How to feel safe participating in online communities

Guest post by Dootsiebug

Many of you know Dootsie’s name because she’s one of our more active commenters…. but did you know she used to be a lurker?

dootsiebugActively participating in online communities certainly isn’t for everyone, and it’s definitely important to take care of yourself and do what’s comfortable for you. But I’m going to share my lil’ story. his may not be helpful for anybody, but I thought I’d put it out there in case somebody needed to hear it…

I’m a former Offbeat Empire Lurker. Since I started commenting and participating (including guest posts), my experience has been overwhelmingly positive!

I always have intense insecurity about commenting and “joining” an online community — a fact that would probably surprise some folks around these parts! It’s just so far out of my comfort zone to actively try to be part of a group and I have a lot of anxiety about what I say.

When I first found Offbeat Bride, I was sort of only vaguely thinking about getting married, and I just didn’t feel like I had much to contribute. I noticed that there definitely seemed to be some “regulars,” and the commenting policy honestly scared me a little. I was afraid I was going to hurt some feelings or have nothing of value to say–which I assumed would be annoying and unwanted.

I was really wrong about that.

At very least, just saying “This wedding is a stunner” makes the people involved feel good, and everyone here supports that. I’ve had questions answered that I never would’ve even asked anywhere else… and I’ve answered some of those sorts of questions, too. And yeah, I’ve made some friends!

And in the interest of full-disclosure, I’ve made some comments that didn’t sit well with some people, and I’ve had comments deleted. But by and large, commenters on the Empire are so respectful and I’m so aware of the moderation end that I came away from each situation a little more informed.

And I feel like that’s why it’s been so easy for me to go from Lurker to Commenter — I know that pretty much every person sitting in the comment section wants me, and everyone else, to succeed and be heard! That’s pretty gosh-darn awesome.

I do get overwhelmed sometimes with the connectedyness of it all, so when that happens… I just take a break from commenting for a while. And there’s no pressure to get back into the swing of participating (which happens a lot on forums, I’ve noticed).

Anyway, all of this to say… I’d love to hear from you if you ever do comment, but we’re all glad you’re out there, either way.

Comments on How to feel safe participating in online communities

  1. Commenting is definitely something I’ve been trying to do more of on the Empire. I felt like I was pretty involved on OBB and the Tribe when I was wedding planning, but then I got married and diagnosed with depression and feel off the radar!

    I love the community on the Empire and this is really one of the only websites that I actually still feel sane after reading the comments. I know the moderation from the staff and self-moderation from the community helps a lot with that. Even if I’m not commenting on every post, I am reading them and the comments.

    My biggest issue with commenting is that I feel like someone else has already said what I wanted to say, so why waste space if someone else has already expressed the thoughts I had? That’s when the “THIS!” button comes in super handy!

    • I have bipolar disorder and a generalized anxiety disorder, and I feel like mental health conditions definitely play a role in commenting. I’m very sensitive and when I had a comment deleted off of Offbeat Families I felt really guilty for having put something insensitive out there in such a progressive and loving community. And the anxiety makes it difficult for me to engage in posts where there are a lot of comments – for some reason my anxiety gets triggered in comment-a-thons and while watching longer YouTube videos. I feel like a good solution is to set goals… “I’m going to comment on one of the three posts that Offbeat Home/Bride/Empire puts out daily, even if it’s just a ‘great article’ type of post”. Also, I find that following the comments via e-mail is more helpful than trying to wade through a big list of comments – getting them delivered to my inbox is much more manageable.

    • I totally LOVE the THIS! button, but I just want to say that I rarely feel like a comment is a waste of space (the most notable exceptions would be commenting with simply “I like this”, “THIS^” or pointing out a typo, only because the Empire has provided us ways to do all of those things in other ways!) Obviously, if you feel like you’re just repeating something that’s already been said, a THIS! will do the trick. But even if you have a small thing to add to what the person before you said, go ahead and say it! This goes double for comments that are really far down in the post–those sometimes don’t get enough love.
      I feel strongly about leaving comments on posts that you really like, but that don’t have a lot of comments. A comment is like a vote for a post. It lets the Empire staff know “Hey, this is the sort of thing I like to see.” Plus, it gives warm fuzzies to the person who wrote the thing. If a post isn’t getting a ton of action and you wish it were, even leaving a little “Thanks for writing this” or “I really love this sort of post” would be really helpful!

  2. I’ve been trying to comment more but it hasn’t happened too too much. I “this” a lot of things bc my comment was stated by someone else. sometimes I feel like I’m not off-beat enough but then I realize heck I must be somewhat offbeat I’m reading this daily afterall! I do love reading comments; it’s what makes a great article just outta this world!
    are there profiles for commenters and I just never noticed? I’m on a phone so I overlook or miss a bit here and there. just a place to put a quick blurb about yourselves.

    • The Empire uses Gravatar! People who have custom pictures beside their names go to a little profile page. If you comment using your Gravatar email address, you can have one, too.
      Folks whose names are blue have listed their personal website when they commented. Click that to see their site!

      • With as much as I comment (for better or worse, I suppose), I really should get on the Gravatar wagon.

        I love the “THIS!” button! Also, I always feel super-guilty when I look back at a post a few hours after commenting and realize that I basically said the same thing that someone else had already said, as I feel like it’s as bad as not really listening in a conversation. Maybe I have more posting anxiety than I thought. I feel equally guilty when I leave a super-long comment, but I’m just not a very concise writer. Still, I think occasionally other readers find my comments interesting/useful…or I hope they do…

        • In this context, I think long comments are fine because usually it’s just that the poster has a lot to say. Also I’m always happy to see that I’m not the only long-winded commenter out there! So forget your anxiety – long commenters unite! πŸ˜‰

          PS: Sometimes I think I should do the gravitar thing, but I don’t want the connection to other comments or what-have-you on the web because the stuff I share here tends to be more personal.

          • You need an alias email address! You can set up a new gmail address to forward to your real email and set up a gravatar page with the alias. Boom, photo.

          • Yep, you can totally register multiple email addresses to one gravatar account. This would mean, for example, that when you comment on Offbeat Home using enigma1@hotmail, we would see a star avatar, and when you comment on using enigma2@gmail, they would see a heart avatar. I totally different avatars for commenting on Empire blogs vs. other blogs.

      • oh I just always thought people with pictures were extra special. thanks! I’ll get on that! bc clearly I’m extra special too and I deserve a picture. ooooh.

  3. Offbeat Empire is one of the few online communities I comment on. The atmosphere is so positive that it’s actually pretty easy to join in!

    You said it perfectly, “I know that pretty much every person sitting in the comment section wants me, and everyone else, to succeed and be heard! That’s pretty gosh-darn awesome.”

    I also take breaks from commenting for periods of time. Also, sometimes I don’t have anything to add, or the article doesn’t really relate to me, and that’s ok too! I’m still out there….watching….. >__>

  4. Just yesterday I waffled about commenting here. I tend to write something out and then delete it before publishing it because I feel like it’s already been said, my opinion isn’t valuable in this instance, or that it’s just stupid. It happens more when I stop and think too much. Just gotta comment quick and get out before that ‘delete’ button starts looking mighty fine.


  5. I tout OBE’s “no-drama commenting policy” in almost every online group I am part of b/c it is, frankly, awesome. I’ve had some push-back that it’s “censorship” but as the policy goes “thank goodness it’s a great big internet out there!”

    • Yes, this and the fact that thankfully, for the most part, people don’t use those insanely difficult to follow acronyms! (I believe there was a discussion about that in a recent article, but I don’t remember which post or whether it was part of Offbeat Home or an old article from Offbeat Families that recently popped up on Facebook.) I read some baby-related message boards and they literally give me a headache at times, trying to decipher what people are trying to say, among all of the acronyms, slang, typos, and auto-correct errors!

    • I hate the “censorship” argument against online community moderation. If you walked into a party/cafe/community meeting and started being rude to all the other people there, the person in charge would tell you to go and exercise your freedom of speech elsewhere. If you regularly held parties at which people showed up to insult everyone else, pretty quickly the trolls would be the only people still coming to the parties. Why do people think the internet is different?

      It’s ridiculous to claim that your freedom of speech is being censored when it is free and easy to set up your own twitter or blog on which you can say whatever you want without someone else moderating it. Freedom of speech doesn’t give you the right to say whatever you want in the comments on other people’s blogs any more than it gives you the right to scrawl your views in library books.

      • Annnd… I’m going to bookmark this response so that I can save myself some typing and just copy and paste it everywhere. Except in library books, of course πŸ™‚

      • Haha, I recently spent some time erasing someone else’s views that were scrawled in one of my library books! It was a mystery novel, and they took issue with how some of the procedures were handled. I was getting mad as I erased, not so much because they wrote in the book, but because the author had already addressed the details they were calling out as inconsistencies. Geez, pay attention, Book-Vandal! Fortunately I received a brand-new, clean eraser as a stocking-stuffer at Christmas… πŸ˜›

  6. I lurked for YEARS without posting. What brought me out from the shadows was becoming a patron of OBH&L suddenly feeling like I truly belonged here. Now I find that I’m commenting regularly!

    For everyone who said that they don’t comment because what they want to say has already been said, I remember a post from Ariel about the business side of OBE. For ad or sponsor revenue, they look at the # of comments, not the # of likes. (I could be wrong and this could be just for OBB.)

    So even if you’re agreeing, it brings in the $$ to state your agreement which keeps OBH&L profitable which keeps Ariel able to continue the page/business which makes all of us very happy!!!!

  7. The OBE sites are pretty much the only place on the internet I feel like I can even read the comments. I mean, seriously, have you ever read the comments on youtube or even other “offbeat” sites such as jezebel or xojane? The overwhelming level of snark, derision, judgement, and just flat out cruel trolling that is the norm on most other website with a commenter community is enough to make me swear off ever reading any comments anywhere. I really really appreciate the efforts of the moderators on the OBE sites, I can’t imagine the stuff they have to weed out.

    I used to be very active in online communities in my teenage years (in the AIM Messenger/AOL era) but since then college and full time jobs made me less active. I am trying to be more active on here in commenting and I’ve had a positive experience so far. I don’t even bother with the rest of the internet, except maybe food sites to discuss recipe tweaks :p

    • I totally agree that the Offbeat Empire is the only website where I feel like I can read the comments. Occasionally I’ll read a page worth of comments on some other site, and when I get to the end, I think “why did I just do that to myself? My brain feels dirty.” But here, I get to the bottom of the comments and always find that I understand the original article better, gained some insight into a lifestyle I have no experience with, or came out with several extra tips that the main article didn’t include. So awesome.

    • Oh amen to this.
      The OBE sites and the New York Times online are the only places I’ll read comments.
      Sometimes I’m forced to read comments looking for technical solutions but even those — even tech-based websites — can be a minefield.

    • On YouTube, it actually greatly depends on the channel. There are some (notably the Vlogbrothers and many of their associated channels, such as Crash Course and Sexplanations) that have done remarkably well at creating a non-vitriolic commenting community. Not to say they don’t get the occasional troll, but the community is pretty good at down-voting those.

  8. I commented a shit-ton over on Families, but comment less on Home because a) I’m on my phone a lot more and Swyping a comment just takes way too long, and b) I start to feel overwhelmed by things and think ‘whoa, that’s cool,’ but can’t seem to form an intelligible comment worth posting!

    • Yeah, just want to mention that I find it infinitely practical that you can choose how you want to post each time. I almost always use this same nickname, but I know that if I want to be especially incognito, I can without creating a whole new profile or something like that.

      • I also love the ability to either be publicly myself (as I am now), or to hide behind whatever degree of anonymity I need for my comfort level β€” there are certain things that I don’t want my potential future clients, in-laws, conservative aunt, or whomever to see, but would like to contribute to the conversation, so then I won’t use my Gravatar email address, and I may use a different name depending how sensitive the topic is.

  9. I’ve been active in online communities since, uh, the early ’90s on Usenet. But I really tapered off in the past 5-ish years in public forums for a wide variety of reasons – privacy, flamewar entanglements, a stint at comment moderation in one of my jobs, etc. I’m more selective now. This is one of most public places I find worth commenting on. The tone is respectful yet still interesting, & I don’t mind using my real name here πŸ™‚

  10. I’m usually a lurker before I comment, especially on blogs like OBE. I was a super lurker before I started posting, and even then, I only post when I feel particularly strongly about a subject or have something new to contribute to the conversation. This is mostly because I have a bit of anxiety about bothering people and don’t want to feel like I’m sticking my nose where it doesn’t belong. I almost never add comments to posts I reblog on Tumblr, and I am a habitual liker rather than commenter on Facebook. I can say that this article definitely has helped me feel a bit more comfortable about commenting on OBE, as well as the article a while back about comments helping to keep the Empire going via ads and stuff.

    • Okay, yes. Thank you. Can we talk about this photo for a minute?
      Behind the scenes gossip: Caroline Tweeted at me that she was “in stitches” over the photo for the submission she was copyediting. Not only did I have no memory of any such article, but I definitely didn’t submit a photo.
      I begged and got one cryptic hint from Catherine: mustache. I still had no idea and I was sure I would die of anticipation before the article posted. It’s been like a week, guys!
      Well, here we are. I laughed for like ten minutes when I saw it. Perfection.
      Remember kids: when you have a mustache, a hoodie and a pair of (3D) glasses in the same place, you must take a photo, post it to your Tumblr, then immediately forget it exists so that it can reappear and taunt you with its silliness.

      • Just saw that photo on Facebook again, and it cracked me up again… No offence to the writing, but that photo may just be the best part of this post. It is truly excellent.

  11. I’ve always wanted to be less of a lurker, but, for me, it’s hard to get past feeling like that unless I have something super witty or super intelligent to add what’s the point. So, most comments are left to die in the comment box. Or, like this one, I take so long editing it so I don’t sounds whiny, or angry, or giggle-hair-flipy, that I typically just throw in towel. . . or throw my mouse across the room.

    But if it could help the Empire and get me out from the lurker corner, I’m gonna try!!

    “Damn the man, save the Empire”- Mark from Empire records.

  12. Hi there, long time lurker, extremely infrequent commenter. I’m an introvert, so I have to feel like I really have something of value to add before I comment. I read a lot of comments here though, and always enjoy it. It’s one of the only places where I feel safe even reading comments. On almost any other site, I instantly regret doing so. Also, I tend to read posts via Feedly while I’m taking a bit of a breather at work, and don’t have much time to comment after that and never remember to later. Excuses, excuses…

  13. I lurked Offbeat Bride for a while before I became engaged, then I joined the tribe and didn’t do much on the blog. I lurked Offbeat Families until it stopped posting new content, and I (simultaneously) lurked here before becoming an involved commenter (I didn’t realize how involved I’d become until my name showed up just under Dootsie Bug’s on Offbeat Home’s annual analytics report). I don’t know what really brought me out of my shell in the first place, but the first time I had a guest-post published definitely reinforced the “commenting supports the community” feeling β€” when my post went up, I was obsessively checking to see if people had commented. Sure, I still don’t comment on every post β€” some just aren’t as relevant to me β€” but I try to show other posters some love. Even if you don’t have much to say, comments make posters feel loved. Share the love!

  14. This very comment is actually one of those “Long time lurker, first time commenter” posts referenced above. I’ve just “come out” publicly as an author (if your goal is publication, you kind of need to let people know you exist), but I struggle with fear of judgment. Like so many of the other commenters here, I often feel like I shouldn’t bother posting unless I have something really clever to say. Setting goals, like Aurora suggests, has been really helpful for me.

  15. I hardly comment on things ever, but I love to read comments, especially on the Empire. In fact I’ll often go back to a post several times in a day just to see all the new comments. I am trying to comment more often, and maybe I will do more now that I am moving into a more settled phase of my life and so OBH posts will become more relevant. Part of my problem (and it is my problem, not the site’s) is that I feel distanced from some of the content, whether it’s by actual distance (not being US-based) or time (by the time I get to the post, the discussion has often played out) or by life stage.

    I can absolutely recommend submitting something to the site, though. I submitted an advice question a few months back and it was a wonderful and affirming decision. Following that I was much more ready to comment on things and hopefully this year I will be commenting a lot more. And of course I will continue to read all the things.

  16. I was on the job hunt when I started commenting, so creating a separate name from by usual handle helped me to feel more comfortable commenting. I think a lot of my reluctance came from watching the supposed “special snowflake syndrome” play out in the Tribe. My beliefs run the gamut from “sitting with a fence pole up my ass”, to extreme, to offensive and after watching several Tribe member belittle and berate another on her post (after repeated warnings from the moderators) I lost my interest in commenting anywhere. The Tribe is 99% of the time so welcoming of everyone, that seeing the hatin’ on there makes it seem 10x worse.

    My current job is essentially putting out fires caused by other people not doing their jobs, so I spend most of my time dealing with angry and irritated people. I have little interest in being berated by random people on the internet (especially when I can’t do anything to correct the problem). I’m working on being more active, but I still only post 20% of the comments I start or plan to write.

    It might get better once I have time to submit a few articles and get the feeling of being on the other side. Until then, it’s a work in progress!

    …And now I’m gonna hit ‘Leave Comment’ before I over edit and delete this comment πŸ™‚

    • Joining the tribe was kind of like seeing behind the curtain at Oz for me. Much less moderated and much more human (for better or for worse) than the blogs. I try to accept that fact, but I’ve seen some posts went the way you described and I can totally commiserate on how it feels worse there than other places on the Internet.

  17. Excellent post, Dootsie. ( Or should I say, excellent comment. πŸ˜‰ )

    I can’t remember how exactly I transitioned from lurker to commenter but I do know that my first comments came from a intense desire to support whoever wrote the post or was the subject of the post. Like a SUPER-THIS: “That dress is gorgeous! I had the same experience! Ha ha that’s so funny!” A little more pointed than a generic thumbs up but not revealing. The calf but not the thigh.I wasn’t trying to add to the conversation or be funny. I just wanted to make that person feel good. And you know what? If I never made any other comments, it would be enough to make me feel good.

    So, dear Lurker, if you’re thinking about popping your comment cherry here, just hand out a compliment.

    Hey and bonus points if you manage to offend too!
    “Jesus Fucking Christ that rhino horn growing out of your forehead is the BOMB-DIGGITY!!”

    • “BOMB-DIGGITY”?!? Damn, it’s a good thing its a Friday and I have all weekend to watch the entire ‘Bring It On’ saga. Thanks @KathyRo πŸ˜›

  18. Even though I am not the target demographic, I’ve always felt it was important to chime in when I could. I mean, I was offbeat before many in this community were born [insert granny face here]. So, even though I’m not among the target age bracket, I have a lot to contribute and I do so, if for no other reason than to show support for a topic or offer up my, ahem, vast experience.

    I think this community is a wonderful place to share, but I know not everyone is as cognizant of feelings as they should be, so I am a huge supporter of the comment policy, too. Still, there have been times when someone (full disclosure: it’s happened to me and I’m still a little bruised by it, to be honest) has asked a question about a post and others in the community have swooped in to slap the hand of the curious (or confused). Heck, in my case, I was slapped for just admitting I was “curious”. Maybe I am misunderstanding the point of commenting, but I think comments are for sharing ideas, not closing them.

    Being an offbeat community, there are often subjects written about that aren’t necessarily common knowledge. Even members who are offbeat themselves may not have heard of another’s particular brand of offbeat and thus may not have any experience with or, perhaps, even thought about the topic before, so a question is asked. That’s the point when people should check their discomfort. If you have something to say to contribute to understanding, do it! But, if you are peeved that someone has asked a question about your lifestyle, perhaps your defensiveness needs offline exploration. I mean, sometimes a question might be asked in the comments section that makes the community uncomfortable, I guess. But, frankness doesn’t equate to judgment. I know I just said this, but I think it’s important: If there is discomfort involved, maybe the judgement isn’t coming from the person asking the question.

    Perhaps it’s just the wonderful editing, but I really can’t recall a time when I thought a question was truly out of line. Maybe I just have fuzzy memory. I hope people continue to be curious about lifestyles they’re in as well as those they are not.

  19. I want to take this post as an opportunity to thank you for not introducing commenting via Facebook like other blogs have.

    I have a policy of not commenting on blogs that use Facebook for comments because I don’t want every comment I make on a blog to show up on my Facebook wall nor do I wish to wrestle with Facebook’s settings to prevent that from happening. I also have a quite distinctive surname and I don’t want anyone who Googles me to know every blog I read and comment on. I’ve written on other blogs’ reader surveys ‘I will never comment on your blog as long as commenting is only via Facebook’.

    • I totally agree. Aside from the fact that most “comment with Facebook” widgets are just disorganized as hell (I LOVE the layout of the comments on these sites!!!) I think that anonymity/pseudonymity is pretty essential to a lot of the discussion that happens on the Empire. I’d be a bit more hesitant to comment in some spots and I’m sure others would shy away from it entirely.
      Plus… nobody wants to be Rita.

      • All the this! I read a parenting blog who has cross-posted stuff on Offbeat Families, and I left a comment revealing some personal information that I normally wouldn’t mind floating around on the internet. I had blogged about this topic previously and posted links to the blog on Facebook, so I had assumed the item in question was common knowledge at this point. But because of the way the viewing system was set up, I had two family members confront me on the issue who normally would not have said anything if the topic had been just left to my blogging. It wasn’t until I realized that the comment I left on that site had been posted through Facebook that I started being more careful about the comments I leave on blogs.

  20. Thanks for sharing this, Dootsie! Also, your photo is fantastic.

    I’ve been trying to move out of my longtime lurker status by placing nuggets of heartfelt praise on posts I love. It’s easier to do when I remember that the Empire needs our comments!

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