Brute Force Commenters and the Banhammer
A well-known YA author acts like an arse on the internet? Must be a day ending in Y.
A sensitive, intelligent article on diversity and representation in YA fiction is met with anger from a well-known YA who is upset that people aren’t focusing on what he deems the ‘real’ issue? Here we go again.
I’m not going to write a big article about Jason Low’s opinion piece “When Publishing and Reviewing Diverse Books, Is Expertise Overrated?” and Michael Grant’s behaviour, as I’m sure others will. Debbie Reese, for one, is working on a post, and when it is up I will edit this post to link it. Instead, all of this has got me thinking about comment threads.
You see this is not a first for Michael Grant. He has a bit of a habit for being what I call a “brute force commenter” – that is, someone who comments over and over again and at such length that they overwhelm the host, the other commenters, and the topic, and eventually take over the entire thread. It’s the comment section equivalent of shouting long and loud in an attempt to drown out and drive away all the other voices until only their own remains. The one instance that stands out was six years ago when a reviewer had some thoughts on what they felt were problematic/homophobic elements in Andrew Smith’s The Marbury Lens (a book that Grant had blurbed). Grant rushed to the ‘defense’, to the point where there were so many comments it was broken up into at least two pages, and Smith himself had to show up and tell Grant to quit it. But it was too little too late: soon after the reviewer locked up her site and all other aspects of her web presence. Today, most book bloggers etc. have no idea it happened.
(So in a way, people have been attempting to #KeepYAKind for Andrew Smith by aggressively harassing readers and reviewers for six years now, long before the hashtag came about.)
To finally step away from Michael Grant and the general topic I want to talk about: there are people out there who will use comment sections as a weapon. I’m sure you’ve all heard – and used – the phrase “don’t read the comments”? It’s as if terrible, stupid, and possibly even abusive comments are an accepted part of life, and the best thing to do is just ignore them.
Like that actually works.
Brute force commenters (and other arsebiscuits), prey upon that “just ignore” mentality. Because people don’t ignore them – and it becomes their fault if they then see something that upsets them. After all, everyone knows you don’t read the comments.
Besides, “don’t read the comments” doesn’t work at all when it’s happening on your site and you’re either the one they’ve targeted, or you are witnessing people targeting people who came in to converse with you. They prey on your politeness, on your sense of fairness, on the ideas of “open dialogue” and “free speech” and continue their brute force commenting attacks until they have ended the conversation by chasing everyone else away, or finally cross a line and get shut down.
I have seen this happen so many times over the past ten years or so, both in and out of the book blogging community, and had it happen to me. And I have learned one very important thing: do not be afraid to shut it down.
If a commenter is getting aggresive, or out of line, or just a hair shy of being ‘too insulting’ towards another commenter: Shut. It. Down. In my experience, every inch of leniency you give them they simply add to their sword and try and stab you with it. You’re not shutting down conversation – they are shutting it down by scaring away others. Which is often their plan.
Comment spaces are a privilege, not a right. You are providing the space, you can decide who can use it. It is not a place for people to abuse you or other commenters. No one – no one – has that right. Do not feel bad about protecting yourself and others from their harassment.
So remember: when someone tries to turn your comment section into a weapon, end the fight with your banhammer. Mine’s ready to go.