If you’re reading this online – stop
This column is not for the vitriolic online mob
Because the responses are almost invariably toxic and hate-filled, there is here but a single-stage process: a declaring into cyberspace. If you write as if you were dead, and read the responses, you may pretty soon find yourself wishing you were.
Were I to think, in writing this column, of writing for the online edition, it would be a different column entirely: either excessively timid and self-protective, or exaggeratedly strident – seeking to appease the lurking mob or to kill rather than be killed.
Those who comment online on other people’s writing rarely stake or commit anything – they sit and snarl, deriding and dismissing, but risking nothing themselves. Cowardice is the dominant note, with many posters seeking to protect themselves by hiding behind pseudonyms and lashing out.
I no longer read the comments on my own columns, but hear all about them from third parties and occasionally dip into the comments on other pieces. One recent comment, addressed to the journalist, went: “X (name of columnist), I could insult you but you probably wouldn’t understand me”. This – in The Irish Times?!! Why?
Several recent research studies have revealed that the way newspaper articles are read online is overwhelmingly dictated by the nature of the initial comments. Posters apparently read – in approximately this order – the byline, the headline, the first comments and then, sometimes, the article they’re supposedly commenting upon.
Recently, listening to a representative of the Samaritans speaking about the work of his organisation, I was reminded that, many years ago, I had occasion to ring the Samaritans. It immediately struck me that, whereas I’d like to write about this sometime, I’m unlikely to do so while this column remains open to comments of the kind that have become standard.
Last week, I had a prostate check-up, related to the Blue September campaign, but, similarly, I refuse to discuss such a personal matter in front of the kind of people who contribute the posts that appear at the end of this column every Friday.
When there’s a pack of rabid rottweilers straining at their leashes waiting to be let loose at you every week, you quickly learn new ways of addressing the culture coming into being. What it all adds up to, therefore, is a form of censorship, which I nowadays, regretfully, agree to enforce upon myself.