What We Comment About When We Comment About Commenting

by riese but also some of this is by laneia

tell-us-everything

It’s Tell Us Everything Week on Autostraddle!


“It started as a little whisper last year. Are people commenting on your posts anymore?” Grace Bonney wrote in 2014 on Design*Sponge’s State of the Blog Union. “And then those whispers found other whispers from trusted blogging friends to join. Oh they’re not? Yeah, mine either. It’s like people just stopped talking.”  

Even on sites with strong readerships and increasing traffic, a distinct shift was happening in these previously thriving comment sections. The shift was, basically, that people weren’t engaging how they used to. In the old days, comments were the sole location for discussing a blog’s posts, but social media has changed all that. Instead of discussing content on the website itself, users could link to it on a variety of social media platforms to discuss with their own friends and family. “Instead of coming to hang out at our houses, they were dropping by quickly, taking a few key pieces with them and leaving to comment and discuss those things in their own living rooms,” wrote Bonney.

This wasn’t necessarily an inherently negative shift for the readers, but it was a tough shift for writers to swallow. When I started blogging in 2006, I responded to every single comment left on my blog, and when we launched Autostraddle in 2009, I asked our writers to do the same. One of the many reasons I tapped Laneia to help me build this website is because she had extensive community-building experience from her own blog and moderating forums for The Planet Podcast. From Day One, we wanted it to be clear that we weren’t just here to talk AT you, we were here to talk WITH you, because that’s part of what we love about the internet to begin with. Sure, we had our fair share of conflicts, ignorant asshats and flame wars, but most of the time our comment section was full of empathy, support, and education.

We always cite what Autostraddle has accomplished when we talk about the kind of online community we want to build around our books. They are a site with a much larger, broader scope, but we live in awe of the vibrant health of their comments and forums — people treat each other with such respect and care, without being sanitized or sycophantic.
Emily Gould of Emily Books

Needless to say, by the end of 2013, when our comment counts were lowering and our traffic was increasing, we weren’t quite ready to let go. We still aren’t, and we know you’re not either.

The Big Shift

We disagree

We disagree

Other sites, less reliant on or engaged with their community, adapted quickly to this change. Sites like Popular Science and The Week shut down their comment section, the latter because comment sections were too often hijacked by trolls. So did Re/Code, Reuters and Mic, who are focusing instead on social media comments. Everyday Feminism actively hosts all their conversations on Facebook and doesn’t allow on-site comments.

The possibility of an ideal comment ecosystem existing was also revealing itself to be a fallacy. Ta-Nehisi Coates‘ commenters on The Atlantic were famous for their genuinely progressive dialogue, but even Coates is now considering shutting down his comments altogether. “If there’s a lesson to be taken away from the story of the [Coates’ blog] Horde, it might be—depressingly—that trying to build a comment section that truly adds value to a writer’s work will inevitably become more trouble than it’s worth,” wrote Eva Holland on Longreads. This summer, The Verge shut down comments to give its writers a break from negativity. The New York Times recently decided to only enable comments on select articles to ensure they had suitable moderation resources to handle it. Slate is currently hosting a conversation on whether or not they should kill their comment sections, which are often overrun with negativity.

“Small sites are too poor to pay human moderators, and large sites have too great a volume of comments for human moderators to keep up with,” wrote Slate’s Senior Technology Editor Will Oremus. “The result is that moderation across the Web tends to be insufficient at best and nonexistent at worst.”

That moderation problem applies here, too. We don’t have dedicated moderators — almost every single comment that isn’t spammy or from a blocked user goes up without approval — but we do have a large engaged team of writers and we do have a increasingly detailed comment policy and we do have you. As a community, y’all self-moderate and step in when another reader is out of their depth or think reverse racism exists. You’ve helped steer derailed conversations back on track, while continuing to educate and support each other. Comments on Autostraddle aren’t always sunshine and hand-holding, obviously. Sometimes our comment section can get unpleasant: callout culture so toxic it’s often a parody of itself and people become unwilling to see the humanity in each other. When that happens, it can get harder to feel excited and engaged with a community that might appear to only speak up when they’re complaining or attacking other commenters. (Slate has the same experience.)

But even with these rare displays of callout culture, our comment section remains the most civil and empathetic we’ve seen anywhere on the internet.

So where does this leave us? A site that prided itself on a thriving, supportive commenting community, a site that aims to build community for its own sake as much as it does to inform and entertain its readers?

At first, we felt immune to the shift due to the specific nature of a queer audience: many of our readers weren’t out or else just didn’t feel comfortable discussing queer stuff on platforms accessible to their social network, or didn’t have queer people to talk to on social media. Requiring commenters to login with Facebook or Google Plus was never an option for us. We were, in fact, the first online magazine to launch a companion Tumblr, and our Tumblr community was strong and vast, but we didn’t think much about Facebook or Twitter. Until we had to, that is.

The Facebook Effect

Over the past two years, websites have became increasingly reliant on Facebook for traffic as many internet users began replacing “visiting the homepage” with “waiting to see what pops up on my Facebook news feed.” This has enormous and incredibly dangerous implications for the future of online media, but that’s an entirely different essay I won’t subject you to today.

Mainstream sites like Buzzfeed or HuffPo dominate the Facebook game, and their coverage of LGBTQ issues sometimes feels “safer” to share than the same stories from unapologetically indie queer sites like ours. Autostraddle readers who began using Facebook as a news feed were, by design, only being made aware of the most controversial or vapid posts we published, as whether or not something shows up in your feed is based on how much Facebook engagement, comments, likes and shares the post garners. We were baffled by readers claiming we had become a site solely for bisexual women when maybe two out of every fifty posts were about bisexual women and we were consistently being asked by bisexual women for more non-monosexual content — until we realized that if you’re only reading AS articles that show up on your Facebook feed, it could very well seem that way.

Regulars like Drawn to Comics and Things I Read That I Love are rarely discussed, liked, or shared on Facebook, despite having passionate and loyal on-site readerships. Personal essays and advice posts that provide the intimate experience our readers love us for often aren’t particularly ripe for sharing, either. The controversial or vapid posts usually also gather the most incendiary and obtuse comments, so for readers getting all their Autostraddle from Facebook, Autostraddle likely seemed like a burning bush fanning the flames of its ongoing war. Also: a semi-reliable source of information on Kristen Stewart’s romantic life.

This past fall, we surrendered to Mark Zuckerberg’s Higher Power and started “working on” our Facebook presence to ensure we kept our readers reading and aware of everything we published. Having good social media is just as important as having good content these days, and Heather and Carmen hit the ground running to ensure that we did, and we do. The more “engagements” (likes, shares, etc) we get with our posts on Facebook, the more people see those posts in their feed.

All this extra time spent on Facebook enabled us to witness another phenomenon at work: our comment sections were becoming 1-D victims of our 3-D success.

The Third Wheel?

As aforementioned, we felt blissfully immune to this evolution because of our queerness. Even when Facebook swallowed other websites’ comment sections, ours stood strong as the only place most of you had to connect with other queers on issues and stories that mattered to you. Then A-Camp started and the A-Camp Unofficial Facebook Social Group was born. Autostraddle meet-up groups started popping up all over the world with companion Facebook groups, as did specialized Facebook groups for different identities. Suddenly, Autostraddle wasn’t the only place you could connect online with other Autostraddlers, let alone other queers. These groups and networks have been an undeniably important and amazing development for our community (especially the QTPOC Speakeasy), but now we have to figure out how to maintain both while maintaining our sanity and on-site camaraderie.

This situation reached its peak after this past A-Camp, which, according to feedback surveys, was our most well-reviewed and beloved A-Camp yet. Usually our post-camp Open Thread gets 100 comments in its first few hours, but that’s been changing gradually over the years. This June, while the post-camp Open Thread languished in the double-digits, my Facebook feed was blowing up with heartwarming comments and testimonies from campers about their experiences. It made me sad, thinking about all the prospective campers who weren’t hearing the amazing stories I was reading on Facebook — not just the day that post went up, but ever.  Even though commenting had gone up site-wide since we first noticed the decline, we saw in action how on some posts, social media community replaced site community. It also made me sad because, well, hanging out on Autostraddle is fun and hanging out on Facebook can be a little, um, stressful? WE MISSED YOU.

Facebook is a giant corporation owned by a cis straight white man that makes money by offering advertisers dirt-cheap access to millions of tightly-targeted customers. We should all be wary of moving our lives entirely to this platform, or any social media platform!  Furthermore, not everybody has Facebook. Twitter conversations are great, but if a topic doesn’t have a hashtag, millions of readers (some who won’t even seek out the topic for several more years because they’re too young to care right now ) will completely miss out on the conversation forever.

“Twitter and Facebook have their merits, but they’re very poor venues for substantive, ongoing, multiperson discussions that are tied to a single, specific article or set of ideas. The ideal venue for that specific sort of conversation remains the comment section of the article itself.”
– Will Oremus, Senior Technology Editor, Slate.com

Why We’ve Dedicated This Week To Focusing on Comments and Community

Other web-writers we encounter are shocked we still read — let alone engage with — our commenters, but to us the comments are an essential element of the community we’re not looking to sacrifice. Social media is incredibly important to us, but it doesn’t replace our on-site community, and we don’t have the financial resources to hire anybody dedicated solely to social media like literally every other site this size does. So we want to engage on-site conversation and make connections here, in this space. Period.

Last year our traffic exploded as we became the world’s most popular website for queer women, but comments were lower than ever. This year, we disabled the login-only function and got our staff engaged in turning the comment culture train around, and the past few months have been going really well. But we think we could do EVEN BETTER.

Welcome To Our Queer Internet Commune

We’ve talked about how commenting culture has changed all over the internet and how connecting to other queers through social media has dimmed on-site discourse, but we also need to talk about commenting culture in general, and how many readers — including our own staff! — have become scared to comment, period. We have interview subjects request extensive edits to what’s supposed to be an off-the-cuff interview in fear they could be misread and/or taken out of context and swiftly declared offensive.

Laneia and Riese have been watching queer people talk to each other on the internet for almost a decade, beginning with our own blogs and then moving on to Autostraddle over six years ago, and we consider ourselves experts at this point. Over the past several years, we have seen an obvious uptick in the times that we’ve seen you cut each other down, assume bad faith, pile on people with less dexterity in social justice language and lose your damn minds over grey areas without clearcut solutions. We witness ourselves get rude and angry, too, and spend three hours in a comment fight instead of writing.

But more importantly — more telling of who you and we really are — we’ve seen you build entire communities around TV shows, support each other in coming out, make IRL friends and even find your future wives through the wonders of commenting. It’s been legitimately amazing. You’ve inspired people and changed their lives with your dedication to making this work. You’ve trusted each other, assumed good faith, reached out to newcomers, respectfully navigated grey areas that didn’t always come with obvious rights or wrongs, and generally changed the whole world, really. You’ve found a way to disagree with somebody while also making everybody laugh. We get emails all the time from readers who didn’t know anything about [trans issues, race issues, queer politics beyond marriage equality] and were grateful for the education.

We feel confident, after ten years of total immersion in internet dialogue, with stating the following: productive conversations only happen when we assume good faith and treat each other with the patience and kindness that we devote to conversations with our friends and others we know and respect. 

We know in our hearts that this space is different, and that this community is uniquely capable of navigating grey areas and keeping the space accessible to all types of readers, because we’ve seen you do it! Once upon a time, we were all ignorant and naive, unsure of our own identities and patient with one another’s self-discovery. Those of us with this knowledge are now often in the majority, but it’s on us to share — not flaunt — that knowledge. Even if your politics are sound, the way you express those politics to others can end up replicating the very power structures we all want to dismantle, endorsing righteousness and performance above genuine dialogue. We want Autostraddle to keep being a place that invites more commenting, more engagement, more people telling their stories and listening to others.

We don’t believe that everything can be self-taught. Sometimes you can’t just Google something. Sometimes you’d rather get an education from somebody you trust, and not the first Tumblr that pops up. A single mother who works two jobs to support her family and never went to college doesn’t necessarily have the time to teach herself queer theory before jumping into a community like ours. Teenagers in small towns without any queer resources and no access to feminist literature come here knowing literally nothing, and that’s actually totally okay. We have readers who are the only queer person of color in their town, the only trans woman in their town, the only gay in the village, who desperately need a safe space to be themselves. We have readers who aren’t fluent in academia and we also have a lot of readers who aren’t fluent in English, either. We have readers who have the resources but still mess up sometimes and that is also okay.

We’re here to say that we will absolutely forgive those of us who are still learning — about the world and also themselves, their place in it. We believe that sometimes it is up to us, and to you, to assume good faith when it makes sense, and to educate people when we can. We want to intentionally leave room for the grey areas that don’t have obvious rights and wrongs, because that’s where growth happens. When we respectfully engage in conversations and we take on the role of being someone else’s sounding board and help them hash out their understanding of various topics and experiences, we necessarily affect change.

Many of you have your own communities where everybody is identified by name and face and nobody is anonymous — a class, a closed Facebook group, a book club — where you’ve been able to flex newfound muscles and try out your ideas; where people have given you the space to fuck up, try again, get it wrong before you get it right. You have family and friends who give you the benefit of the doubt, and you give it to them, and y’all help each other figure out the hard stuff. But even more of you do not have that community. A comment section filled with nitpicking and accusations of bad faith and language policing is unwelcoming and intimidating. Callout culture, pile-ons, and basic rudeness to each other and to writers can and will drive readers and writers away, people who are still learning and don’t have a community to be their sounding board and help them figure out the hard stuff. That’s why Autostraddle is different, and why it must continue to be accessible to as many levels of education and understanding as possible. We believe that if you can, if you have it in you, you should try to be that community for someone who needs it.

And fuck it, like, we honestly believe in kindness.

Most importantly — Commenting is feedback

Without your feedback or affirmation on our posts, we have no idea what you like! We have a few posts each day that get a lot of traffic, but a lot more that don’t. We publish those ’cause we think you might like them, ’cause we wanna talk about them, or ’cause we think the world needs them.

We often cancel columns only to suddenly hear that it was your favorite and you will die without it — you’ve gotta let us know before we get to that point, y’all! When nobody’s talking to our writers, our writers lose their desire to write. Yes, we’re getting paid, but not as much as we deserve, and regardless, our writers are here for more than a paycheck, they’re here for connection. Even an “I like this” can change everything for a writer. When we publish work by new underrepresented voices, a supportive comment section can be the difference between whether or not we ever hear from that writer again. Recaps, in particular, are a time-consuming drain, and without the immediate gratification of conversation with our readers, people are reluctant to write them. (Case in point: The Fosters.) Y’all if you want Gabby to recap Empire you have to comment more on her OITNB recaps, just saying.

So.

Thank you! Thank you for every minute you’ve spent helping someone else grasp a concept in the comments, thank you for letting us know when we’ve mattered to you. Thank you for sharing our words on social media and going to meet-ups and coming to camp. Thank you for sharing yourself here and helping to make this space safe for other people to try themselves on. Please, keep it up.

We’re leveling with you: this is what we came here for. We’re here for the community and the communication. We’re here for the conversation. We don’t ever, ever want to whisper to ourselves. We came here to fucking talk, to fucking listen, and think and then talk and listen some more. We can’t grow as a community without conversations and feedback, and we can’t have those conversations without kindness and assumptions of good faith.

So, this week we’re really laying it on thick — there’s even a contest and we’re whipping up some resources to expedite the “Google it” process.

This is where you prove everyone else wrong and us right. You damn the man and save the comments! You save the conversations and the empire — the empire you helped build to begin with.

Before you go! It takes funding to keep this publication by and for queer women and trans people of all genders running every day. And A+ members keep the majority of our site free for everyone. Still, 99.9% of our readers are not members. A+ membership starts at just $4/month. If you're able to, will you join A+ and keep Autostraddle here and working for everyone?

Riese is the 39-year-old Co-Founder and CEO of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, blogger, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and then headed West. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image & Other Hazards Of Being Female," magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 2878 articles for us.

357 Comments

  1. Wow Riese, thanks for this. I’ve been seeing you prod us to comment more for the last months and I’m trying. I also started releasing my own little zines to my peer group and when I hear nothing in response it’s discouraging. Even hearing one thing is so great.
    I’ve been thinking about the A Camp Unofficial Social Group on facebook. It had me tied to Facebook when I got back to camp and it made me cry and miss my cabin and my friends and this family. It also meant… I was on Facebook all the time which felt gross and icky and stressful. But also I had no desire to look at the a-camp open thread here because I felt like I could connect more there. But I’ve been a loyal reader for at least 4 years and the comments here DO make this site a community. I recognize certain commenters. And the comments are usually pretty good! This is a special place. I think we’ll all do what we can to give it what it needs and keep it that way.

  2. I have been struck by not only the depth and thoughtfulness of the comments on this site but the genuine nature of the comments when your writers write personal essays. Often I have seen personal essays in other places met by crickets leaving the writer to wonder if anyone is reading the piece at all or if they found it so boring/trite/poorly written/etc that they didn’t even bother to comment.

    Your readers are respectful and awesome of personal essays and are excellent at acknowledging them even if only with a “loved this!” You all do a great job of that here and I just wanted to acknowledge that fact.

    • I love this comment and couldn’t agree more! Autostraddle is literally the only website on then internet that I actively comment on. And it is because of the reasons that you highlighted here. At Autostraddle, it feels like a thoughtful engagement- not like I’m just dropping a line into a bucket that no one will ever check.

  3. Love this! The comments are one of the main reasons I love this community so much. As someone who lives in a more conservative area and doesn’t have queer friends, the internet is the primary way for me to feel like I am part of the community. I’m glad that you all open your homes to us as there are many things that I cannot bring back and discuss freely in my living room.

  4. God I love you guys.
    You are so DAMN amazing.
    I am crying right now because you are investing so much of yourselves in making the world a safer, more enjoyable, more loving place.
    You are everything I want you to be, including future positive change. Constantly re-examining yourselves, whilst never losing sight of the essential. It’s so easy in a business that incorporates social media and advertising to become disjointed, constantly running down different rabbit holes to capture specific audience/feedback/stats, and forget your core purpose and what brought you to create something in the first place. YOU REMEMBER.
    I am personally extremely glad I can interact directly on this site, as I really don’t want to engage with google plus or Facebook. I want to engage with everyone here, not with another creepy corporation. So thank you thank you thank you.

    There’s so much more I could say, but really, I just want to say I love you from the bottom, middle and front of my heart, and I want to make cake for all of you, served with a giant hug.

  5. super important reminder that makes me wish we could all quit the bookface —– > “Facebook is a giant corporation owned by a cis straight white man that makes money by offering advertisers dirt-cheap access to millions of tightly-targeted customers. We should all be wary of moving our lives entirely to this platform, or any social media platform!”

  6. I mentioned this in the other thread, but this internet community was the first queer community I was a part of. And it means so much to me. I love the material in the articles of course, but the most meaningful part Are the other members. Friday open threads are my favorite, for this reason. For a lot of people who are still largely closeted, the Internet is the first step, a safe place. And then, internet friends become real life friends, as you slowly become comfortable enough to peel away the anonymity of the computer screen. You all are awesome. Thank you.

  7. I’m a longtime reader who never comments and now I feel badly about that! It’s not that I don’t love the content or find it engaging…I’m just busy and tend to read articles here and there, on the bus, on my breaks at work, that sort of thing. Please know that for every regular commenter there is at least one quiet admirer (and probably way more) <3

    • True confession: I was a lurker for years before I applied to start writing here and I never commented before that. I hadn’t even signed up for an account. Now that I am in the comments all the time, I can’t believe how much I missed out on by not participating more actively! Welcome out of the shadows, Sarah! :)

  8. I am also old school internet, and came of age on AOL message boards, hopping ship to lurk on strap-on.org/Laundromatic before joining Livejournal. Autostraddle is one of the very, very few places that captures the camaraderie of old-school internet without the rampant microaggressions and catty in-fights that plagued those places. It feels like the best of old and new school internet.

    I have theories about how Tumblr made callout culture as toxic as it is, but I am no social scientist so they’ll stay in my head to remain bar conversation.

  9. all of the stuff about callout culture is so on point! also facebook is *so* stressful! thank you for this. if a queer whispers to herself in the forest and there’s no-one there to hear, patriarchy wins. (or something.)

    • Its true. Sometimes I type a comment (anywhere on the internet) and then wonder if I’ll get called out because my slang isn’t correct or something. Its a real concern and its alienating. I can feel myself assimilating sometimes – gross.

  10. Wow. This place is the best. No question. My favourite website. ♡

    I often times type up comments… only to back out at the last second… I guess there’s something embarrassing about comments, versus something like Twitter or Facebook. There’s just so MUCH on social networks that it’s easy for something you post to get lost in the shuffle. (This can be both good and bad…) Whereas in a comments section like this, you’re more likely to stand out, given that the number of comments (versus tweets/posts/etc) is low(er). So, maybe folks who are shy about LGBT stuff/struggling with asserting an LGBT identity will be less likely to comment.

    But it is wonderfully written, thought-provoking pieces like this that have me checking (yes, checking!) the website multiple times a day. (I wasn’t even aware of any Facebook presence…). This resonated with me a lot:

    As someone who lives far, far away (Japan) from A-camp (and other LGBT folk, for that matter! :/) it’s nice to live vicariously through campers. I get sad now too, thinking about all those stories I missed… (and wishing I could go someday!)

    Let’s all try harder, just a little bit. It really is sites like this (or rather, this site!) that keep me sane on days when I feel completely alone.

    • Well, that didn’t work…

      *ahem* THIS resonated with me a lot:

      “It made me sad, thinking about all the prospective campers who weren’t hearing the amazing stories I was reading on Facebook — not just the day that post went up, but ever.”

      As someone who lives far, far away (Japan) from A-camp (and other LGBT folk, for that matter! :/) it’s nice to live vicariously through campers. I get sad now too, thinking about all those stories I missed… (and wishing I could go someday!)

      Let’s all try harder, just a little bit. It really is sites like this (or rather, this site!) that keep me sane on days when I feel completely alone.

      • I too used to type out a comment and then find myself deleting it, but in the last few weeks I decided to cut that old habit, because I’m trying to give myself more credit for what I have to say (even if it’s just a “cool article”). What you have to say is important, say it!

        • I do that all the time, typing up a comment and then not posting it. Mostly because I know writing can come off much stronger than verbal communication and since English is not my native language I worry that I can’t really put my thougths into words correctly. And that someone else has said it better anyway.

          You know, sidenote, I heard that facebook actually also keeps track of the things you type but do not send.

          Also: excellent article and I feel proud to say I learnt so much together with you guys (writers and readers) since the time I started reading Autowin for the L-Word recaps.

    • I totally get what you mean about people who are more shy with their LGBT identity not wanting to comment. As someone who is still relatively new to queer communities, I didn’t comment that much on Autostraddle because I felt like my opinion wouldn’t be as informed or helpful than other people’s. I’m really happy that this article took the time to talk about how people who are still learning can engage in the comments section as well.

      • I feel the same way Sam! I’m still a baby queer in the large scene of things, and since I’m still not 100% immersed in queer culture I feel weird about commenting because I constantly get this inner dialogue of “what do I know? This could be super stupid of me to say!” Glad I’m not the only one who feels this way!

  11. Gawd, commenting is SUCH A STRUGGLE for me. I lurked on Autostraddle for years, wrote a paper in college about the comment community on Autostraddle, and then when I got hired here I was like… what? You want me to comment??? Regularly??

    But when y’all comment on my articles, it turns out it’s actually the best. I was so fucking terrified to publish my Dead Mom Essay, but the outpouring of feedback and support in the comments made me feel seen, and let me know that I was so much less alone in those feelings than I’d ever felt.

    And when I publish advice, it makes me so happy when people say it’s helpful and when y’all offer your own suggestions!

    And I also appreciate it so much when people comment on the newsy analysis things i write. I know they’re often on hard topics, but it’s always really encouraging to know that people appreciate them and read them and learn from them. I feel so lucky Autostraddle lets me write what I write, and I’m so happy to know when those words reach you.

    I am trying really, really hard to make Autostraddle commenting a more normal part of my day. Sometimes it stresses me out, and sometimes it feels like there’s not enough hours in the day, but this community is so important. This website is so important. And I like being here more than I like being on Facebook. And the conclusion of that paper was what we all know, and what Riese and Laneia wrote, which is that commenting makes Autostraddle better.

  12. I really value the dialogue on Autostraddle because even in my irl queer communities (which are often awesome and which I am lucky to have!) I see so much of the kind of self-righteous call-out culture this post describes and it sucks. Of course there are legitimate intra-community issues that we need to deal with, but there’s also a lot of piling on people who don’t 100% share the same opinion/knowledge/life experience in a way that makes spaces really exhausting and negative when they should be nourishing and caring.

    Soooo thanks for being here and being the opposite of that! I promise to work on getting over my anxieties about commenting

  13. Thank you guys for caring so much about this community that you are willing to (gently) yell at us to help improve it. I don’t always comment because sometimes I feel like I don’t have anything to contribute or add to what a writer has already written, or what other commenters have already said, but I totally understand what you mean by feeling you’re whispering into the void.

    I’m gonna make a pact with myself: If I like an article enough to read it, I will leave a comment.

    • It’s funny to here you say that you don’t consider yourself a regular commenter, because I always love the things you write when I see them! It started with greys recaps, but whenever I see you pop up in the comment section of other articles- I always take time to read what you said. I think that when you speak, you provide thoughtful and balanced feedback, which I appreciate.

      • I feel like C.P.’s comment is another great thing about this community. Even if you don’t actually know someone seeing their picture and name can bring about a moment of ‘I wonder what ____ is thinking about today?’ or ‘I bet this will be hilarious, they are so clever!’ Which, in my opinion makes the world feel a little smaller and a little bit better.

  14. I have been so conditioned by internet spaces to never look at the comments (such as Youtube, *shudder*) that every time I would scroll down and see a positive discussion happening on Autostraddle it was like a little internet oasis. Well, more like I was genuinely impressed to see a comment section that wasn’t full of trolls and all caps arguments about proper grammar. Of course, no one and no comment section is perfect, but I do definitely feel the difference here.

  15. I don’t use ‘social media’ – …. really, how is that not an oxymoron? Whatever, the comments section is only something I add to, if I think I’m adding. But I see your point about the volume of comments being an indication of engagement & important in themselves.
    Please don’t change the way you do, the way you do. It’s what I came here for.
    Thank you for being!

  16. It’s so reassuring to hear that I can just say “I like this” or “I learned from this”. Sometimes I haven’t commented because I felt like I had to be witty or really responding to what was written in an I depth way.

    I’m really glad to have this push to bring the comment sections back because while the Facebook group is useful it’s also a smaller group and not really where discussions are happening.

    Maybe commenting here more will even encourage me to actually talk about queerness and queer issues with my queer community because we often … Don’t. Which is weird tbh.

  17. Also, as a non-A-Camper, as A-Camp has gotten bigger and there’s been more facebook contact for attendees, it has started to feel like everyone knows each other and I don’t. I wanna know more about A-Camp and the beautiful people on Mt. Feelings so that this left-out feeling dissipates.

    • Also, and unrelated, I stopped commenting for about 4 months after being told I was ‘peddling transmysogynistic bullshit’ and not being able to figure out what I had said that was wrong. I’m still not sure, even though I’ve been trying to self-educate in my limited free time. I didn’t want to accidentally hurt someone else by repeating my error, so I stopped talking. (And also it stung.)

      • Pretty sure I was told the same thing (and ugh, I’m pretty sure it was the same person who said it to me, which frustrates me).

        The thing is, sometimes being called out is useful for growth. But sometimes people are just assholes. Like, 9 times out of 10, it might be a growth experience, but based on the number of people I encounter out in the “real world” who are just nasty, it helps me to remember that not everyone commenting on Autostraddle is someone it’s worth my time to bend over backwards for.

        I think it’s really tough because overall, this is an amazing online community. I assume everyone is cooler, smarter, better spoken than I am and so I want to be liked! But you can’t please ’em all.

  18. Would it be possible to auto-set the comments to emailing registered users when they get a reply? That’s what helps me carry on conversations over on The Toast. (understood if it’s something that’s too big to implement/didn’t score well on the playtesting.)

    • I think a lot of people don’t necessarily want to be automatically emailed about comments? — but it’s super-easy to check off “notify me of follow-up comments by email” when you submit your comment!

      • I’ve tried that, and I think it e-mails for each new comment on the article, not just replies to your comment. That’s too many e-mails for me, so I don’t use it, but then sometimes I miss replies.

        Also, I love this website and thank you so much for what you do.

        • YES. This is my problem. So either I leave a comment & I have no idea if anyone ever responds because I can’t find it again, or I tick the “follow up” comment box and get ALL OF THE EMAIL. I don’t know what the solution here is, but the current system does make it really hard for me to follow up the little time I’m actually on my non-work computer.

          …like now, I know this is a busy discussion & so I won’t tick the box buuuut then I’ll never know if anyone responded, & since it’s in a collapsed thread it’ll be hard for me to find it manually. I have a lot of thoughts about this, obviously.

          • Hold on. I just found where the comment history hides. I didn’t even know that was a thing! That helps! But having more specific notifications would help a lot a lot.

        • I was literally scrolling through the comments on this article just to see if anyone had said this. My guess is that this is a problem for a lot of people especially on articles that cover a bunch of topics. I just want to talk about Clipped and not read millions of comments about [other tv show].

      • I have this issue too regarding follow-up comments. My approach is to every now and then (maybe once a week?) go to the activity on my profile in order to go back to my more recent comments. If you click on where it lists how many days/hours ago you made the comment it will take you to where you can see that comment and saves time scrolling! (But if you click on the article name you have to scroll.)

  19. I was just thinking about why I might not be commenting as much and I decided it mostly has to do with my insane schedule. However, I think that if I weren’t hyper aware of callout culture I would maybe invest more of my bleery-eyed-phone-in-hand moments before sleep to commenting. I have seen a shift in the assumption of positive intent towards an assumption of mal intent.

    basically what I am trying to say is I am tired y’all. So exhausted and I am worried I might say something in a sleepy rush, get called out and not have the energy to discuss it in the way it deserves.

    that said, I will try to do better! I love you all and have found my besties here.
    xoxo

  20. i totally love and crave the commenting culture here. as someone who wants to be a professor in the future it’s a really amazing type of space where i find myself learning things and also teaching people things in ways that don’t break them down. as someone who’s written something for the site, putting my words out there was scary as helllll but seeing all the comments from people took all of that away. i understand why people comment on plaxes other than here (specifically for me, within the Speakeasy on fb), but it always makes me sad because this is generally such a safer space!! i hate when cis hetero dudes find their way onto the comment thread of a facebook post–it’s like dude this is not for you!!!

    thank YOU gays for creating such an amazing space that then formed this amazing commenting culture!!

  21. Love this! I work for a news site and the comment section there mostly and sadly is rather tiring even though we do moderate and engage with the people who take their time commenting. But here, it’s almost always pure bliss and thought provoking and educating and damn funny and that’s so rare and wonderful and one of the reasons I come back here every other day at least. You / we should never let go of that! I must admit, not being fluent in English (and not living in the US), I often choose not to comment because I don’t want to offend someone by using the wrong expressions or by underestimating the sensitivity of a topic. But, yes, feedback is vital when you’ve written that damn piece and put it out there, that I know. And all of you should hear every day how much your writing and this site matter! Be prepared for more “I like this (and Piper)” from me :)

  22. I have thoughts about this I feel like I should share. But, I won’t have time today. Tomorrow when I do have time, I might not care enough anymore, and everyone’s focus will have moved on to something else anyway. Maybe this is illustrative of something? I don’t know!

    • Yeah I feel this too. Like, I have all these thoughts and stuff that I want to share and have conversations about but if you wait too long people have moved on to another article so it feels a lot like that tweet in the article, just whispering to yourself.

      Plus there’s the added fear (if you have some anxiety related to putting yourself out there in the form of commenting your opinions on the internet) that if you say something and get zero response (probably from that shifted focus that you’re talking about) it equates to “oh my god I’m so stupid why did I say that, why would I ever think I should speak on the internet now everyone knows what an idiot I am.”

  23. Thank you for writing this Reese. Somehow, even though I know how important feedback and dialogue can be when writing, I tend to get too sucked into my own insecurities about not having anything interesting to say and so… don’t…

    But that’s not fair on any of you wonderful, amazing writers, and it’s shooting myself in the foot too. There’s no point wishing I was cool enough to make friends on autostraddle without saying anything, after all. And this website and community is full of the coolest people I’ve seen/read. So, like Allison, I’m making a pact. If I like it enough to read it, I’m commenting. It’s too important for my introverted self to let it die!

  24. I love the AS comment section. It really creates a sense of community and I appreciate the thoughtfulness and courtesy people put into their comments.

    I would love it if AS’s comment platform was more user-friendly, with easier ways to follow who has responded to your comments etc. A platform like Disqus is nice because it organizes your comments.

  25. Wow! So I have been reading AS on a weekly basis for four or five years now. I think I’ve commented twice. Which, okay, but the content on your site, the site itself, is my biggest internet touchstone apart from my own tumblr. and what you say about negativity in the comments? Well, sometimes I have to stop scrolling tumblr, because boy it gets bad. But! I have never felt that same need to quit reading on AS.It really does seem like whenever there’s a cluster of nitpicking or unwillingness to talk things out there’s at least one or two people diplomatically engaging with all parties, and it’s really cool to see.
    Anyway! I do love this website, and I loved the title of this article, and I will endeavor to be part of the conversation. Thanks for writing this.

  26. Comment sections shouldn’t die just because of trolls. When you have built up such an amazing community, the trolls end up leaving on their own. I wrote for a comedic food review blog with a comedic bent in the late aughts that had a great comment section. And yes, I was one of those writers who would read the section because I knew it would be positive or folks would give me constructive criticism on my product reviews.

    Also, I am already planning on going to A-Camp next year. I had the opportunity to go to an all-girls summer camp in Vermont when I was 13, and I begged my parents not to let me go, now as a 27-year-old, I realized how friggin’ stupid I was to NOT go. I probably would have had my first girl-on-girl kiss with some adorable Jewish girl from Westchester County whose parents worked in finance, not at 18, drunk off of cheap beer and jungle juice at a college party.

  27. Autostraddle *is* my queer community.

    I mean, the other day I actually stopped and considered whether I had any local straight friends (one! I do have one!), but I don’t seek out “queer” or “LGBT” branded events or groups in real life — I’ve had really terrible experiences and I am too old to put up with jerks policing my queerness or my labels. So Autostraddle is where I go when I need broader community beyond my circles of friends. And I have learned so much here in ways that have made me a better person. The comments sections and discussions are a huge part of that.

    I’ll try to do better about contributing. <3

  28. It is really crazy because the rest of the internet gives commenting a bad rap. Like every time I’m about to comment on an article on any other website I feel like I’m just contributing to a whole bunch of noise. Then what if some troll disagrees with me? Then I’ve got to defend myself. And suddenly I’m trapped in a spiraling hell of angry white men.

    And it’s hard for that feeling not to translate when I’m about to leave a comment here. But like maddie said, nothing has helped me grow as a writer more than the comments you leave here. It is so important and it is precisely what makes this place unique and attractive.

    Also let’s be real, most of the times that I delete a comment I’m about to write is because I’m stoned and I can’t tell if my joke will land.

  29. Thank you for staying here!
    I don’t comment (and I feel terrible for it!!!) but I read. And as much as I enjoy the articles, most of the time the comments are as interesting to me. It would break my heart seeing this vanish completely to FB or other social media channels. Because I don’t really use those. And articles without discussions wouldn’t feel complete.
    I should start commenting. Maybe I will. Maybe I’m not there yet. I don’t know. It’s not your fault, it’s more about wanting to become part of a community vs. using this as a pure passive resource.

    • I have also been a silent reader making very few comments. This week is giving me the push to log in and chat way more. It is kinda nerve wracking though, I’ve been lurking in the background for so long!

  30. Everything here. Thank you thank you for writing this Riese. This website changed my life – specifially, the comments section changed my life. I feel like this could be the beginning of a movement! I recently heard someone talk about ‘how the internet used to be’ – fondly, nostalgically. By its nature the Internet makes us all jump quickly from one hangout to the next, but Autostraddle endures! These comment threads are home to so much wisdom and so many feelings. xxxxxxxxx

    • THIS. Also, Beth, your tarot column has made me a healthier person. It brings me so much joy and super helps facilitate my self-care. I don’t know how else to describe it, but I just want to thank you.

      …and all the AS writers… and contributors…and commenters! This place, Autostraddle, has been life-changing for me. Y’all are the best. Thank you!!!

  31. This is awesome. I love this community ya’ll have made. It has seriously saved my butt in the past but I never thought about it being a two way street. This is your community too, you want to hear feedback and know that people love what ya do. Well, I will try to comment and give feedback and use common sense while posting.

  32. Like what a lot of people have said, the comments section on this site is what I first loved about the site. See, I think we’ve all had our share of bad comment sections on other sites/forums etc. When I first read an article on here (it was the strap on article by Ali) I looked at the comments and thought “WOW. The comments on here are all pretty positive? Like no one is trolling…and people are actually commenting USEFUL INSIGHT AND OPINIONS/EXPERIENCES.” I think it’s hard to find a place on the web like Autostraddle. Then when I saw my first troll comment on here I was really impressed at how fast the team moved to have it removed and to block the account.

    I feel like i should make some vow at this point to comment more. Srsly guys, the comment count looks like it’s gone down the past few months. I know how enthusiastic and engaging and wonderful we all are on the FB page and I REALLY REALLY hope we can bring that here!! I personally feel like it’s sad and kinda weird that people I meet at A Camp don’t know what Autostraddle is?….

    Also I love our comment section!!! I love that I’ve met some really good people through the comments and I love it when I get to have a conversation with other people =)

      • ITS TRUE. IT ISNT A MYTH. I talked to someone and IDR if it was this past camp or last year but I was like ‘so what do you like about autostraddle’ or something and that person said ‘whats autostraddle’ and I like laughed cause I thought they were just kidding or whatever right…then I saw they werent smiling so then I was like ‘you know THE website’ and then they were like ‘uh…no IDK what it is??’ I was like WHAAAAAAAAAT

  33. I remember years ago, when IRC was a thing, and a little later when AOL and Yahoo had chatrooms that weren’t populated exclusively by bots, there was a sense of community in those spaces and it felt like, however you identified, you could always find a small little community of people like you. As a queer trans woman who didn’t have the opportunity to transition back then, those spaces were often my only refuge. Ever since the beginning of the slow migration from those spaces onto facebook and news aggregators like reddit, I’ve felt that hole where community used to be. Physical queer spaces have mostly disappeared, and online spaces have evaporated; I felt like autostraddle is one of the few places that still retains something like a sense of community, and it’s one of the few sites that I ever comment on or read the comments on.

    I’ve been tinkering with a project to try to bring community, comments, conversation, and connections back to the web- it’s a lot of nebulous ideas right now but as wonderful as the community here is, it feels anchored to a dying format. It’s like you can’t have community embedded in the content any longer- like is the case with comments on any website, instead the content needs to be embedded in the community.

    • It’s like you can’t have community embedded in the content any longer[…], instead the content needs to be embedded in the community.

      ::plinks on the “Tell Me More” button::

      My schedule tends to be way overbooked, but, um, if you ever get a crew together and need some technical expertise or want someone to bounce ideas off of… (I have a background in anthropology, used to do UI design, currently do API design and hardcore hacking)

      • Oh, also, I’ve been thinking for a while about how (technically) to design a social network that allows massive ad-hoc interaction à la twitter, while actually having a proper privacy/visibility model (e.g., incorporating things like BlockBot as well as the basic visibility model of DreamWidth)

  34. I’m one of those people that really enjoys reading the comments section, but gets nervous about actually commenting. I’ll say something every now and then but I really do want to be more active in the community. I appreciate so much of the work that the writers and editors put in to Autostraddle. If it wasn’t for Autostraddle I would still be in the closet. The openness and sense of community displayed here gave me a glimpse into the kind of life I could have.

  35. Thank you for this well-written in formative article. It is crazy to think about commenting culture and the the thing often repeated is not to read them because you will be confronted with troll and bigots who just don’t get it.

    After my camp experience this year, it was life-changing. It gave me a sense of what the online community at auto straddle was like. The work you all are doing is important to everyone to those who can comment freely without fear to those who creep in the shadows to feel a semblance that they belong somewhere.

    To the comments we shall goooooo!

  36. I was so worried that the conclusion of this article was going to be that you were closing the comment sections. I have made a concerted effort to comment more lately because I always appreciate reading the comments by other readers. Like some of the above commenters said, this is my queer community. I have learned so much by being an active part of this community and I wouldn’t give that up for anything.
    I remember when I got my first comment award. I started crying because it made me feel so loved. I actually went home and told my dad about it because I was so excited.
    So, thank you for writing this and for everything else you guys do every day to foster this community.

  37. Thank you, Riese, for such an interesting and thought provoking article.

    The first Autostraddle article I read (I think it was a year and a half ago) was about bisexuality. The article itself was beautiful, and then I got to the little disclaimer before the comment section that said that any comments debating the validity of bisexuality would be swiftly deleted. And the comments were amazing, and I cried some more, and I knew I was home. I had finally found a place that welcomed me, and made me feel safe. So thank you for being my internet home, my oasis in the desert.

  38. Before finding this website, I was so unaware of queer issues and their importance. I’m embarrassed to even say that I didn’t know what something as simple as a pronoun preference was until a few years ago. I have learned so much from the comments people leave here. This is also the only website where I read and write comments because everyone is so (for the most part) supportive of each other.

  39. I love this post!

    I’ve been thinking a lot about comments &c recently… I read another website whose comment sections got so vicious that they recently switched to a system where you have to pay to comment. And of course it’s totally ended all commenting on the website; everything has switched over to Facebook now. I’m not sure how I feel about it — like on the one hand, it’s great to be able to scroll down and not see a hate maelstrom, but on the other hand, if I see something interesting, I like to see other people engaging with it. I don’t know if there’s an easy answer!

    Anyway, all that’s to say that I’m really glad you folks are thinking about all of this and providing a space where we can all interact with each other. I’m always so hesitant to comment (“nothing you have to say is interesting!!” — my brain) but I’m trying to be better/braver about it :)

  40. This is the only website where I regularly leave comments anymore as I find every other comment sections on the internet a very toxic place and I don’t need the extra stress. I have been around here since the beginning and while I might not leave a comment on every article I do read all of them.

  41. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU. I read this when I woke up a couple of hours ago and am still here in bed on my phone, scrolling around AS remembering articles that I wanted to comment on when I read them months (or years!) ago but was too nervous/self conscious/insecure/ afraid of being called out, piled on, et al. I literally had a running list in my head of things I wanted to say but just hadn’t taken the time to comment, due to these hangups.

    This is a really important and well articulated article, and I just want to give a shout out to the AS staff who, even on the very rare occasion when the comments on here can get… Heated (?) polarizing? is that the word? (I’m thinking in particular of the queer parenting piece that went up a few months back, written by Erin.)… Even when the comments can, on certain articles, draw much ire/ criticism/ incite VASTLY different and passionately held opinions by readers, the AS staff are great at continuing to comment throughout the discussion, taking account of all the views being expressed, and practicing honest self reflection as the producers/gatekeepers of this content & community. Thank you for all your hard work and continuing to grow and for making this such a beautiful internet place!!!

  42. i just want to say THANKS SO MUCH for not making your users and potential commenters go through the facebook/google plus login thing. as someone who came out like 5 seconds ago (exaggeration), i’m not about to start blasting my queerness all over facebook, so it’s really really amazing and wonderful that i can come here and get all cozy and gay without having to attach my face to this (yet!).

    and!! this is literally the best place for internet comments. usually i read internet comments out of a deep-seated masochism that propels me forth into the cesspool, but the majority of commenting here is so supportive and witty and fantastic!!!

  43. Hey!
    I really enjoyed this article–it really made me think about my reading and commenting habits.
    As an undergrad journalist, I wish my school paper’s website allowed comments. I want to know what people think about my writing.
    After reading this, I will definitely make more of an effort to directly comment on posts and not just Facebook share them. :)

  44. I feel like there has been a shift since your last post in the unofficial group. I hope I am right. That post made me realize how much I’ve missed the community here during the time (a year, mybe more) when I hardly ever commented. Also,I love “Things I Read…”!I

  45. This was really informative and eye-opening, and while I have always enjoyed reading comments here, there are certainly times on other sites where I have to curl up in a ball after reading comments. I appreciate especially the points made about the dangers of replacing sites you love with twitter and facebook.

  46. I pretty much just want to ditto both everything in this article and all the comments before me. Autostraddle is such a special unicorn place in the internet, in part because of the top notch content you produce on a variety of queer/ feminist subjects, but also in part because of the comment section. And that’s why I give you my tiny little pennies each month (it’s not a lot, but I hope it helps!)- I believe in what you’ve/ we’ve built, and I would be awfully sad to see it go.

    I read almost everything you guys publish- but often only comment on the recaps. I’ll try to do better.

    Until then, in the vain of what Rises asked about saying what content we like before it’s too late- I WANT GABBY’S EMPIRE RECAPS LIKE ITS ICE CREAM ON A HOT DAY!! I didn’t even know that was something that could happen before now, but now I want it soooo sooooo bad.

    I also love Greys recaps, Orange is the New Black recaps, and Pretty Little Liars recaps, along with Boobs on YourTube. I miss stand alone Fosters recaps (though I never commented and take blame for that) and I miss having actual recipes in the Get Baked section. Other than that, I love everything you guys do- pop culture, politics, advice, etc. You are all awesome humans and I’m happy to be read whatever you put out!

  47. Thank you for being so explicit about this. I hadn’t put together that me not commenting even just “I like this” on an article I like can feel to the author similar to how I feel when I teach a class, ask for feedback, and then everyone leaves (I’m a dance teacher). It’s so helpful to have even a “thank you” to help me continue to be more helpful or better helpful in the future.

    Also, I continue to feel so positively about the community here because there is explicit talk about the dangers of callout culture and the need to remember that fucking up isn’t the end of the world. Mistakes are to be learned from, and not to be shamed for.

  48. Ha! I just logged back in here after almost three years (it turns out, looking at my previous comments!) because I felt I had something to say that would add to the conversation (hopefully in a kind way, I meant it so). What timing to then read this article. I looked at my previous comments and was surprised by their intensity, but then I was in a hard place and a hard time of life and the comments reflected that, I think. I also only commented when I felt I had something to say, as with this time.

    But anyway, this is to say that I read Autostraddle a lot, have done from the beginning, and enjoy many different columns very much. Having read your piece, Riese, I will be more vocal in my appreciation in future :).

    Thanks for a great read!

  49. I have read Autostraddle every single day since it was started, but I only started commenting once I started working on another website.
    Writing and hearing nothing from my readers is … upsetting, to put it mildly.
    I very much agree with the tweet you posted, like whispering to myself in the wilderness. It’s a real problem to get niche communities comfortable enough to comment. On my own site, so many of the women reading have been harassed on other geek sites that they’re still afraid of the comment section.

    I promise to be a better commenter, you all have changed my life in so many wonderful ways and I want all of you to know that constantly.

  50. Autostraddle is the only website I actually go to and read on a daily basis. At first I’d only read posts I was immediately interested in, but over time I’ve started reading almost every post, even the recaps (I don’t have a TV and haven’t seen most of the shows)! Why? Because I learn things when I don’t expect to, because the writing is so great, because AS makes me feel connected to queer community and my own queerness, because the comments section is usually just as interesting as the writing. This is also one of the only sites where I’ve actually made an account and commented, again because of the above.

    TL;DR I LOVE YOU AND YOU’RE THE BEST THE END

  51. I don’t know if anyone else has mentioned this yet, but there’s at least one reason I’m *very* glad you guys haven’t gone straight to facebook for commenting- when I first started reading your website, I wasn’t out on facebook, and I’m not sure I would’ve been comfortable commenting and running the risk of either 1) accidentally outing myself, and/or 2)worse yet, being perceived as just another cis het dude inevitably blundering his way into the conversation. Having a site-specific comment section actually really helped me engage the community in a way that felt comfortable (especially since I’ve actually made IRL friends through the AS comment section :-) )

  52. This is brilliant. I’ve always loved Autostraddle’s comment section and marveled at how it doesn’t degenerate into constant strife like the comments on every other website I frequent. This week’s “Tell Us Everything” theme has already started to make me think about why I comment, when, and where, and to better understand how important commenting is for readers AND writers. Prior to this, I haven’t commented much, even though Autostraddle is my favorite place to hang and I read everything on the website and check it multiple times a day and love the comments and love the writers.

    I do have a Facebook, but I keep it to my close-knit friends and family; I don’t have too many “discussions” there, because I don’t like spending time on Facebook, it’s layout overwhelms me. I do see a ton of HuffPo and Buzzfeed LGBT stuff on FB, and the first thing I do is go to Autostraddle and look for their version of the same coverage–and I only share the Autostraddle version, typically, because it’s always better. The other site I’m on frequently is FetLife–basically a BDSM/sex/kink-themed social network. I comment there constantly. Why do I feel more comfortable talking to strangers about kink and sex and deep dark fantasies than I do commenting on Autostraddle–which I refer to as “my bible”–or on Facebook to my own best friends?

    This article finally drove it home for me. I love Autostraddle, but I also kinda hero-worship Autostraddle, and often end up too intimidated by being surrounded by so many people I like and admire to comment. I can talk for hours about tying up my girlfriend to strangers because I honestly don’t care what they think of it–but I can’t even say “I liked this” on Autostraddle out of fear of rejection from the people I look up to. I’m also so used to call-out culture on the queer internets that I don’t comment on the issues I care about most for fear of being perceived as offensive, even when I add 1,001 qualifiers and try to refer to everything in PC terms. I’ve stopped myself from commenting about my own life, relationship, and identity for fear that my or my girlfriend’s identities will offend someone else’s (i.e., the butch-femme aspect of our relationship seems to offend some gay, trans, and straight people at least once just because those labels are so heavy to some people).

    So, with this week as practice, I’m gonna suck it up and start commenting more. Go easy on me, please!

  53. I loved reading this – like a lot of people, I’ve been reading for years but rarely comment, for all of the reasons listed above and a few. I really think Autostraddle is one of the only places IN THE WORLD where the comment section actually adds value to the content rather than detract from it. There’s (usually) no need to avert your eyes if you scroll down too far, and I really appreciate your dedication to keeping that culture alive, even when it veers into call out culture-territory. Riese, you are also one of very few people I’ve read who discuss the dangers of call-out culture, so thanks for creating and cultivating this space. <3

  54. Autostraddle was my first queer community that I could discuss things with. Now I have other queer communities but I still don’t really discuss the same sort of things that are on AS with them, I mean sometimes but its not the same. This community is very different and I’m so glad it exists. I’m also really glad that commenting hasn’t solely moved Facebook or other social media, because I don’t have a Facebook and don’t want one so I would hate to lose my community because of that. I’ve noticed that the amount of comments here has dwindled as well, and with less people discussing articles its a lot harder for me to comment as well. I’ve noticed that I haven’t been commenting quite as much as I used to just because I didn’t know what to say anymore. When more people are commenting its a lot easier to find ideas that I can relate to and discuss. When only a few people comment there are only a few ideas to talk about and its limiting. I hope this week brings more people to comment in the future.

  55. I said it in the contest post, but I’ll repeat it here (slightly rephrased): AS has been my port-in-the-storm and beacon-in-the-night as I’ve come out to myself and then to people around me over the past 15 months. The advice pieces have been invaluable, and tbh the comments on those are as full of good advice as the original piece. The Straddleverse is a magical, safe place, and the high quality (and near total absence of bullshit) in the comments is a big part of that.

  56. Guys the comments are so much a part of why I come here, I love having random chats with people about shoes or the tragedy of turf or lip balm or whatever else comes up. Forever wishing I could get to A camp to hang out with all of you in real life. Keep the comments alive folks!

  57. I feel like the worst ever! I feel like the spoilt brat that is take take take from this website. I’ve been reading for years in different stages of “outness” times when I lurked/lived/occasionally frequented etc. the comments section.

    Now I’m in a place where I pretty happy with “me” I’ve progressed a lot as a gay person… I’m now confident I’m doing thus gay thing “right” – well I know there isn’t really a wrong way (so long as everyone is on the same page and into it).

    I still love reading Autostraddle but I needed the community less… well at least I thought I did, but a) I’ve missed it when I think about it and b) its maybe time for me to be high fiving and supporting the people who are maybe me 5 years ago.

    Not to mention high fiving the awesome writers and recognising their awesome content, opinions, taste, musings etc.

    I will try my best to stop being a selfish insular reader from now on.

    • If I may – you’re definitely not the worst ever. Part of the awesomeness of The Internet in general, and Autostraddle as well, is that it’s THERE to be ‘passively’ consumed. For me, lurking on AS was a big part of my early coming-out-to-myself. And I’ve been pretty lax in commenting through the whole four-ish years that I’ve been reading.

      Anyway, just wanted to say hi! and you’re not a brat from where I’m standing.

      This article and this week has reminded me that while I may feel like part of a community by being frequent, insular reader – the community can’t know me unless I…communicate.

  58. Wow, this answers so many things I’ve been wondering about, Internet wide.

    Autostraddle comments are terrific, wise, funny, heartfelt and often perfectly timed; I had noticed the drop in my favourite commenters (much like favourite writers) but I hadn’t made the leap to realise they were sleeping on their kinda-friends couch for awhile (a.k.a. Facebook)
    What Riese mentioned above about assuming the best instead of the worst is crucial to the constructive atmosphere autostraddle is so versed in forming and developing.
    Thinking of comments as a form of currency in which even those of us who can’t afford auto straddle plus, can in someway repay or contribute to this amazing site will definitely encourage me to comment more.

    As a sign of good faith my technophobe fingers even typed all that on a touch screen…

    So thank you again for everything Team Autostraddle, P.s. were you guys thinking of running another fundraiser this year? In their own way, those also built ties to this site and each other… and were a great reminder to support the site even if one can’t commit to the subscription.

  59. Yes, comments are a crucial component of AS. And the site needs a vastly improved comment interface to improve the experience. The “hide the sub-comment” structure privileges people on the top level of comments while pretty much making some of the responses to that first level invisible (and honestly, the responses tend to be more interesting most of the time).

    Moreover, I continue to be frustrated by the persistence of a non-editable comment section. For a site which did a huge, purposeful overhaul in its coding not that terribly long ago, this was a poor oversight. If it was a conscious choice then it was a lousy one. Some of us are multi-tasking when we’re writing our comments and there’s just no freaking reason why we shouldn’t be able to go back and fix spelling mistakes or replace a word. If you truly value the comments, then why would you give the people who post them (and sometimes put a lot of thought and care into them) less editing power than to those who make original posts? No matter what you say, it makes the comments seem less than valued. Please change this.

    As to “call outs” and “pile ons” there continues to be too many persons who register on AS for the express purpose of trolling. I suspect it’s a few people and a whole lot of sockpuppets (users who register under multiple profiles to make it seem as if they’re a group). I don’t believe anyone’s “activity” in their profile should be able to be hidden. It protects those who register, leave nasty comments, and then go on to other new profiles and repeat the process. (I’ve seen this a lot with some of the transphobic comments in trans-related threads).

    i have mixed feelings about the “voting” system related to comments. Sometimes it’s a popularity contest stuck at middle school level. When I see someone “respond” to an article by writing a one line: “Love the article, you’re a beautiful person” and proceed to get 18 “likes” it’s hard to tell, is this just a positive love fest or super laziness and non-commitment to engaging with the OP? Or maybe both? Perhaps it’s a curmudgeonly opinion (or generational), but I would love to see both the comment voting and the Comment Awards feature get the axe. I know… I’m grumpy. :(

    • I love the comment awards! I think they’re fun.

      With regards to the commenting features – I’ll agree that it’s annoying that we can’t edit comments. But from my understanding, the commenting system is from a WordPress plugin, and that plugin may or may not support editing. Having worked in software development, I know that new features aren’t as simple as “just turn it on” – sometimes creating a new feature breaks existing features. Cee is amazing, but she’s still only one person!

      • Dina, I would never say it’s simple. That’s why they hired a pro to do it. But it’s my understanding WordPress can be configured to have editable comments (there are a number of links to it online)… but I have no idea which engine they’re building this site on. Editable comments should be a high priority, have been repeatedly requested by many for at least 6-7 years and I consider that lack (together with the forced collapsible comments) seriously impacts the quality of the comments section experience.

        For instance, the total finality of posting on this site might very well prove intimidating to persons who don’t usually comment. if they do feel insecure about something they’ve written, they should have a chance to modify it and not feel as if it’s hanging there for people to pick apart in perpetuity.

        • Yeah, but also the rest of what Autostraddle is isn’t simple either! I’m sure the team has prioritised what needs to be done accordingly. Like, we always don’t know when, for example, posts aren’t coming through on time or emails aren’t getting sent correctly or whatever. That behind-the-scenes stuff can take up a lot of time, and like I said, Cee is only one person.

        • Oh and! “WordPress” isn’t one monolithic thing – my understanding is that it’s a whole ecosystem with different apps providing different functionality. And if two apps don’t play well together…

          • Hello all!
            User editable comments is not part of WordPress.org (or .com)’s core. Only admins can edit comments by default. This isn’t a thing I can just easily turn on. I wish it were.

            There are a couple plugins to add this functionality, none of which are ideal for a few reasons. I have yet to get one working on the dev site without either breaking other parts of the commenting system or putting heavy load on the server. The web server which runs this site is maintained entirely by me, not a hosting company, and is running at pretty much it’s maximum load capacity.

            This was also not on our list of functionality requirements when we starting rebuilding this site — 6 months before Facebook even added editing comments.

            I have “make comments editable by users” on my whiteboard along with a laundry list of other things and if it ever becomes feasible and reasonable to do so from a tech standpoint, I will add the functionality.

            The reality is I’m just one person, and I have to code the site, maintain the site’s code, maintain the servers and do all the systems administration and the tech support for the writers and editors by myself.

            Thanks for your support.

          • Thank you SO SO MUCH @cee for all the amazing stuff you do for the Autostraddle community! Without you, we literally would not have a place to have this discussion in the first place. <3

          • Cee, thanks for all you do, and for letting us know that enabling comment editing is on your laundry list – I will cease complaining about not being able to do it. :)

    • “I don’t believe anyone’s “activity” in their profile should be able to be hidden.”

      Strongly, strongly disagree, especially now with A+ posts where much more highly sensitive and personal stuff is often discussed.

  60. I! Love! This! Post! And I love a gajillion other articles on this site, and the writers and commenters are -amazing-, and? I know in my heart there is no reason to feel shy about taking up space to tell you when you make me smile/have thoughts/do things! I’m gonna do it, y’all. <3

  61. To all people waffling about commenting: I made an off-hand comment and AS wrote up an article in response (ok, it was food rather than some of the deeper content but I’m into food, as are all living humans to some degree). Here’s for sharing the random thoughts and creating a broader, more complex site in all of the ways possible.

  62. First, I just want to reiterate that I think intentional community is incredibly important and I think it’s amazing how much is being done here to create that. Also, it is SO important to meet people where they are. I struggle with it because I just want everyone to Get it right away, but that’s obvs not fair to anyone.

    Second, to pile on the AS appreciation, when I was figuring out my sexuality last year I searched for internet resources for people in my situation and Autostraddle was literally the only site that kept coming up in my search, over and over again. I think at one point I actually searched “how to be gay” and guess what came up! I promptly joined the community and started sending articles to all of my friends. Autostraddle has been an incredible resource for me and, although I have trouble deciding that my words are important enough to share in the comments, I love the community here.

  63. There are so few places that I bother to venture into the comments (here, the toast ..that’s pretty much it) but this lurker thinks you’re all lovely. I’m not sure if it’s the tone of the articles continuing into the comment section or just a decent bunch of humans, but i wish you could infect the rest of the internet

  64. Okay so this has brought out a lot of feelings for me because I love Autostraddle and I love how we are this internet community that’s great and we give each other good vibes most of the time, and everything. I’m generally so grateful for the comment sections because they’re thoughtful and I generally learn a lot from them.

    And I know I don’t comment a ton, but that’s often because I don’t feel like I have anything to add, and like, I kind of assume that the writers here know that I enjoy the content? Because the content is awesome and enjoyable, but y’all shouldn’t have to assume that we love things.

  65. Wow…thanks for making me realize that the vague, misplaced anxiety I had about commenting most likely springs from witnessing so much tumblr dragging bs! As a closeted lady-lovin’ lady stuck in a rabidly conservative town for middle and high schools, finding AS felt like coming home. Although I had moved to a very queer-visible and -friendly city, that was almost harder on my insecure self than having to imagine other undercover presences. The women were so confident and sure of themselves and of their identities. There was a fear that if I engaged in the community, this living, breathing, Thing, before learning how to become a “better” queer, it would instantly recognize my naivety and spit me out as an imposter. I only had one chance to be a gaytente, I thought, and AS was my fairy godmother. Getting acquainted with the staff through their writing developed this imagined kinship like the ones we have with our favorite characters, and the first time I saw them respond to comments was like the first time J.K. dropped some new lines on Pottermore – the magic continues! But So! Much! Better!, because I knew they were out there actually living lives and being humans doing their darndests.

    I devoured everything with half enthusiasm, half desperation, but figured I needed to diversify my sacred texts (pssh, now I know better; AS is what’s upppp!). I was also becoming a part of a local, highly sociable community (I did not turn back into a pumpkin! They did not kick me out!), which took up much of my time that had previously been allocated for bingereading. Tumblr appealed because it was more bite-sized. However, very early on, I witnessed some hardcore shutdowns of what seemed to me like innocent, well-intentioned questions – questions that I had asked. The culture of double standards, extremism, and one-upmanship kept me firmly in a passive, mainly reblogging role. Despite the incredible exposure tumblr provided to SJ and other topics that are now an important part of my awareness, as well as a few excellent friendships, the bad taste of condescension was never quite rinsed out of my mouth. The inside jokes of notes between mutuals made me uncomfy, realizing how much more helpful and engaging the comments on AS articles are, even to those who aren’t involved! One of the things about community, though, is that you can’t enjoy all its benefits without putting in any effort. Turns out that’s pretty much standard procedure for life, actually.

    I know now that no matter how many articles we read or community forums we attend, neither I nor anyone else will ever be the quintessentially-informed poster child of queerness that isolated me once thought was the price of admission. We’re human; we misspeak and forget things and need reminders (my gf was adorably under the impression that my memory was impeccable – I have since introduced her to calendar apps.). Thank you, Riese, and the rest of the Straddleverse for being my friends when you didn’t know you were (muahaha), and to not limiting characters on comments! I have way more feels about this than I thought, but I’m setting an intention of commenting at least once a week, so I’ll save those for later ;)

    tl;dr: tumblr is cool but also sometimes full of meanies, but autostraddle is precious cinnamon buns combined with grandmother willow. and hotties. so let’s all comment more!

    • “I know now that no matter how many articles we read or community forums we attend, neither I nor anyone else will ever be the quintessentially-informed poster child of queerness that isolated me once thought was the price of admission.”

      Yes. This.

  66. Wow, I had never thought about the effects social media like Facebook and twitter would have on a website like this, so this was very informative! Props to you all for maintaining your commitment to fostering an awesome community :)

  67. Can’t facebook leave anything alone? Sigh.

    Definitely hope your comment sections continue to thrive. I’ve learned a lot from them and find Facebook nearly impossible for actual discussions.

  68. I love this post, so much! AS and The Toast are the only places on the internet where I actually read the comments – and recommend that other people do too. I love that Autostraddle has comments where connections get made and people are funny or reflective or just nice and talking back to the writer.

    Oddly, though, sometimes if a post has a ton of comments already I won’t comment because reading all the comments can take a long time and sometimes I just don’t have it and if what I’m thinking about is a substantive question or something, maybe someone else has already said it and I’m not going to add anything by saying it again.

  69. You have probably thought about this, but why do you not have a ‘like’ button or something similar on articles so people can let the author know they enjoyed the article, but maybe do not have anything to add to the discussion. Not as fulfilling and interesting as a comment (and not to replace the comment section), but seems like a way to get some feedback?

    • I agree! Maybe you could do something like Buzzfeed with multiple reactions that are easily clickable. I mean, I know that it’s not as satisfying as a comment, but it would be really convenient for those of us who are reading on our phones or during quick breaks in the day or just don’t have anything to add.

      • I suggested that feature in the rebuild! I was so happy they put it into place and then disappointed when it was gone :( I’m sure there were good reasons for it though. It does help the shy reader more than in helps the site I guess.

  70. Many of the points you talked about were things i KNEW, like LOGICALLY, but still have had trouble prodding myself to comment – even when i do have strong feelings/things to contribute! Seeing it laid out this way helped. Thank you for writing this- I will try harder <3 AS is my home and i want it to keep being amazing 5ever!!

    • That is definitely how I feel. In fact, most of the time after I’ve read something I look forward to seeing what the comments are! That is not the case anywhere else. Autostraddle is also the only place where I’ve ever felt comfortable commenting myself.

  71. This space is so distinctive, so safe to me. If the dialogue were to move over to facebook or twitter, it just wouldn’t be the same. I wouldn’t be able to comment.

    I found this post in particular just so powerful. You all have done something so incredible and wonderful for so many people.

    So much love <3

  72. I didn’t even know that you guys had a Facebook presence until this morning when I started reading all this stuff.
    Thanks for explaining all of this to us – I am also a person who often wants to comment, but who feels most of the time that what I have to say wouldn’t really add much to the conversation, and now I kind of feel better about just yelling I LOVE THIS PLEASE WRITE MORE ABOUT THIS FOREVER THANKS BYE more often.

    (I am also a little bit intimidated by the fact that so many of you know each other irl from camp and stuff. Sometimes it feels like I would be interrupting a private conversation if I jumped in with a comment.)

    I do read Autostraddle every day, and I try to read every post, even if it’s not something that interests me from the title.
    I also have favorite Autostraddle writers, and I would read anything on this earth that they want to share, whether or not I’m into the subject matter.
    I had never even seen a comic book in my entire life until Mey started writing Drawn to Comics, and now I own all the Lumberjanes and have also bought them for 2 little kids I know! (ILY MEY)

    Anyway.
    Thanks for being you, Autostraddle.
    I will comment more. :)

  73. The AS community saved my life one time just by existing, so you know I’ll love you forever. <3

    I am so delighted to see someone talk about the toxicity of callout culture. I am pretty much afraid to comment on many articles in case I say the wrong thing/hurtfully intrude white or cis privilege without meaning to/etc, and it means I've pretty much stopped saying anything. Like yes, obviously, always tell me if I've hurt you and I will be so sorry, and I do a lot of self-education to avoid doing that. But it would be so wonderful and go a long way to making AS feel like my safe space again to have good intent assumed.

    I even feel nervous posting this in case it sounds like privileged whining. But there we are.

  74. This was a great read. Thank you.

    I found myself on message boards on the internet years and years ago. I came out on the internet in 2003 and found a community all over the world because of one discussion.

    I have changed so much since then and the queer community has too, I have found friends close to me geographically but that doesn’t change just how much I gained from that.

    I feel like I lost touch with a lot of change and sense of community as I’ve gotten older.

    I’ve started engaging more and a lot of that is at least reading the comments in Autostraddle, I learn so much. The readership here is thought out and engaging and I have learnt so much about intersectionality and privilege and queer culture.

    So thank you. This place is amazing

  75. Over the past several years, we have seen an obvious uptick in the times that we’ve seen you cut each other down, assume bad faith, pile on people with less dexterity in social justice language and lose your damn minds over grey areas without clearcut solutions.

    Thank you for this! I often feel like I need to have a Masters degree in whatever the subject is to comment on any progressive site, this one included. I really, really love the above statement because it is my biggest frustration when trying to engage online, nitpicking ways something could be offensive until it turns into a derail or pile on and no one is left feeling heard.

    I am heartened by this piece and the dedication of Autostraddle to create a place where you can give fellow commenters a little bit of grace (while still not putting up with hateful shit).

  76. I tend to not comment on an article once it hits about 80-100 comments, just because I feel like it doesn’t matter what I say because almost no one will read it anyway, especially if the article is over a day old.

    I have been commenting a lot more over the last few months though.

    • Also, I feel that one of Autostraddle’s main selling points is it’s comment sections. It is the safest feeling comment section I have come across and I feel like I can say ‘I don’t understand’ and not be jumped upon, which is a rare thing on the internet. I hope we can work together so that others feel that way too.

  77. I am SO 100% guilty of being a ghost on this website, which is completely unfair to you all. I have been reading this site pretty much religiously since.. 09? Back before the move to LA. A really long time. But you wouldn’t know it by my profile, or my commenting history.

    I have a spotty history with following blogs and internet websites, but this one is THE only one I still continue to read to this day. It is pretty much my daily newspaper. I especially love the recaps (seriously, guys. You are better than shows themselves) the ‘things I read that I love’ articles, as well as the Speakeasy and trans articles. As a teenager and then as a young adult, I always identified as an open-minded person but of course (being young) I also felt like I knew everything there was to know about being open-minded and that was that. Combined with being a child of the 90’s where prejudice was already becoming an invisible thing (we are a melting pot!) I was lulled into a lazy sense that simply not judging someone would be enough to change the world. You have opened my eyes to so many things, including ideas that I thought were fair and open-minded that were ingrained in me growing up that are outdated, just off the mark, or in some cases completely wrong!

    I have to cut myself off because there is one more thing I do want to mention, and this is turning into a small novel of comment :/. The thing is.. I find this website so incredibly intimidating to comment on! This website makes up at LEAST 85% of my internet time(not a small feat, considering I am a Sherlock and Doctor Who fan and know what tumblr is lol) but takes up approx. .03% of my comments! And it isn’t that I am afraid to post on things. Heck, I was an active MCRmy member for a good two years, spent 8 hours a day AND met one of my ex-girlfriends on that forum (pre-autostraddle).

    So. Why do I not post here? Why is this website so intimidating to me? This is not a rhetorical question, I really can’t figure it out. My best theory (which isn’t all that great so if anyone can think of a better one please theorize away)is that my love and respect for this site, the people that write for it, and the people that read/comment/subscribe has gotten so great that it.. makes posting just intimidating as heck lol. IDK. It’s also weird to me that I have been reading all of your works for so long and you all have NO CLUE WHO I AM that I feel like the moment passed for me to be an active commenter and not feel like a huge stalker-y creep?

    Also, I am long winded. This comment is so long, no one is going to read it anyway lol.

    IN SUMMATION, I will try to get past whatever it is that keeps me from commenting. If anyone else happens to read this and feels the same, or has a better theory than the ones I stated above please comment. I can’t be the only one, right?! ~looks around nervously~

  78. This is the only place where I actually enjoy reading the comments and learn from them. I can’t think of any reason why I haven’t commented more other than it feels like I’ve got nothing interesting to add. But I’ve never thought about it from the perspective of the writers and how the lack of feedback can be demoralizing. From now on, I will comment on articles I love to show my appreciation.

  79. Given the sorts of comments on many sites, I can’t say I blame them for dumping comment sections. Tumblr tends to be another monster altogether sometimes. I think in general, most of the comments here are more thoughtful.

    Myself, I just try to play nice and avoid wading in and inserting my opinion where I might cause or worsen any discord (“Let’s mind our own business,” as my dad liked to say) or where what I think would be in the minority opinion or outright unwelcome or whatever. I’m not trying to dictate how anyone else should go about things, just me.

    And sometimes, I just don’t feel like I have anything substantial to say, for whatever reason. So, I just keep my peace. But, again, that’s just me.

  80. Wow, this article!

    I wholeheartedly concur with the people’s sentiments about the safety, education and general amazingness that the AS comments section provides. I mean let’s be real, Straddlers are obviously unicorns.

    I’m a reformed lurker who was afraid to post, worried that I didn’t have anything of value to add to the conversation. But I forgot that sometimes a simple “thank you for this” is similarly powerful.

  81. i want to echo thanks and praise for saying all of this. you have validated feelings i have carried around for such a long time, and i think i really needed to hear someone else articulate them to fully understand them. i have been here as a reader since day one, and even before that reading your personal blogs. but i sat for years and years with experiences to share and compliments to give and they never made it out of my brain because comments were for…um other people i guess? not me! and i would get so mad at myself for feeling that way thinking “what the fuck are you waiting for? an invitation to The Internet? just fucking get in there, you weirdo!” and yet i sat bottled up so tight for so long. and the thing is i now know that the potential rejection just felt like too great a risk. i was already feeling rejected and out of place in so many ways, i couldnt risk feeling misunderstood or piled on by the only queer community i had ever known. but i am trying to remember to be brave, and i see now that this community is for everyone and we can all be a part of it. but in my experience, it does take some real effort to overcome self-doubt if you are not used to putting yourself out there in a forum like this.

    and also so many thanks for committing to keep this community alive in the face of omnipresent usurpers facebook and twitter. i like the idea of having a healthy, thriving space that is independent of all that and accessible to people everywhere. this place was (and is) such a beacon for me, and i would hate that a lack of social media presence would be a barrier to entry for anyone.

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