Its almost impossible to read any major website or blog’s comment section without feeling like you’re watching a bad daytime TV show that’s recruited purposely from the dregs of society.
Yesterday’s article about a class action lawsuit by former female employees against Goldman Sachs provides an example of what I mean. As of this moment, there are 99 comments. The majority of them add absolutely nothing to a reader’s understanding of the case or of anything else, for that matter. There are some comments on how the lead plaintiffs physically look, a good dose of insult-hurling between commenters, general name-calling and other irrelevant banter. The degenerate commentary issue is widely known in the online media business, with companies hiring moderators, or employing a variety of other policies to deal with the issue (including deciding to completely avoid “Comments” at all). Even academics have looked into this phenomenon, with one study finding that “15-20% of all comments [on news sites] are uncivil”.
Its safe to say that I read a higher-than-average number of articles about gender-in-the-workplace issues. And though I have no data or study to back up the following assertion, I believe that whenever an article is about gender balance, gender issues, or sexual harassment at a company, only 15-20% of comments could even be described as civil. The other 80% makes for painful reading. If a visitor from another planet tried to understand our society by reading the comments of articles about gender balance at Amazon or Google, or the comments about GitHub or Tinder‘s recent issues with sexual harassment, they would think we lived in a completely misogynistic culture. Call me an optimist but I don’t believe these comments are representative of most people. On the other hand, I have no explanation for so many sexist comments other than assuming that the Comments section of websites must attract a very biased sample of individuals.
That’s a large part of the reason I refuse to participate. If the comments weren’t so farcically ridiculous, it might be worth trying to leave your own comment or trying to get other sensible people to add their voices. But by joining you’re entering a hostile wild west and in some ways giving validity to the insanity. And really, are these the people you really want to bother associating with, or egging on? I strongly believe in speaking up about women’s issues, which is why Fairygodboss exists in the first place. So long as there is a place where meaningful information can be shared, sometimes “no comment” is the best response of all.