The Commentist Manifesto

Some people are of the view that it is pointless commenting online about articles on whatever, cycling in particular. There is some validity to this viewpoint, but I disagree.

I think that the anti-cyclist commenters take succour from their view that they are part of some “silent majority”. I think that because their aggressive, ill-informed and often hateful comments make up the majority in the MSM that this justifies their beliefs and sometimes their actions.

I would love to see this change, and in 2015 and beyond, anytime there is an article with commenting available online that the overwhelming number of comments are from pro-cycling people, and the more different voices the better. Obviously it must be up to individuals, but I have some tips and tricks I am happy to share. To that end, I offer you
the Commentist Manifesto.

In no particular order, here’s what I have learned.

YMMV. Your Moderator May Vary.
Moderators have a pretty lousy job. If you are commenting and feel that you are spending a lot of your time knee-deep in shit, imagine what the moderators must be experiencing on a daily basis, eight hours a day. We only see the tip of the iceberg of the venality, stupidity and moronic behaviour that “people” come up with.

I have had the experience of the exact same post being accepted and denied around 50% of the time. Moderators have rules, but they also have discretion. Some have clear biases, others are more open minded. In this specific case, it is quite a long post detailing organisations opposing rego for bikes. I now have a shorter post not listing the orgs, but making the same point. If the long post fails, I immediately post the short one.

Recently however I have tried a different tactic. I post the short one, and when some moron questions the veracity, I am justified in posting the details. It’s very effective.

I never ever complain to the moderators about post being deleted. Ever. I wail and moan plenty at the screen, and either give it up, or look at other ways of making the same point.

I take my knocks and gets up again – and I expect to get them. If my posts are not strong, or even controversial points, then I am really wasting everybody’s time. So any personal abuse coming my way is not valid reason to complain.

I have however, on rare occasions requested that moderators delete some of the more vicious posts that get up from time to time. They usually do.

I do occasionally send a thank you note to moderators if it has been a fast and brutal session. I keep these succinct and few and far between. Nobody likes a suck. But the occasional thank you does not go astray and may pay off later down the track when you post something borderline.

Comment management.
If you are commenting a lot, or intending to comment more often, this is essential, otherwise you will end up wasting even more of your precious life rewriting shit that most people are going to ignore anyway.

I write some of my comments in Word, and some “live” online. In either case, I save a copy of almost every comment I write, and now have over 100 such files. Some never resurface, whilst others get re-used or recycled many many times. If you have a comment that you feel is good, but keeps getting rejected, it can be edited until it becomes acceptable, and then used. If the morons keep making the same stupid responses, you can edit to pull the rug out before they can speak.

Comment style.
I cannot emphasise this point enough:

What is your real goal here? You are trying to make a point that will change peoples’ attitudes. You cannot change the attitudes of most of the morons on the comments columns. They are morons. But you do have the opportunity to influence the way people think about the issue at hand. You also have the opportunity to show up the morons for the morons that they are.
And you will never know how effective or ineffective you have been at that.

However if you start getting lots of ad hominem attacks you are being effective at annoying your morons. Naturally, lacking in any kind of data or logic this is the main recourse for your bog standard dimwit. Don’t take it personally – it’s really a mark of your success.

Set your own style and tone. Do not respond to personal attacks by morons. If you do, you look defensive, and often get drawn into a pointless flame war. And the moron will always win that flame war, because the point is to make you look like just as much a moron, thus undermining the little credibility you have managed to garner over the years.

It is, however, very acceptable to respond to moron attacks on those with whom you agree. Stand up for each other.

Tone is a very personal matter. If you are good at humour that is the best defense against stupidity, narrow-mindedness and all the rest of it. Humour is probably more powerful than facts if you are trying to shift people’s attitudes. Use humour.

Here is a great bit of advice from Sarah Goodyear on tone:
Those encountering bikelash should “be gracious toward your opponents.” Arrogance is not a great tactic, nor is anti-car vitriol.

Facts are great. Do research. Use facts and calmly lay out your points in a simple and clear manner. If you use anecdotes, qualify that with something like: “although this is only an anecdote, it does clarify what the data also shows”. Because the morons use anecdotes like facts, and your goal is to get people to understand that anecdotes are not facts.

YMMV (2) Your Moron May Vary.
Most of the time “questions” from the morons are designed as “gotcha” traps. Be very wary of these. Once you have fallen into a “gotcha” it is almost impossible to extricate yourself with any degree of dignity. Sometimes the questions really are genuine, and do deserve an answer. Once again, facts are our friends here. Answer any questions only with factual material. If you state personal views or vision in these cases you are almost certainly in for a gotcha.

Set the Agenda
Personal views and visions are really good to use too. But use them as agenda setters or  thread starters, not mid-thread. Show people how things could really be. Explain why you say the things you do. Give examples of the really good things cycling does for you, for the city, for others, whatever.

Be idealistic, be naïve, be outrageous, or what the hell, you have nothing to lose, be controversial. This is where you get the morons responding to you, not the other way around, and that puts you in control of the discussion.

One of the main characteristics of the morons is a bitter, cynical, small-minded mentality that thrives on pettiness, that thrives on deliberate misinterpretations and straw man arguments they derive from that misinterpretation. Vision defeats this easily. They may rail and moan and make their ugly little comments, but the fact is that your REAL audience sees that you are the genuine one, and that the morons are the petty ones. Win.

Take the high ground.
ALWAYS always always take the high ground, be it moral, physical or verbal. If someone posts a stupid response to one of your comments, as advised above, you are asking for trouble if you respond back.

But! You CAN start a new thread/comment at the top of the pile, refuting the stupidity on your own terms, and without reference to your previous moron. This puts you back in control, and forces any dimwit to respond to you, placing you in the stronger position, and looking better to your audience.

Rinse and repeat.

Plagiarism is good.
If you see a comment that you like, copy it. Rework it a bit offline into your own style and words and then re-use it. I have sometimes seen my own comments repeated word for word. I see that as a compliment, and a time saver – I don’t have to make that point again myself. We are not at University here, people.

We are, however, dealing in memes. The theory is that memes may evolve by natural selection in a manner analogous to that of biological evolution, through the processes of repetition, variation, mutation, competition, and inheritance, etc. Memes spread through the behavior that they generate in their hosts. Memes that propagate less prolifically may become extinct, while others may survive, spread, and (for better or for worse) mutate. Memes that replicate most effectively enjoy more success, and some may replicate effectively even when they prove to be detrimental to the welfare of their hosts.

“Cyclists do not pay for roads” is a meme. “Cycling is good for a city” is a meme. This is why it is important to maintain high levels of pro-cycling comments in the mainstream media. Our memes are competing for the survival of the fittest,and they do that in the environment of the press, and physically out on the roads. Changing those environments to be more favourable to cyclists means that our memes prosper.

I have posted up a few of what I consider my better comments here. Feel free to peruse, plagiarise, or any other “p” word you can think of.

Likes are good. Even if you do not want to get involved, make a point of “liking” comments. It does matter to the readers, and it’s encouraging to the writers.

Let it go

The news cycle is at best 24 hours, often quicker. It is very rare to have a comments on articles longer than this. Learn to draw a line under it at some point and move on. Commenting is like time travel. You’ll be back all too soon dealing with exactly the same rubbish with a horrific sense of deja vu.

Here’s to a 2015 where anytime there is a “Bikelash” article in the mainstream media, cyclists take the lead in the discussions instead of morons.

Also, this excellent article is worth a read for inspiration.


4 thoughts on “The Commentist Manifesto

  1. Awesome post John. I used to comment on news articles, but found that I was getting too caught up in the back and forth between other ‘commenters’ and myself. Now I just try to adopt a more ‘Zen’ approach…except for YouTube comments…that’s where humanity goes to die.

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