I always wondered why Clarissa, my friend and sometimes-disagreer-with (who still somehow manages to be a human being about it, because it’s not that hard), had such a strict commenting policy on her blog.
Now that this bad boy gets so much traffic, I know why. People treat commenting on personal blogs like they treat it anywhere else on the Internet: like a zero-sum blood sport, where you must vanquish your opponent in a gelatinous pool of plasma OR NOOOOOOTHING.
The places that I write for (more) pay, like Slate and the Chronicle, have their comment hellscapes, and like any writer today, I simply ignore them. That seems to work for both me and the commenters–they get to say whatever they want, no matter how cruel and no matter how much it forgets (or ignores) that I am a human being, and I get to go on about my business. But this is just my personal blog. It’s me (and the occasional guest), just fuckin’ around, expressing my fee-fees, being myself, feeling (usually) safe to do so.
A few days ago, I wrote a post called “But What Can I Do?” in which I implored the college departments of America to take steps–drastic, if need be–to stop using exploited labor. The response was swift, personal and nasty, which was very interesting. I make a systemic suggestion–a provocative one, sure, but it’s just a suggestion–so why is the response to go for my jugular, to tell me know dumb I am, to tell me how wrong I am, to tell me how impossible it is, so that nobody ever thinks to make such a suggestion ever again?
As a result of this thread, and of several others in the past months, I have made changes around here, all to protect myself. I’ve tightened the commenting procedures so that you have to leave a name (which can be fake) and an email address (which can also be fake). I’ve stopped getting email alerts about comments. Today I set up a new email address, firstname.lastname@example.org, so that my blog mail will no longer go to my primary, personal email address, and I will no longer wake up every morning in dread of what I might see (I get so much “fake fan mail,” which is like, “Normally I like you, but here’s one thing you left out once, and here’s a 3000-word diatribe about it, please engage with me,” and I don’t think people understand that when you get ten of these a day in addition to doing three jobs, there is no way you have enough of yourself to engage). I will now check my blog email but a few times a week, and I think that will help me a lot.
And, finally, I also instituted this Commenting Hegemony. Is it fair? Not your concern. It’s what I need to do to continue feeling safe in the only place I have felt safe on the Internet since April 5, when “Thesis Hatement” came out and I ceased being a private individual. It’s amazing how little actual fame one needs to feel completely exposed. I’d say that maybe–MAYBE–ten thousand people in the world know who I am, which is like maybe twice or three times what a normal person gets in their lifetime. And yet, even that tiny amount of notoriety is enough to make it so that otherwise-reasonable people feel like not only should I be able to withstand constant abuse, but that I deserve it. Well, that may be true on the rest of the Internet, but it’s not true here.