The rules of engagement

By Caitlin Kelly

I’ve been spoiled here at Broadside by readers who are — thank you! — a lively, funny, smart group, from Danielle and Matthew and Cecile in New Zealand to Leah in Iowa to Rami in Ohio to Maddy in Lusaka to David and Elizabeth in England.

I’d name more, but there are (!) so many of you, which is unlikely but also lovely.

I want to pause our regularly scheduled programming to go a little meta for a moment.

The whole point of blogging, which I do in addition to writing for a living full-time, is to create a community where we can talk to one another frankly about the stuff that matters to us: work, love, the challenge of making a decent living while living our values, friends, family, heath, feminism, public policy, art, creativity, beauty, travel, home, design, ethics, writing, journalismΒ  — frankly, whatever seems interesting.

If it’s not fun, why bother?

Every day, five to 10 new people sign up to follow Broadside, which is crazy but flattering; we’re now at 4,600+ readers worldwide, of all ages and nationalities, from Haiti to Ghana to Malaysia to India to rural Australia.

An example of travelling the world using a RTW...
An example of travelling the world using a RTW ticket. Start in London, travel eastwards through India, Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil and Ghana back to home, all using the same ticket with the same airline alliance. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So I was a little shaken recently to get a comment, which I trashed, (which I’ve done maybe twice in almost four years of blogging three times a week.)

I debated whether or not to trash it, or reply publicly or reply to them privately.

But I did trash it. Life is too short to argue with or absorb toxicity from people I don’t know, and for whom I work without a paycheck.

The commenter called me “weak” and a “fucking hypocrite.”

Everyone is entitled an opinion and I want to hear yours.

I’ve been called on the carpet a few times here by readers, for my short-sighted or stupid or unkind thinking. It’s useful and interesting, as long as everyone remains civil and respectful, even in the middle of a hotly contested argument.

But no one is entitled to ad hominem attacks here, on me or on anyone else who makes the time to come here, read and comment.

So I welcome your ideas and insights, your advice and stories. I am very eager to hear comments, especially from more of you.

But nasty behavior not only scares and annoys me, it creates a tone I don’t want here and inhibits others from speaking out.

This whole talking-to-total-strangers thing requires a level of trust and candor that is highly counter-intuitive, to me anyway.

When I write journalism, the comments flooding in to The New York Times in reply to my stories there, (258 came in worldwide on one recent story about workers over 50), are very rarely directed at me personally. I’m shielded both by the nature of those stories — far less personal than these posts — and by the institution that chooses to publish my work. Nor am I required, (as a freelancer), to reply to anyone.

I did read every single of those 258 NYT comments, in full. But the rules of engagement here are very different. I do answer almost every comment here.

So let’s stay cool, OK?

Thanks for listening.

Thanks for sharing.

Thanks for being here.

57 thoughts on “The rules of engagement

  1. KM

    Thank YOU for sharing and being here and in return listening to what we have to say as well. I’m ever so glad I found you and appreciate all the thoughtfulness you put in to your posts, whether I agree with your opinions or not (mostly I do, but no two people are going to agree all the time, right?).
    Big hugs! πŸ™‚

  2. Oh my Goddess — the planets must be aligned! I just posted the following on my Facebook this morning:

    “I cannot understand why it is so difficult for some to just simply be kind and honest. Are their egos so fragile or their defense mechanisms are so high they can’t bear the thought of an imperfect reality? I just simply don’t understand. I think of all my frustrations from the past and present and they all seem to boil down to powerlessness stemming from the unnecessary and unproductive lies and meanness of others.

    “Kindness” and “Honesty” is all anyone ever needs to be, really. With these attributes, problems are fixable, forgiveness is easy, peace is made, and love happens. That’s all.

    Yeah. That’s all.

    Goddess bless. )O(”

    You are *very* cool and I am so grateful for you posts. I hope the trolls stay away from your bridge…

    Rock on! πŸ™‚

  3. I’ve rarely seen crappy comments, but I’ve had some ugly spam. When I mentioned it to another blogger we realized we had the same exact message–definitely a spam, no mistake, thank goodness for WP filters–which we ended up having lots of fun over.

    However, I’ve seen an ugly comment on another blogger’s post, and her challenge to the comment went unanswered. Out of curiosity, I followed the nasty commenter’s link back and realized this was some ass baiting people to his blog, using whatever cheap thrills stupidity has in its limited bag of tricks to boost his traffic. Her blog is a hard-earned, well-followed, blog, too. Easy target. You probably got hit by the same moron.

    1. Interesting. I did not recognize the name or email, so you may be right. I did have one other, a while ago, some guy from Australia and he simply would not give up. But did eventually.

  4. Yes, trashing anyone needs to be against the rules. If a commenter can trash you on your blog, they can trash me here. It creates a chilling effect, among other things.

    I had a “trash” comment in Russian not too long again. I’m not completely sure what it said, because Google translate is still working a few kinks out. But it wasn’t nice and seemed to be slamming gay men in the process. Also not nice.

    I added it to the spam list. Frankly anyone’s opinion of me is none of my business. It is writing that is on the table, as well as ideas, but my person is not up for discussion.

  5. I find that visiting someone’s blog is a choice I make because I like their style.Staying around and creating friendships is a privilege of following as is being given the right to make comments. Turning nasty because you disagree with certain things is just abuse. My immediate inclination would be to ban the abuser but perhaps leave their post up as an explanation of why I did so and to discourage others.

    Resorting to that kind of language shows a lack of language skills that could usually be brought to bear in a debate showing disagreement with some point or other, it’s also extreme bad manners to address a lady-or anyone- like that. But there are those who do so on a regular basis hoping for a strong reaction so they can moan about it elsewhere.

    You have a great blog. It’s interesting and professional looking.I hope you don’t feel the necessity to stop comments because of an idiot like this. At least they’re not common if they average one every two years. Don’t let it distress you or the fool will have won.
    xx Hugs xx

    1. Thanks for the kind words. I would never stop comments and I find blogs that don’t allow them much less interesting. I already have enough of a soapbox as it is…I think if blogging is not a (useful, civil) dialogue, it gets dull quickly.

      I was really impressed and learned some real news from the comments on my blog post about the garment factory collapse in Bangladesh. I find it fascinating the variety of people who come here and want to chat, to me and to one another.

  6. I have a few times written a criticising comment on the odd blog or two if something really rubbed me the wrong way, I would never insult the author and in saying this my dad’s motto comes to mind…

    “Do unto others, as you’d have done unto you”.

    I come and read your blog often (I only follow a handful of blogs) as I find your bring up interesting topics and can start a good discussion.

    Sometimes I agree with you sometimes I debate what I believe in, and other times I enjoy the fact that we have completely different or very similar views.

    I like reading because you sound like a strong opinionated woman. I value that in a woman especially.

    Congrats on your following!

    1. Thanks!

      I also think — we being two feisty and adventurous Canadian women — it’s in our blood. Blogging (God help us!) gives us a soapbox.

      I really value a good muscular CIVIL debate. I grew up in a family that did nothing but chew over intellectual argument. I miss that!

  7. themodernidiot

    I promise to play nice in your sand box. It’s a nice sand box. It empowers people.

    In MY sandbox, however, and in the words of Billy Shakes: “Come at me bro.”

    “Then hate me when thou wilt, if ever, now,
    Now while the world is bent my deeds to cross,
    join with the spite of fortune, make me bow,
    And do not drop in for an after-loss:
    Ah do not, when my heart hath ‘scaped this sorrow,
    Come in the rearward of a conquered woe,
    Give not a windy night a rainy morrow,
    To linger out a purposed overthrow.
    If thou wilt leave me, do not leave me last,
    When other petty griefs have done their spite,
    But in the onset come, so shall I taste
    At first the very worst of fortune’s might.
    And other strains of woe, which now seem woe,
    Compared with loss of thee, will not seem so.”

    Yous stay strong Kelly,

  8. Thanks for this articulate call for blogosphere decency.

    I’m sorry to hear that you’ve been the target of stupidity – like others have already pointed out, it’s so unnecessary and ultimately reflects worse on the maker of the comments.

    A few months ago I received two comments on my blog which were completely unreasonable. I was a little rattled for a day or two before I realised that it was simply trolling behaviour and deleted the comments.

    Like you, I don’t mind fierce debate, but vitriol is something else.

    All the way from rural Australia, here’s my wish: good blogging behaviour across the globe!

  9. Caitlin-
    I’m Thomas, a 17 year old Irish student. I love reading your blog, and eagerly await your new posts every week since a friend introduced me to your writing a few months ago.
    As someone who wants to have a career in journalism, I’ve been wanting to start up a blog for some time now, but I’m finding it difficult to latch onto what exactly I want to write about.
    Nevertheless, reading blogs like yours inspires me to continue my search for what subjects I’ll hone in on, and needless to say, also makes for thought provoking, compelling reading. Thanks for sharing πŸ™‚

    1. Welcome! (Or should I say Cead Mile Failte?) πŸ™‚

      Why not write about being who you are…a 17 yr old Irish student? That phrase right there makes me want to read more. What’s it like to be 17? To be Irish? To be a student? How is Ireland coping now post-recession? (I recently read a thriller [not my genre!] by Tana French called Broken Harbour….set in an abandoned Irish building site.

      I am not sure you have to (unless you wish) hone in on any one topic. I’ve been very pleasantly surprised that my roaming all over the place, post-wise, seems to attract and retain readers.

      I’d focus more on finding your “voice” (i.e. tone) than content.

      Thanks for the kind words — and so glad you’re enjoying Broadside.

  10. Love this post! πŸ™‚ And I completely agree that people need to utilize some basic rules of etiquette in commenting. Thoughtful debate and feedback is healthy but antagonistic comments have no place here. Good for you for calling bullshit.

  11. Such negative comments say more about the commentor than they do about you. When someone has occasion to point a finger like that at me I remember the three pointing back at them πŸ˜‰ … Be well … Dorothy

  12. With you on this one, Caitlin! It’s easy for “critics” to hide behind the relative anonymity of cyberspace. I gather if these people had to say their comments in a face-to-face meeting, they’d be much less likely to do so. They aren’t the folks who dare to show up in the arena every day and give it their all.
    Your blog is terrific. As soon as a post appears in my inbox I rush to read it because I know it’s going to inspire, enlighten or educate. Keep on!

  13. I haven’t always agreed with everything in your posts, but I respect your thoughts and your experiences greatly.

    Closed minded people irritate the hell out of me. I’ll leave it at that.

  14. It is always rattling to get a hateful comment and I am sorry you experienced that, Caitlin. Before I even knew about your blog, I was reading your articles in the NYTimes – including the one mentioned above! Strikes me as such a coincidence. So many of us depend on your writing for new insights and honesty – bring it on, tough Canadian girl! They are messing with the wrong person, I do know that.

    1. So fun to know that people actually read those bloody articles! It always feels like I hit “send” and get paid and move on…

      I think Canadians are quite tough beneath that polite exterior! πŸ™‚

      1. The articles in the business section are a lot more interesting than the style section – I always have to ask myself “Why am I reading this?” when it is about the most popular youtube video or what I wore to the meeting.
        Canadians are fierce beneath that exterior, at least I am when it comes to people being just wrong. The article on the border guards got under my skin. That was just wrong how they pulled that moralizing act. I suspect the most moralizing are also the most perverted.

      2. So meanwhile, I am heading for a nap (recovering from bronchitis, not recovering from getting up there in years) with the Style section – a little soft reading.

      3. We can only read it today on-line as we are very far from any print version of it.

        Hope you feel better soon — I had a horrible barking bronchitis for six weeks in February. I never thought I would heal, even with a puffer 2x day. But I did.

  15. I like your blog because though I don’t always agree with your opinion but you state your beliefs well. That I can respect. However, if you posted something I felt particularly strong about and need to state such I would counter-point your statements without attacking you directly. I find that people who feel that they need to attack a person directly that doesn’t agree with their own beliefs generally don’t have a understanding of what their own beliefs are. They tend to accept what someone else has told them and not spent anytime considering the subject themselves and whatever you posted gave them a bit of insight that something they where told to believe might just be wrong and that paradox befuddles and enrages them…

  16. Ugh, I’m sorry this happened. I agree with the intent and positives of blogging. As for the comment and person behind it, I’m sure they’ll find their way to the political blogs filled with vitriol and keyboard warriors. Move along, this is not the blog you’re looking for.
    Difference of opinion is fine, impassioned defense of one’s beliefs, fine. Personal attacks, racism, sexism, hate speech…NO.

  17. Thanks for the shout-out! Much appreciated.

    Sorry to hear you’ve had problems. There is no room for ad hominem assault, anywhere in the writing business or the blog-osphere. It happens of course. But would these people say it to your face? That’s the acid test – and I think most wouldn’t. A friend of mine argues that internet + (semi) anonymity becomes a license to behave in ways they wouldn’t personally.

    It’s possible the immediacy and connectedness of the blog creates a contact between author and reader that some perceive as making ad hominem easier, perhaps? But that said, for myself, I’ve had more abuse from features in online editions of the mainstream papers than I get on my blog – where my readers (like yours) are very savvy, very genuine, and very nice (actually, I think some of my readers ARE your readers – Cecile, for instance – it is a small blog-osphere really..).

    I don’t write features often these days – the last was on the Christchurch rebuild plans, for which commenters on the paper’s site were abusing me as a patsy for CERA, the hated earthquake authority. I wasn’t. Did any of them think to google my name (I’m usually first result in the NZ listings). Uh…no…

  18. It’s funny how many people (trolls to be exact) resort to virtual battery. Then again, the fact that they even respond or react to what a blogger has to say means they took the time to ingest what was written. Would you get a hold of that? The cheeky buggers read it and somehow made their time useful.

    Either way Caitlin you win. It only takes a second to delete a comment that seemed like it spewed from the gutter. In my opinion, haters are the best fans without them realizing it. It’s a love-hate relationship if that makes any sense. They come in handy only as part of the check and balance in the world wide web. Useful for keeping us on our toes.

    But their number isn’t even comparable to the number of people who appreciate your blog. That, I think, is more significant. πŸ™‚

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