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Amplified Publishing Category

A slice of hope and a side of humour

by Sammy Jones

My work needs to have hope and a sense of humour in order to keep me buoyant, and to take the edge off the everyday-ness of… every day. The sense of humour bit is also probably why I like reading online comment sections so much. I’m a relentless Reddit reader, a Twitter lurker, and a meme collector, and thanks to MSN Messenger, I am just as much a child of chatting on the internet as I am chatting IRL. I owe my love of lurking in social media threads, Reddit threads and forums to knowing more about myself, particularly about my health. There’s a saying – ‘the real gold is in the comments’ – and, in the best online conversations, I think that’s true.

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In all my years of online-ness, though, I have never been an actual, committed commenter. I just watch and read other people’s stuff, like a little internet cockroach on the wall, scribbling down any of the best stuff and copy-pasting it into my notes. I keep my echo chamber nice and echoey too, by only following like-minded people on Twitter, customising my subreddit feed, and limiting which website comment sections I delve into regularly. And so far, in all my years online, I’ve kept myself safe from online abuse because I don’t take part and ‘reveal’ myself – I just watch from afar. At the minute, it just doesn’t seem worth it to me to raise my head over the parapet and start drawing attention to myself on these platforms. I’d rather just look on, even if I feel really strongly about the topic that’s being discussed. That’s very different to how I operate in real life, or in online private chats with friends. I am all about wading in there and having my tuppence worth heard then. But online… with strangers… nah. It doesn’t appeal.

But that’s not very hopeful. And I need hope, as I mentioned, or everything starts to look gross, grim, and grey. I am a curious person, who has big ideas, and loves big chats. I want to be able to feel like I want to participate, as well as spectate, in online discourse. So, I started to think about some of the most toxic and frightening commenting environments I’d noticed in my online travels: ones that are attached to content, like articles on Bristol Live, Money Diaries on Refinery29, and opinion pieces on The Guardian websites. These are all online destinations I’ve read relentlessly for aeons – but I’ve never commented for fear of ‘poking the bear’ and stirring up a potential abuser at worst, or simply wasting my time at best. There has to be loads of us with big opinions but nowhere that feels good to recieve them online. Surely there has to be a better way of doing this, for commenters and publishers.

I want to be able to express my views without fear of either abuse or just boredom, maybe shifting them into something a bit more like real-life conversations.

In conversations with non-commenters like me, and the publishers that host them, I am hoping to find a better way of commenting on the content we consume online. I want to be able to express my views without fear of either abuse or just boredom, maybe shifting them into something a bit more like real-life conversations. I can see just a small bit of how to do that so far, but I am only just starting. When I’m done, I really hope (HOPE!) to have some prototypes for people to play with, which they feel good about chatting within. I’m thinking about identity, safety and technology. And mostly, I’m thinking about hope – with a side of humour.