - on the same topic that everyone else is discussing. You have to come out of the general conversation to attend separately to this person. Now you're not enjoying the gathering, you're off whispering in a corner.

Maybe that's what bothers me: it's high maintenance. I don't do that anymore.

I really have trouble articulating what is so friggin annoying about this. I have a feeling that some regular commenter is going to nail it.

No comments: