Monday, August 12, 2013

5 Questions To Ask Before Commenting Online

The Internet is great. It is the most expansive and pervasive meeting space ever created; a place where minds from across generational and geographic lines can communicate and share ideas.  It has the potential to bring us together in ways that allow us to think deeply and work together more creatively.  Or it can basically be like a high tech bathroom stall.  

Have you ever regretted something you said online?  If you are like most of us the answer is yes.  While the internet is a powerful tool to bring people together it can also tear us apart. Much of the disconnect between connection and outhouse humor centers on how we react and comment on the content we discover online.  What we write in the comment line has the power to move discussion forward or halt it in its tracks.  For the sake of your sanity and our evolution as a species here are five filter questions to consider before you post something online.

Am I being constructive?

If you have something nice to say, say it! People love to have their content engaged with and if you are a content creator you know that a positive comment can make your day.  If you don’t have something nice to say, try and be helpful. You don’t have to be positive but if you want to be heard you need to be constructive.  Critique is great if done well and can get people thinking.  I know that many times honest and thoughtful critique has helped me see blind spots but it has to be constructive.  Try and view commenting as an opportunity to make someone better. If you are just trolling for the lolz you are not contributing.

Is my comment about the content or something else?

When someone posts something, comment on what is posted.  Don’t drag in other issues (particularly your issues).  This kind of stuff tends to happen most often in religion and politics.  

Some Examples:

A Christian writes a blog about baking cookies and the Atheist Troll Patrol fills the comment section with links “proving” all religion is a lie.  

A homosexual comments about the weather on Facebook and the Proof Text Goon Squad spams them with Bible verses.  

A Democrat comments on how inspiring their church service was and gets jumped on by everyone.

Commenting like this is immature and doesn’t help anyone.  Before reacting to a post ask yourself if your planned comment has something to do with the content or if it really is about you and your pet issue.  If it is the latter it may be best to keep scrolling.

If I can only say one thing what will it be?

When you comment on someone’s content try and make one point not several. Comment sections are not geared to long form writing and contrary to what you might think no one wants to read your manifesto.  When you overwhelm people with text in order to “win” it just makes you look childish.  Even when you are being positive too many words can take away from the discussion.  Ask yourself what point you want to make and make it.  The shorter and more concise your comment is the more likely it will be read and responded to constructively.

Am I using my words?

 Don’t post a link and then leave. Speaking personally, I have a policy that if you post a link in my feed or on my blog and don’t describe what it leads to I ignore it. If I don’t know where it goes or why you are directing me there I just assume that you are a bot or a virus. On the internet it is so easy to just let someone else do your thinking for you. Comment in your own words and voice.  Use links sparingly or when they are asked for.

And while we are on that topic…

Don’t open with “The Founding Fathers said...” or a Bible Verse. We all have sources of authority we like to draw from. I get that we want to use our religious texts or favorite politicians to prove our points.  This isn’t a bad thing as long as you do not confuse it with actual, constructive discussion.  Quoting Ben Franklin or the Apostle Paul may score points with those who already agree with you but it does not move the debate forward.  Similar to using links, if you are going to use a quote please explain why you are using someone else’s words. 

Am I having second thoughts about this?

If you are having second thoughts save the comment and come back later. This is the great thing about Internet communication; you get to think about it.  Sadly most of us don’t utilize this feature.  We whip off responses into the faceless ether and forget that there is an actual person on the receiving end of our post.  If you are having second thoughts or if your response fails one or more of the above questions, table it for a while.  You may find that there is a better way to say it or that it is not worth saying at all.  If we all thought a little more before we spoke I believe that the internet, and the world, will be a better place.

What do you think? Are there any other filter questions you would add? 

If this post was helpful feel free to share!


  1. These are great! I think I might add (although it can be a tricky mindfield)- would I say this to their face or do I think because it's online it's somehow anonymous?

    1. Yes that is a good one! Thanks Amy!