Don’t read the comments.

Good advice, or just a pile of rubbish?

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Don’t read the comments.

Don’t read the comments…I’ve heard this so many times! So is it good advice or just a pile of rubbish? Let’s discuss…

I think people who say “don’t read the comments” are missing the point of the internet.

Would you turn up to a party, give a big speech telling everyone what you think, and then ignore every person in the room?

That’s rude.

It’s human nature to want to feel like our time is well spent, that we’ve been seen, we’ve been acknowledged, our message has been heard. You’d probably like it if your boss said you did a good job today. It’s human nature to make things and to want to feel like there was a point to making those things.

So if people posting work on digital platforms don’t read the comments, how are they going to feel seen and heard?

I want to feel like my time has been well spent, and audience feedback is a big part of that. As a musician playing live in-person shows for about 25 years, I got used to pretty immediate, pretty honest feedback.

Did you applaud or not? Did you come and say hello and buy a CD after the show or not? Did you shout in my face, talk all over my performance and spill beer over my merch table on purpose or not? 

You know who you are!

Likes and comments are digital applause. Especially on this platform, they’re a helpful barometer for whether my videos are useful or entertaining for other humans.

Why am I even bringing this up? I was listening to Cal Newport’s very excellent podcast Deep Questions the other day, and he was talking to his producer about their forthcoming move into publishing YouTube videos. Cal Newport is the author of books including “Deep Work”, “Digital Minimalism” and “So Good They Can’t Ignore You” – books that had a big impact on my life, helping push me to create my podcast and to start making videos for this channel.

Cal is well known for not using any social media, and he uses himself as a case study to show others that you can have a really successful career without spending a lot of time posting about yourself on the internet. What a dream!

I was pleased to hear that Cal doesn’t lump YouTube in with the other social media platforms, because neither do I, and he did highlight its major role in the democratisation of video, and talked about how podcasting is the democratisation of audio.

So far so great, and I am looking forward to watching his videos but what he said next really puzzled me.

When talking about their strategy for YouTube, “Don’t read the comments”, he and his producer agreed.

Don’t read the comments.

Now, if you already have a solid career as an author, a computer scientist, a professor and a well-known podcaster, maybe you’re getting all the validation that you need from that success. But if you’re not – like most people – then how would you ever have an idea of the impact you’re having without engaging with the people who are reading, watching or listening to your work?

I just think starting your YouTube journey with the mantra “don’t read the comments” is disrespecting the YouTube community. It’s saying that these peoples’ comments aren’t worth reading, that they don’t deserve to be seen and heard. I’m not into that.


Of course, I know where he’s coming from. The problem isn’t with the comments function, it’s with the balance of positive or constructive comments from polite, nice people versus vicious, nasty, driveby comments from people who just enjoy being hateful on the internet.

You know who you are!

I spent four years working as a comment moderator for The Guardian website. I have read so many thousands of horrible comments that I classed myself as fairly unshockable, but then…Facebook ad comments. They’re the worst! People who don’t know you or your work, feeling annoyed that they’re seeing you in their feed and either forgetting – or not caring – that there’s a human being at the other end of their comment.

You know who you are!

I’m not helping things though, because when I absolutely love a product or service, I’m rarely moved to track down the company on the internet and tell them so. I do it sometimes, but rarely. I suppose the assumption is that a product or service should be great, because that’s what we paid for, but this approach is what makes the nasty comments seem a lot louder.

There’s a pretty simple solution to this. Comment when you like things. Click like, when you like things. If you don’t like something, of course you can still comment if you want – but why not be polite? There is a real person at the other end of that comment, whether they’re well known or not, whether they seem bulletproof or not.

I know it does sometimes feel like people ask for likes and comments on YouTube just to impress the sneaky algorithm as part of their fame-hungry quest for social validation. But most people probably just want to know what you thought of the thing they spent hours making, because they want to feel like they’re being useful in the world. Same as you do. Same as I do.

Maybe you feel shy. Maybe you think your point of view isn’t worth much. I disagree. We all have value, and I would always love to hear from you.

I’m just a woman in a room with a camera, a love of funny B-roll and sound effects, and an urge to share, and it helps me hugely to know I’m not alone. I’m here to connect with people and have conversations, not to broadcast stuff to people I think are beneath me. 

No-one is above anyone else. We’re all connected, we all have our personal challenges, but we also have the chance to encourage each other. I know I need your encouragement to keep making things, and the whole point of my videos is to encourage you.

“Don’t read the comments” is not the way forward. Instead, why don’t we all try to make the comments section a better place?

It’s easy. Use the like button as digital applause, comment when you like things more often than when you don’t like them, and be more kind.

“God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.” – Kurt Vonnegut

Likes and comments can be very helpful in knowing whether what you’ve made is worth something to someone else, but I think the best barometer can be found inside.

Here’s how you can tell if your creative work is any good.

See you soon.

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