No comment

I had an epiphany the other night and so embarked on a little initiative: to eliminate commenting from the networks where I contribute media. I realized that a very easy way to get rid of negativity or at least limit people’s exposure to it, is to eliminate comments. Or just disallow them altogether. I was so excited about the idea.

I was less excited a short while later when I realized how difficult it is to live a life online without comment. To actually turn off comments on sites. We’ve evolved into a society that encourages dialogue. Lots of it. Everywhere. In some places, I think it has been beneficial. In a lot of places, it’s not. And it’s not necessary. One clear example of where it is a ridiculous idea: Youtube.

We’ve been made to believe that comments are awesome. That feedback is awesome. That everything everyone says has some value. No. Or in the word of Dwight Shrute, “False!”

As soon as I realized that I could easily shut out the negativity spreading to me and others, I set about disabling comments everywhere (except Facebook which I use exclusively and privately with my friends). First up, Youtube. Not that I’ve ever gotten a lot of feedback on any of the channels I’ve had there. But Youtube is easy. Just check the box, “don’t allow comments.” And wow, look at that, no comments! If I were a popular channel, that would be the first thing I would do.

No stupid bickering among strangers, causing their blood pressure to rise. No homophobic slurs. No idiotic tirades about this religion or another. No obscenely racist-filled comments. No creepy pervs. Just none of it. Out of sight, out of mind. No influence on individuals or groups.

Next came Flickr. And Flickr is, without question, where I get an avalanche of comments. And it’s not that they’re that bad. But they are, largely, worthless comments that add nothing to any dialogue. It is very rare to receive constructive criticism or positive feedback of note. It’s just that it’s… meaningless.

There is one particular fellow who (and I DO appreciate that he takes the time to visit my work) must have notepad open on his computer with one sentence typed in. Because he has copied and pasted that exact sentence, in Italian, across a countless number of my photos and videos. Sometimes, he adds a couple of extra words. I finally just stopped going to Google to translate the extra words. Because those two extra words aren’t going to start a dialogue.

I had another fellow get irritated with me, leaving a comment expressing his frustration with me, because I didn’t respond to a question he had asked me at some point. I never saw the question he posted. Because by the time I got around to reviewing comments and group invites around the time he had posted, his question was buried. And now he’s going to come back all passive-aggressive on me and insult me? WTF? Why do I need to deal with this? I don’t. All I’m doing is sharing photos. If you like them, great. You could even buy a print if you wanted. 🙂

Most of the comments I receive on Flickr are worthless. And sometimes crude. Like, “She’s gorgeous!” Or, “Playful expression!” Or, “Sexy toes!” Or, “I’d love to <fill in sexual act here>!” Or the one I find particularly annoying, “You’re soooo hot,” believing they’re addressing the subject in the photo and not me, the photographer. I almost always respond to those comments with a level of snarkiness that matches my mood at the time.

Very rarely any longer do the comments have to do with the photos or videos themselves. Or they are two-word comments that I’ve seen 1,000 times. Like, “Great DoF” just doesn’t do it for me. I’m glad you like it. It truly does please me that you like the photo. But don’t bother typing it. And it’s not because I’m cocky. Because I’m not. It’s just that there is no dialogue to exchange. I can’t elaborate on that. It’s ridiculous to say thank you to every comment. Though I DOOOOOOO thank you. Always, I am grateful that you like the photo. It’s just…. nothing. And perhaps there is a really thoughtful comment that is getting buried under a sea of two-word comments.

Unfortunately, due to a bug with Flickr, I’m not able to successfully turn off commenting on my photos. Everyone else seems to be able to. But I have tried in vain numerous times to disallow commenting. It never respects my choices even though the options say that my settings have been saved. Never. I need to contact customer support.

My last stop on this plan to eliminate worthless and harmful dialogue was 500px. I haven’t been overly familiar with their system since I’ve only recently started contributing somewhat regularly. So it took me a while to learn that 500px has absolutely NO way to turn off comments. In fact, they entirely encourage feedback. 500px is another popularity contest site. Guess what, 500px? I don’t want feedback. Users can “vote” and favorite photos all they want. They could send me a private message or email if they wanted and we could have a dialogue about something or other, but you don’t give me an option to turn off the noise. The senseless, useless noise.

In lieu of them not providing a feature, I went through my 500px account the other night and deleted every comment left by others. The account isn’t that large or too popular yet so it didn’t take an excessive amount of time to delete comments. With Flickr, that would take an absurd amount of time, deleting each comment one by one. So for now, I’m still letting people comment however they want. Ideally, I think I would just prefer to hear the feedback from the people I’ve marked as contacts.


Honestly (and I’m lucky this way, I think), it really is rare that anyone verbally assaults my work. And honestly, too, the horribly rude comments that sometimes appear are almost never directed at my work but usually directed toward the appearance of the subject. I used to have a notice posted on my profile on Flickr stating that I would block people who were rude or vulgar. The people that left such comments never actually read that, though. Or paid attention to it. I actually had someone leave a comment the other night on one of my photos wherein they simply talked about how, according to them, fake boobs were awful, how the model in the photo had destroyed her looks, how she was so much prettier before, and ended it by saying “Yuk.”


What kind of person does that? And why would I want to listen to such idiotic nonsense? Why should I let others read your hate-filled tirade? I don’t want to engage in dialogue with this person! That seems like a horrible idea.

And the Lightbulb moment occurs.

Make the problem non-existent and then you’re blissfully unaware of what cretins, morons, and negative people have to say. You don’t remove their voice, but take them out of earshot of you. They can stand over there on the other side of the playground, yelling, stomping, getting all red in the face. And I can see them. And I can wave at them and say hello. They’ll never hear me say hello. But, too, I won’t hear them. Nor will anyone close to me. I won’t get a notion in my head about them. Ahhhhhhh. Peace.

Do it.

Like I said, dialogue is good in certain places, I believe. But it’s too easy to believe that it’s ALL good. I would encourage others, if you haven’t, to consider the notion of turning off comments. Or limiting them.

I monitor the comments here, of course. This is my private island. And as I said at the start, all are welcome to come. But leave the negativity elsewhere.

About the Author

Hello, I'm Scott. I take photos. Do things. Whatnot. Mixed Digital Media Artist.

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Comment ( 1 )

  • FipsSep 24, 2012


    No, but seriously I can understand where you’re coming from. And it’s quite a weird issue, at heart. This culture of allowing feedback is very much tied to the web’s development: originally, it enabled Joe Public to publish to the world from the comfort of his own home, but not to receive any feedback, unless he’d been open enough to leave his email address, and his visitors wily enough to find and use it.

    That wasn’t much of a solution, however, so people started finding ways to enable commenting, from such arcane methods as guestbooks or early forums, through to today’s sites with their myriad ways of commenting, curating, favouriting, liking, sharing etc. And I think we’ve all bought into that: most content publishers like yourself love hearing at least some feedback, and a lot of consumers genuinely do want to be able to give some acknowledgement to the authors, even if it is just to drop two words and say “You’re brilliant!”

    But that does create a problem, and I completely agree with a lot of what you’ve said. YouTube is the perfect example, I’ve never seen such cesspools of drivel all collected together in one place. And it’s not that there aren’t any genuinely useful or thoughtful comments, it’s simply that they’re buried under tonnes of numbing guff (and the layout of the site really doesn’t help here). Flickr is a bit more hit-and-miss: some really talented photographers go completely uncommented, whilst others collect pages and pages of pointless rubbish, with each and every photograph, regardless of merit, garnering dozens of empty ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’.

    I’m not sure I agree with your solution, but nor am I sitting in your position. Given that I rarely got comments anyway, most entries on my own blog are locked, since I found I was only spending time deleting spam, especially on older entries. But as a ‘consumer’ I always find it a shame when I’m enable to let the author know my thoughts, even if it’s only to add a thumbs up, or say how impressed I am with something. You’re right, it adds nothing to the dialogue, it’s empty, trivial. But for me it’s like the audience in the theatre, whose only expression at the end of the performance is to make some noise with their hands. I think I’d be happiest if there were some way of keeping the applause, without simultaneously drowning out the real critics.

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