2018-06-09 On Commenting

@david_ross was talking about conversation styles and @Wolf480pl and I got involved. Here’s what I said.

I think writing to learn is a valid activity. As such, the audience is incidental. Keeping a diary online invites people to read it but does not automatically invite them to comment or ask questions even though the medium affords just that. Public activities are not always invitations. Conversely, I’m happy to ignore or unfollow where my mental model does not fit what other people use the medium for.

So, are these people writing to be read even though they might not want to hear back from you doing it wrong somehow? Should we respect their use of the medium? If they have a blog and comments are disabled, then the question is moot. But what about micro-blogging sites like Mastodon? Of course we should respect their wishes! The important part is that nowhere does it say that others (us) need to read what they write. What I want to say is that I try not to jump into conversations with strangers because often it doesn’t go well. On the one hand that’s sad but on the other hand it’s understandable because of the expectation mismatch I described: some of them are not looking for my reactions to what they wrote. I fear this mismatch can’t be helped.

It’s weird because it means people will post things and say that they don’t want to read your disagreement. I think this is still valid: they post their opinion say they don’t want to hear your replies (“don’t @ me”). I think we should just accept this and move on. What’s the point in fighting this attitude? Just unfollow (or block if necessary). Yes, I dislike the attitude. But I’m not going to change their mind. Somebody likes an aspect of Marxism and I reply that Marx was wrong here and there – was this the conversation they wanted to have? Probably not. So write about Marx in a separate post, don’t reply to their post, and probably don’t mention them, either.

Your freedom to discuss ideas does not infringe on their freedom to be left alone, nor on their freedom to say whatever they want. Unless somebody is wrong on the Internet, of course. 😜

Don’t think this is a valid use-case? I see people having this urge and it doesn’t hurt me to have them do it as nobody is forcing me to follow. What about all the people that write blog posts without comments? All the Google+ posts with comments disabled? I don’t like it and unfollow anybody who does it, but what I surely won’t do is butt into conversations (or monologues) where I am not wanted.

So in the absence of explicit flags, how do we know whether our comments are welcome? I think this is impossible to know unless you know the person or you’ve asked them. It would certainly be nice to know, though.

Expectations made explicit via a checkbox sounds interesting. Like the “no comments” posts on Google+.

Sometimes it’s also hard to know what people are trying to actually say. They say Mastodon is run by a technocrat. Do they want to learn about GitHub issues? Patreon? Self-hosting? Learning to code? Pleroma or Friendica? Technocracy? Silicon Valley? Bro culture? It’s hard to know. Venting makes me wary because of that.



@strypey reopened the discussion and claimed that the medium is the message and that it affords commenting on the posts of strangers and thus that’s just is it should be. I continue to disagree with this line of argument.

Why force your will on them and insist that you are right and they are wrong? What purpose do you achieve except pushing them away? They still don’t want to talk and now the world has more unhappiness than before. The smart thing to do is to tread (thread?) carefully.

We can’t continue prescribing the metaphor, the purpose and the social norms of a platform. That’s exactly the problem. We need to find ways for multiple metaphors, purposes and social norms to be acceptable without leading to expectation mismatch.

My point is that this has to be navigated. Starting conversations with strangers is not as simple as you two would make it seem. In my case, right now, your approach is fine. But we all need to keep in mind that not every conversation is the same. Some people in elevators like to stare into empty space and others don’t mind a little chat. To know the difference and act accordingly is how we increase good times in elevators.

Let me rephrase that as a choice. I see there are two ways the situation can develop: those who don’t want to read your comment can go somewhere else, or you can take your comment somewhere else. One way it could develop requires you to change, the other requires the other to change. One way this could develop leads to less people being in this community (them, and eventually their friends). Clearly the other way this could develop offers better outcomes, and is entirely up to you.

I understand the point about “the medium is the message,” about the affordances the current user interface provides. I just don’t see the benefit of chatting up people at bars when they are grumpy and clearly not interested. There is nothing to be gained. A thumbs up might be appreciated but more than that? Dubious. But much also depends on sending the right signals, of course.

I also don’t like this. Which is why I support the adding of a checkbox or some other kind of UI feature to make this more explicit, be it “no comments” or whatever.

I certainly know the exasperation when I perceive somebody as friendly and inviting and then I start commenting on their stuff and they suddenly turn around and complain about it. “WTF!?” But even then, it’s best to just move on. Insisting on my right to speak but they’ll just say I have no right to be heard and we’d both be right to no avail.

Hence in following is my favourite conflict handling technique. 😀

I do agree with the assessment that by putting things on the platform, these people expose themselves to just the kind of drive-by comments they then object to. And while I respect their wish to not get comments from me, I do roll my eyes in these situations. Perhaps we’d all love to see a certain kind of public and are sometimes disappointed in the actual people we do meet.

And the thread keeps on giving. @karl joined! He said „it should be easy,“ every public post must accept public responses.

I argued that the possibility of public response does not invalidate other wishes. You definitely have the right to write a comment, referring to their public post. But do you have a right to mention them, to direct unwanted attention on them, to appear in their threads? I want to move beyond a legalistic argument (yes it is legal) or a UI argument (yes it is afforded) to a culture of politeness and appropriateness. How appropriate is it? It depends!

So yes, it should be easy, but homo sapiens developed a huge brain just to deal with other humans, and that’s because it isn’t easy.

– Alex Schroeder 2018-06-11 07:58 UTC

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