OPINION | Hate comments are not constructive criticism

Gabe Darley, Staff Writer

Opinions are just that. (Ga)

When in search of objective truth, Views is almost never the place to start looking. Opinion pieces are neither intended to be impartial accounts of current events, nor are they meant to be Hullabaloo-endorsed gospel. Most of the time, they are not even reflective of the beliefs of the editors who revise them or the board who publishes them. 

An opinion essay is, most simply, the belief of one writer. Even then, it is subject to many transformational factors: whether the subject matter was assigned, the writer’s time frame to work or the author’s mood on that day.

Yet, despite these seemingly obvious observations, the opinion piece is often mistaken for something else. 

Here are some of the excerpts from comments on articles in The Hullabaloo in the past year from both the Views and Intersections pages.

“It’s clear that you want to be angry to validate that inner compulsion to see yourself as different and virtuous… Boring!”

“You whiny little radical left brats who have no practical skills in life outside of complaining about non-existent ‘systemic barriers.’”

“Why do the writers of these poorly constructed hit pieces even go here, or live in America for that matter?”

Remarkably, there is something refreshing about these comments. If nothing else, they are symbols of an article’s influence, evidence that the writing reached somebody who holds a different worldview than the author. 

This is perhaps the whole point of writing down opinions in the first place, to promote meaningful discourse among community members and to spur divergent forms of thinking. However, while definitely following different paths of thought, these comments slightly miss their mark in respect to the “meaningful discourse” component.

To be clear, the concern is not with the exercise of free speech. By all means, if an author writes something that a reader does not agree with, they should comment. A newspaper is only as well-rounded as its readership. However, the way that discourse unfolds in the comment section then falls on that commenter which oftentimes breeds unconstructive criticism. These excerpts, among a sea of their peers in The Hullabaloo archive, are seldom more than cruel, aggressive and vindictive. 

Spiteful comments feel pervasive and indiscriminately placed. Often, their content does not even make mention of specific grievances, just general observations on the testy nature of the student body. Many are posted under anonymous “Alum” or “Angry Student” screennames. 

So, what is it about a 19-year-old writing 700 words on Tulane’s waste culture that makes an alumnus’ blood boil?

Perhaps the angry commenters have a personal stake in the issue at hand, so it is hard to separate emotion from the message. Or maybe, the idea that a college student thought of something that a grown-up did not is frustrating. It could even be that a commenter’s family has a generations-long feud with the op-ed writers of the world and must meet a hate-comment quota each week in order to uphold their ancestral image. 

Whatever the reason, no one is asking you to stop. Keep commenting.

But challenge yourself to think before publishing that comment. There is typically a way to get a point across without hateful language.

The Hullabaloo is a legitimate publication, but its staffers are not career journalists. At its core, it is a student paper, run by students. While you may not be able to see past a computer screen, there is indeed a real person on the other end of that article, likely a tired and overworked one who almost never intends to hurt your feelings. They certainly are not navigating to Facebook to write “Boring!” on your wall.

Maybe an opinion is just an opinion. If there is a contrary opinion to be shared, it undoubtedly should be shared through legitimate channels. In truth, it is not too difficult to write a letter to the editor. 

Nonetheless, there is no need to consider it with the weight of a Washington Post front-page article. It is one tiny fraction of a person’s self, that they are choosing to share with willing readers. At the very least, the writer is brave enough to type it out and sign their full name to it.