The Dangerous Nature of WordPress Comments (And What I’ve Learned)

When it comes to posts like this, I often deliberate for weeks on whether or not I should write them because of the various discussions that it will inevitably cause and the blowback that can occur can often times be exhausting (even if it’s deserved).

But that’s not this kind of post. This is a retrospective of my own mistakes, my apologies, and what I’ve learned about moving forward in certain types of situations. More on that in a moment.

Right about now is when the defenses start to go up. Please don’t go into this post with that attitude as it’s not at all about anyone or anything but me. If you already feel like you’re on the defense, take a look at this cool picture taken at River Street in Savannah, Georgia.

Once you’ve calmed down, keep reading :).

River Street in Savannah, Georgia
River Street in Savannah, Georgia

Okay so before I write any more, don’t get me wrong: Discussions in and of themselves are generally good things to have (except when they go south, but that’s common sense, right?), but right now it appears that WordPress is in a volatile state with regard to various opinions, perspectives, and so on.

Those who follow along with blogs, Twitter, and the like know what I’m talking about. People are being harassed, people are being disrespected, and – for some – it’s more about trying to make a point than it is trying to listen to the points other people are making.

Such an incredible bummer, isn’t it? It’s beyond that, really, but words fail me here.

This should go without saying, but WordPress is representative of many different people of all different walks of life and rather than use that diversity as a way to better ourselves and to grow as people, some are using it as a platform to continually argue points that aren’t productive.

Thus far, I don’t think I’ve said anything new. In fact, I’m talking more about other people than I am myself and, for this particular post, I wanted to actually talk a little bit about myself.

Specifically, I want to talk about:

  • The mistakes I’ve made,
  • The things I’ve learned,
  • And how I’m trying to get better all thanks to the people who I’ve met through WordPress.

So here goes.

The Dangerous Nature of WordPress Comments

Back in July, I wrote a post that resulted in more comments on any single post that I’ve written in as long as I can remember. I reluctantly link to this post because I don’t want it to spur anymore tweets (it can’t cause anymore comments because I closed them) or any #wpdrama. Honestly, I’m not interested and we don’t need it.

Bottom line: If I’m tweeted about that post, I’m ignoring it so please don’t bother.

Anyway, as far as the number of comments are concerned, this is the type of problem that many people would love to have. But in terms of the quality of the comments, I didn’t and I don’t think many would.

I recognize, though, that I’ve no one to blame but myself and I accept that.

First, the entire point of the post was to share the perspective that I have about WordPress and where we currently are. Then I wanted to talk about the good parts, the bad parts, and how we could move forward from certain things.

Unfortunately, the comments not only missed the entire point of the article, they devolved into an embarrassing discussion – and I use that term loosely – that demonstrated exactly the problems that I was talking about in the post. Some may call that poetic irony. I call it sad.

And I should’ve done a better job moderating. From this point forward, I certainly will. Lesson learned, hindsight’s 20/20, and all of those cliches that actually do mean something, right?

Words Can Be Our Strongest Weapons

Throughout the comments, there was misogyny, disrespect, rude statements, and so on. And I let that go on far longer than I should’ve. I know that.

Luckily, I have some really smart friends in WordPress who were not only holding me accountable, but they were willing to listen to my questions, and were willing to actually talk with me about some of this stuff to help me understand how things could’ve been better handled. In fact, there were even people involved in WordPress that I’ve never met whom I spoke with via Twitter, as well.

Many of you know who you are – so thanks!

Point being: This goes to reiterate how great people can be in the middle of something that’s nasty (even if it’s your doing).

To be clear…

  • I let the comments go on for far longer than I should have.
  • I should have done a better job at moderating comments.
  • I apologized to a number of different people – some of whom I know and respect, some whom I don’t know (and may never know).
  • I listened to suggestions and critiques that others had about what was good, what was bad, and how to move forward and I took it all to heart and have been thinking about it since.

All in all, I’d say that despite rough patch through which the events unfolded, I was able to take all of that and hopefully become a better community member, friend, blogger, and all of that good stuff.

And that’s a good thing, isn’t it? Just like I quoted in the original post (from Chris):

WordPress will change your life, if you let it.

That doesn’t mean that only the software will change your life, but the people, as well. Community can genuinely help you become a better person.

Words Can Be Our Peace Keepers

What about things that have gone down since then? Or, in other words, what about things that are continuing to happen that have always happened but are now seen through a different lens or through a different perspective?

Personally, I’ve been quietly observing a lot of the various discussions, behaviors, and so on that’s been going happening with WordPress. This isn’t to imply that I’ve been studying people like some sorta lab rats – give me a break. That’s pretentious.

What I’m saying is that I’ve just been trying to be more of a quiet observer and thinking through how I’d handle those situations were they to be happening on my doorstep (perhaps at a WordCamp presentation be it mine or a peer’s, on Twitter, on my blog, etc.).

I’ve also witnessed what leadership looks like in the face of some seriously problematic issues (that are irrelevant for this particular post). It’s an admirable thing. I think that when you see something happen like this, let the person who’s done a good job know that you respect them for it – be it via email or Twitter or whatever.

Just let them know.

There is leadership in WordPress. When you find yourself disagreeing with it, ask why. When you answer that, ask why again. Then continue that process until you get to the root of the problem.

If it’s something that’s a serious problem with leadership, then maybe it’s time for a discussion. Or maybe it’s time for a paradigm shift of your own. It depends on the issue, but we shouldn’t be quick to jump to conclusions.

Take time to think through it. Not everything has to move at the speed of the Internet. Nor should it.

We Can Better Ourselves (But It’s Hard)

I know I’ve spoken a lot about myself in this post. Sometimes people chalk that up as narcissism or arrogance and I don’t mean to be either of those things.

Instead, I’m trying to provide more of a retrospective of my experience that intended to be positive but resulted in blowback and how I wanted to grow as a person from that – and how I hope this can serve as help for others, too.

From there, I’ve had some great discussions with some really good people all of whom have varying backgrounds, views, politics, beliefs – whatever you want to throw into the mix. And you know what? They’re all good people.

I’m excited because I get to meet some of these very same people at an upcoming WordCamp for the first time despite actually interacting with them on Twitter for years.

But that’s what happens when you give good people permission to speak to you – they will hold you accountable for your actions, your words, and your choices. As much as it might suck in the moment, it’s a great thing long term.

So if you find yourself going through a discussion, a debate, or whatever else it is that you could possibly be going through, sometimes the best thing to do is to be quiet and listen, then ask questions to get further clarification and understanding.

I can’t even share how many neat articles, books, and other resources have been shared with me since diligently trying to be a friend (or advocate or whatever word you want to use – whatever works best within the context of online communities).

It’s been really cool and it’s been worth it and I urge those of you who try to spend more time convincing other people why they are wrong to spend time listening to them and evaluating if maybe you’re wrong. And we all should be doing this.

We can’t be right all the time; we can’t be wrong all the time. (Well, maybe we can but I hope not.)

Sometimes you won’t be, sometimes you will be. And if it’s in the latter case, use it as an opportunity to get better – it’s so much better that way.

Coda

I’d feel as if I was shortchanging this post if I didn’t mention the fact that sometimes it’s okay just to keep quiet. There are times in which we need to step in, there are times in which we have no place participating in something that’s happening.

Assuming you’re tuned into conversation in its entirety and have all of the context necessary, then you’ll know whether or not you should be participating in the conversation or not.

But please don’t jump into the middle of something that’s lacking a lot of context – and I’m not just talking to you, but to myself, as well. That usually results in more damage than anything else and that’s the last thing we need. It works against any progress being made.

Many of the people in WordPress are very strong, independent thinkers, and they are smart people who are great at holding their own. There’s no need to “white knight” (to use a phrase from a friend) the situation.

Be mature in how you handle conversations and acknowledge that the people that you’re talking to on the other side of the web have their convictions – however right or wrong they may be – and respond accordingly.

But, above all else, be open to the idea that maybe you are wrong (for whatever reason, we don’t like to do that), then take the steps necessary to learn why, and to try to course correct.

It will make for better future encounters, better discussions, and for more maturity.