Ask Ceil – A Failure to Communicate

Dear Ceil,

I was thinking of commenting on an internet article, and then I read the other commenters. So I stopped. Should I have?

Opining in Oregon

Dear Opining,

I see that you have observed the conundrum of unfettered free speech. Apparently, people feel free to say things. You see, they realize they’ll never meet you, and even if they do, they will look nothing like the robot-goat avatar that they are using in their profile picture. (You think I’m making up the robot-goat thing? Think again.)

Unfortunately, sometimes The Commenters say things that make us want to respond, usually angrily. Perhaps you have read something that makes you want to find the person who said it and…give them a good talking to. Just for you, I have some handy tips for the three top types of commenters. Good luck.

1. When a commenter agrees with your viewpoint, but for a totally misguided and insane reason.

Here’s a person who’s giving your side a bad name. You know they must be stopped. You’re the only one who can do it. The whole world depends on you!

There’s nothing scarier than commenting on a news story (except realizing that you’ve just spent a lot of time reading the comments on a news story.) You read the first few comments and suddenly feel that there’s much more room for improvement in our educational system, and many children seem to have been left behind. But there it is, the one comment that looks to be in agreement with your philosophy! Yay! Then, you suddenly see that they agree with you because of loophole in the laws of physics. No, because they are the loophole in the laws of physics. Essentially a black hole of knowledge that landed on the correct conclusion almost through an avant-gardeballet of logic.

But then you realize: In order to correct them, you actually have to enter the world of the comment board. The land where there are no rules. Up is down. People feel strongly about lovemaking between koalas and goats. There’s kitten juggling. Lord only knows what will happen.

My advice: Usually, I refrain from commenting on news stories because there’s very little upside for me, and after I’m done my soul feels empty, like it does after I’ve seen a commercial for Toddlers and Tiaras. But if it’s a cause that you feel strongly about, you may want to get on there so that people know that your side isn’t made up entirely of idiots.

2. When the comment is so ignorant that it defies logic or physics, or can be disproved with a simple Google or Snopes search, or your dog knows better.

Look, I like proving someone wrong as much as the next guy. I like for people to think of me as the purveyor of truth and rightness. (I’ve got an advice column for a reason.)

But many people, like Tom Cruise and some contestants on American Idol, can’t handle the truth. Some people were told something when they were five, and they never let it go. You know, like “good people are charming and friendly, and bad people disobey their parents, and don’t comb their hair, and kill woodchucks with their bare hands.”

As they got older, they never realized that your parents don’t know everything, or that sometimes you just don’t feel like combing your hair. And woodchucks can sneak up behind you while you’re innocently having a picnic, and suddenly something moves, and before you even knew what was happening, you realized that self-defense training class was much more effective than you thought.

My advice: If you comment, use small, non-confrontational words, and know that you are doing so only to keep the third-graders who are reading it from perpetuating a myth.

“Just be wrong. Just stand there in your wrongness and be wrong and get used to it.” —President Bartlet, West Wing, “White House Pro-Am”

3. When the comment insults your people, or your people’s people, or some people you don’t know but you see them on TV and they seem just fine to you.

Occasionally, some guy or girl, or gorilla or something will fumble around their disheveled bedroom and find a keyboard that by sheer luck is connected to a computer that is stealing an internet connection from their nearest neighbor. They they’ll accidentally click on a link to an actual news story, and say something about how some “type” of person is, for instance, dirty and unkempt. Then they throw the keyboard onto the floor and go back to picking the lice out of their mate’s hair.

You know them. Right after they get done lifting a mouse from the library computer, they go online to talk about how some group of people is a drain on society. You know you’ve encountered one if smudges appear on your computer screen from where you were hitting it with your forehead.

My advice: Make sure you are not identifiable through Facebook or other means, and proceed to, in as few words as possible, inform the commenter that they suck.

And feel free to use this, from Billy Madison.

Dear Ceil,

I’d like to protest SOPA. What is it?

Marching in Maine

Dear Marching,

SOPA, or the Stop Orangutan Porn Act…no, wait. That’s not it. The Single Octave Polka Act. The Structured Online Poverty Act? I think I’m getting closer.

The Stop Online Piracy Act and its sister PIPA (the Protect IP Act, Senate Bill 968) are attempting to stop copyright infringement, which is a very nice thing to do. As a person who writes things, I’m really appreciative that Congress wants to protect me! Thanks, guys I don’t know at all! It’s so rare that very important people help the little guy, and I’m pretty small! (I’m saying I’m short. Let’s not make it a thing, ok?) But seriously, I’m really happy when people stop stealing from me, and that’s a great thing!

So, if someone steals from me on the internet, they’ll get their website shut down. Is that how it works? Cool.

And you’ll know this because I’ll tell you, “Hey, that guy stole from me. Bastard.” And you shut them down. Again, very cool. Easy peasy.

It’s perhaps the least bureaucratic thing I’ve ever seen the government do!

Gosh, it’s so simple to get someone shut down, it almost feels wrong.

Ceil Kessler is a frequent commenter on news stories as long as she cannot be identified. Her avatar has nothing to do with goats, robot or otherwise. She enjoys a good argument as much as the next person and does not support SOPA. She is very good friends with Julie Goldberg, who she promised would be in this bio.


9 thoughts on “Ask Ceil – A Failure to Communicate

    1. It took me a long while, but I am now able to stop myself right after I click on “reply”. I look at the empty box and to myself I say, “Oh wait. This is the internet.” Then I close the box and go back to being somewhat productive.

  1. I agree with you because the ghost in my Progresso Chickarina soup told me you were right. Also, the people you disagree with are upside-down, and it’s such a drain on society to have to install both right-side-up and upside-down toilets in every bathroom. Plus, my mother told me when I was five years old that it is August 18, 1976, and these people are saying it’s not.

    1. Wait. I’m not done. “Chickarina”? Really??

      I have seen the name on this Progresso soup before, and I feel that Progresso is suggesting that the chicken is, in some way, having a good time being soup.

      On behalf of chickens everywhere, it’s no fun being soup. Unless it’s meant euphemistically. Because being some kind of metaphorical soup may be a blast. I don’t know, frankly. I’ve never tried that.

      Sounds kinky.

      That is all.

  2. I always feel the urge to comment, especially on your column. When you knocked yourself in the head, I missed having something to comment on, and so I hated you. Jk.

    As a terribly insecure new-ish writer on the scene, I religiously monitor comments and page stats on my blog and whenever I write fanfic and get terribly depressed when nobody finds it worth their time to drop a line even if only to say “hey, you sucked”.

    I rarely read comments on other people’s articles because some can be really mean. But occasionally, I read them to laugh at people’s idiocy and then my day is made.

    And that’s all I have for now as I have to trawl through the internet to see if I can steal someone else’s article to post to my blog.

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