Miss Netiquette’s Guide to commenting on the Internet without being an evil troll


The Internet is a wonderful if confusing world – and that’s why you sometimes need to be pointed in the right direction. Lucky for you, some of us spend far too much time online and logged in – and that wealth of experience translates into some social networking know-how. Consider Miss Netiquette (who you can reach at netiquette@digitaltrends.com) your guide to Web manners, and this week, she’s going to give you some tips on how to comment on the Internet without devolving into a flesh-eating cretin.

Everyone knows that commenters are the worst. It’s like someone took the Internet, shook it upside-down until all the people with souls fell out, put it right side up and then let everyone left log onto YouTube. It’s not a pretty picture. But sometimes you want to participate in a discussion, and unless you wrote the article or took the photo in question, commenting is the simplest way to express yourself. And not all commenters are venomous bridge trolls. But if you glance at the comments sections of many, many websites, I’d totally understand why you thought they were the offspring of Satan and a rabid dog.

If you want to be a commenter, you should definitely take care to be respectful and avoid falling into the habit of lowering yourself into the fray. Hopefully the answers I gave some commenting-related questions will help you use the Commenting Force for good.

Dear Miss Netiquette: I just read the dumbest thing I’ve ever read in my life. I want to kick the author in the shins, and I’m not exaggerating – I would actually cause minor physical harm to this dingbat if I saw him. Is it really so wrong to say how I really feel in the comments?! I find the thesis of the article seriously morally reprehensible.

Slow your Internet commenting roll, my friend. Yes, there are horrible garbage articles on the Internet, and if you strongly disagree with the author’s point, you’re allowed to express your opposition in the comments. But there’s a difference between saying why you thought a piece of writing was misguided and making a personal attack on a writer, and I strongly encourage you to stick with the former. Take the time to sit down and draft out a response that responds to specific points in the article and doesn’t just say “you suck, I hate you.” Add to the conversation, don’t just spit venom. “Be the change you with to see in the Internet” is what Gandhi might have said if he was still kicking it in the 2000s. I know it’s hard to exercise restraint, but when you look back on your comment a few weeks from now, I promise you’ll be glad you did. Rise above the material.

Dear Miss Netiquette: I put my first video up on YouTube. It’s a lighthearted comedy sketch I did with my friends. We’re getting a ton of really malignant comments, and I don’t know how to handle it (besides crying into a beer). What should I do?

Whenever you put something creative on the Internet, you have to do it knowing that there may be people who don’t like it, and people who think that being a huge jerk is the best way to voice their displeasure. It’s one of the sad truths of the Web, and it’s especially true on YouTube, since that’s where most of the bottom-feeder commenters like to trawl. Now, if these commenters are being seriously hateful, you can flag their comments. You can also get comments disabled, although that might not be the best solution if you actually want feedback. Whatever you do, don’t take it personally, and don’t respond in kind. Haters gonna hate, trolls gonna troll. You’re better than them simply for being brave enough to put something you actually care about into the world.

Dear Miss Netiquette: I put up a photo of my friends and I out to eat. Totally innocuous. But somehow the comments below the picture have turned into a political shouting match between my uncle and my college roommate. I love them both, but this is so annoying! Should I let it be, tell them to stop, delete the comments, or just take the picture down?

Facebook commenting wars are especially awkward because they usually involve people who are somehow connected to each other. You have a few ways you can play this. Sure, you can write them both messages, but if they’re oblivious enough to think that your picture is an appropriate place to get into a smarter-than-thou war then they probably aren’t going to pay your admonitions much heed. I think you should take the picture down and put it back up with a caption saying something like “The first time I put this up the comments got a little out of control. Hoping things are more civil this time around.”

And if they start arguing under your picture again, I suggest including them both in a private message that says your pictures are not the right place for comments, but they should feel free to continue their conversation in that message thread. Then you should leave the message thread. And possibly block them.

Dear Miss Netiquette: I think I made a Reddit enemy. Someone keeps downvoting everything I post! I messaged them and they never responded. Should I start downvoting them, too?

No. Don’t be a jerk to a jerk. One downvote on each post isn’t going to really have any impact on your Reddit experience. Yes, it’s annoying, but you should just ignore them and they’ll probably tire of it eventually.

Dear Miss Netiquette: I had a horrible experience at a restaurant recently. So I did what any rational netizen would do when confronted with ice cold tacos and suspiciously sour salsa: I wrote a scathing review on Yelp. Now I feel guilty. Did I do the right thing? Am I a troll now? 

I think we should all be a little kinder to each other on the Internet in general, but don’t get too worked up about this. If you feel really bad about it, delete it. But if you think the food was actually that bad, and you think other customers will have their nights ruined by going to this restaurant, then you might actually be doing the right thing. I’d ask myself: Is this how the food usually is, or was the restaurant having an off night? Cooks and waitresses are human, and they might have just had a particularly tumultuous evening. That’s not an excuse for bad food and bad service, but it might make you think twice about flaming a place that lives and dies on word of mouth. Once you’ve thought that over, if you think that was just par for the course, I wouldn’t feel bad about leaving the review up. If you think maybe it was just an off night, I think you should consider taking the review down and then e-mailing or calling the restaurant and telling them that you had a bad time. They might be so eager to fix the situation and grateful that you didn’t publicly flame them that they give you a gift certificate. You could also include a line that explains you hadn’t heard bad things about the place before, and perhaps it was an individual situation. 

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