If you were at a Hip Hop convention would you tell a complete stranger to “eat a dick” because they thought 2Pac was inherently better than Biggie? Seconds after their show, would you tell a designer, in person, that their new collection made you “vomit into your hands”? Would you publicly ridicule someone because they’re (sic) grasp of the English language was less robust than yours? Of course not. If you’re a normal human being with a modicum of tact and an aversion to getting knocked the fuck out you’d bite your tongue and forever hold your peace.
What then, changes so drastically when we communicate online? All of a sudden convention goes flying out the window and we’re condescending experts on EVERYTHING with a PhD in Shitting on Everyone. Whether it’s IMDB fanboys fighting over whether De Niro causes more boners than Pacino or Youtube commenters playing a friendly game of hide the bigotry – the online comment is the last bastion of anonymous negativity in this increasingly PC world.
Here at Pedestrian we openly encourage comments as we respect our audience’s opinion and strongly believe that everyone is entitled to one. But as a publisher you can view the comments of your audience in two vastly different lights. You can see it as noise pollution like indie music juggernaut Pitchfork who disables comments across the board. Or you can see it as enrichment like the online home of cynicism Gawker, whose perceived snarkiness is enhanced by the barbs of their audience.
There are of course, pros and cons to each approach. The former M.O. forgoes the Internet’s inclusive benefits – the immediacy, the dialogue, the ownership. While the latter too often digresses into mud slinging, conjecture and personal vendettas. What then, is an online publisher to do? Do we delete negative comments that offer no constructive criticism? Do we ban all slander? Do we (heaven forbid) introduce a commenting style guide? I’m not too sure, but in a medium whose only rule is that there are no rules, the notion of Netiquette seems hopelessly antiquated.
We can however, use the medium as it was intended and open a dialogue about commenting. In the interests of transparency I can admit that Pedestrian used to delete comments deemed too incendiary, offensive or negative to be beneficial to anybody except the ego of the commenter (classic example is calling someone a slut or a piece of art shit then offering no justification as to why). We then adopted a “no-delete” policy that we’ve since revised in the face of increasing negativity in the comments section. In fact, when it comes to commenting on this here website the negative far outweighs the positive and we don’t know whether that’s a reflection on us or on you cynical bastards reading this now (Let it be known that we actually treat your hyper-cynicism as a positive thing).
Take our recent posts on Steve Aoki’s engagement and Bang Gang’s new bar for example. Both were seemingly innocuous posts that attracted 62 and 49 comments respectively, the majority of them negative or what one could describe as “shit-stirring”. In the Engagement post for example, one anonymous commenter took Aoki’s fiance to Vitriol City by saying: “she is quite a promiscuous thing. if it acts like a rat, smells like a rat and looks like a rat, its a rat”. Another anonymous commenter (possibly Kanye) criticized the dudes from Bang Gang just because they wanted to open a bar: “THIS POSER SHIT WOULD ONLY WORK IN SYDNEY-AND THANK GOD, YOU GUYS ARE WELCOME TO IT.”
Now neither of those comments actually added anything constructive to the dialogue except to tell us that anonymous comments are the perfect forum for airing personal grudges and getting all Caps-Locky on everyone. In the face of such venom you’ve got to admit that calling someone a promiscuous rat or the residents of an entire city posers tells us more about the commenter than the subject of their comments doesn’t it? What we’re left with is this tension between the people we write about (some being clients) who feel ambushed by negative comments and the commenters of our website who feel like they should be entitled to their say no matter what. It’s a tricky relationship to balance. If, for example, a client tells us to delete comments (as has happened in the past) we must either sacrifice a portion of our audience’s trust and comply or sacrifice a portion of the brand/band/label’s trust and ignore their request.
Following an admission from Editor-in-Chief Kirstie Clements that deleting negative comments about advertisers was common practice, Australian Vogue it seems, opts for the former. Unsurprisingly this admission attracted international criticism and was viewed by many as a backwards understanding of how the internet works. But what if negative comments exist at the expense of advertising dollars? Are brands even that sensitive to how people discuss their products anymore or is it a given that anonymous commenting spawns negativity? And if negative commenting does exist is that reason enough to cut associations or is all press good press? I don’t know, I’m not a Marketing guy, ask someone else. But what’s most interesting to me about Australian Vogue’s censorship of negative comments is that it manages to maintain the most popular fashion forum in Australia despite this fact.
So which would you prefer? Should we ban anonymous haters who critique people’s work without justification? Should we censor all mention of hoe trains, town bikes and other promiscuous forms of transport? Or should we embrace the democratized soap box that is the internet? Hey, I’m all for civil arguments, the transfer of ideas, heartfelt opinion and promoting points of view. I just don’t want to “eat a dick” in the process. Do you have an opinion on the matter? Of course you do. Let us know in the comments below.