Beth Birkholz: Comments and Community

Taken with permission from Beth's blog, Chick Pastor.

I listen to a LOT of podcasts.

I'm picky about which ones I listen to, but it's how I make my half an hour drive (without a grocery stop) twice a day enjoyable. I know there are much worse commutes, but I still like having something to occupy my time.

I've recently started listening to The Nerdist podcast. It's not safe for work, kids, or small animals, so don't go thinking it's my recommendation for edifying listening. But it's funny, and crazy, and entertaining, and this week they were talking about internet comments.

It's old news that internet comments are the WORST. I made a new year's resolution to not read them, EVER, two years ago, and it was one of the best things I've done for my soul. Pastors (and anyone who is in a public job) will tell you that anonymous comments of any kind, verbal, written, etc, have always BEEN the worst, so it's not a surprise to figure out that when no one knows who you are, you can be truly nasty.

So on the Nerdist, they were talking about how the comments were particularly hateful for one show. It involved trying something new, a female host, and messing with something that people revere (in this case, Doctor Who). The point was that with that combination, people are truly cruel to everyone involved, in the comments. This is kind of sickening to me.

But I've also noticed something else happening on another site. It's a site that's left over from a magazine I used to adore in another life, Jane, and before that, Sassy. GREAT, women-positive, non conformist stuff, always! So now they have a website, and it's also not safe for work or children (um, is there a theme here?), but they've done something interesting.

They've intentionally made their comments section a community. They invite people who read it into commenting, and the comments have taken on their own life and become truly a community of people who recognize each other. They also are self-policing in that nasty comments or trolls are immediately called out and are the exception.

It made me think about church. I've gotten my share of anonymous comments over the years, through others or on paper, unsigned. I have told and will tell anyone who will listen that I do NOT take into consideration any comments that are anonymous. Being intimidated to tell the truth is a poor, poor excuse for nastiness, and I will not accept it either.

In a community, there is conflict, and I've had my share of that too. Even in the worst of it, I would a million times rather someone say what they needed to say to my very own face, rather than write it down and not sign it, or whisper about it to someone else. That's not community...that's comments.

Facebook is made up of comments, which is why I find it a hard place to be and don't post much lately. Someone is going to have something not nice to say about anything, as evidenced by a recent "discussion" on Facebook by two people who didn't know each other, would probably like each other, and were convinced that the other person was WRONG WRONG WRONG. That's not community.

Twitter is a little more like a community. I know it sounds weird, but it's more self-policing, because it's back and forth between a couple people or one, and it's out there for the whole universe to see. There's conflict on it, but there seem to be more actual relationships, more give and take versus I'm right and you're wrong. Not always, of course, but usually when it's nasty, it's someone being mean because, that's right, they're anonymous.

So I'll end with a challenge....when you go to say or type something, anywhere, about church, about 80s hair bands, about your favorite sports team or political candidate or that cats are cute, think about it. Would you say that to the person's very own face? Is it just a comment? Or is it building community?

(And in the interest of making the internet a positive and beautiful place, this is a little treat for you from The Nerdist. It is safe for kids, work, and FRAGGLES!)