I generally endorse the solid life/interweb advice to "Never read the comments" because I generally endorse courses of action which, at the very least, delay the realization that the vast majority of humanity is terrifyingly base and hateful scum. Comment threads almost invariably devolve into a morass of negativity where people expound on why the article was everything that's wrong with the world, or why other commenters are everything that's wrong with the world, and things get personal and vindictive and then somehow they keep getting worse. Nobody needs that in their headspace (except the people who indulge in it, apparently, which is a paradox I may never really resolve and I'm okay with that) so steering well clear of it just makes good sense.
Of course, I don't always follow this very sensible advice myself. Part of it is that I tend to believe that certain sites I frequent attract a more elevated (and like-minded) slice of the internet community, and thus will prove exceptions to the rule. They often don't, of course, but I have trained myself to at least not get sucked into the madness. The problem with reading the comments is that they become a swirling vortex pulling you deeper and deeper until you cannot think about anything except composing your own vicious reply to someone who said something you disagree with (or you know is factually wrong). So I only allow myself to start reading comments if I reach the end of an article and still want to hear what other people think on the subject, but at the first sign of real trollishness I close out of there. That's the closest I can come to following my own advice, it seems, and it has kept me moderately sane so far.
My whole well-at-this-site-the-commenters-are-thoughtful-and-civilized rationale isn't entirely wishful thinking, and there have been some comment threads I've enjoyed, and I have in the process been exposed to the concept of gimmick commenters - people who adopt a very specific performance-oriented persona on a site, register an apt username, and comment frequently and in character, whether said character is an existing intellectual property or just an alter-ego of the commenter's own creation. This can be something as silly as registering as Cookie Monster, complete with profile picture, and always posting in the first person objective ("ME LOVE THIS SHOW NOM NOM NOM!!!") or as bizarre as cultivating a reputation as a kind of pan-omni-sexual alcoholic agoraphobic cineaste. Everybody needs a hobby, I reckon.
I've been playing Comment Thread Roulette for a lot longer than I've been on Facebook, so sometimes my experiences and lessons learned from the former bleed over into the latter. In theory, commenters on a random site are anonymous strangers, and also in theory people in my Facebook newsfeed should be friends, or at least friends of friends. But because I use Facebook for networking with publishers and writers and so forth, not to mention the fact that everyone uses Facebook to reconnect with childhood friends and in my case that means people I lost touch with decades ago, there is a high proportion of my newsfeed which is coming from acquaintances at best if not people I know virtually nothing about. So I have to piece together who these people are solely based on their status updates. And on more than one occasion I have found myself starting to think of these people, as they represent themselves on Facebook, as gimmick accounts. Mostly this is because their status updates and shares and comments, in aggregate, seem to reveal a deliberately ridiculous pose of artifice rather than an actual rational thinking human being.
One example was someone I FB-friended because he and I both had stories published in the same anthology. I quickly realized that almost every status update this guy made was him complaining about something, often very petty nuisances posed by the fallible customer service that all of us in this fallen world have to deal with on a regular basis. He also hates a lot of pop culture, clearly consumes a lot of it as if he's being forced to at gunpoint, then rushes to Facebook to say how terrible it all is. You would think that anyone with even a shred of self-awareness (which is a requisite capacity for being a writer, I daresay) would be at least slightly hesitant about criticizing the stupidity of daytime television, because doing so raises the reasonable question of why the critic is watching so much daytime television; the individual in question makes it fairly clear he is not a stay-at-home parent, nor is he an invalid retiree, so ... jobless loser, basically? Still, all of that didn't necessarily lead me to believe he was a gimmick, some people just love the airing of the grievances too much to ever acknowledge how petty said grievances really are, but at one point he posted something along the lines of "Well, for years I have been priding myself on having no idea who Taylor Swift is, but I finally heard that Shake It Off song. Can't say I'm terribly impressed." To which my initial response was to think I was dealing with an absolutely genius-level troll. A meta-troll! "Shake It Off" is LITERALLY about Taylor Swift not particularly caring if some people like her or not, including the immortal lyric "the haters gon' hate (hate hate hate hate)". To take that as an invitation to go ahead and hate on her and/or that specific anthem in response is either some next-level parody or about the most egregious, oblivious missing-the-point imaginable.
I know, it's excessively generous of me to even entertain the thought that it could be the former. But the latter is so gob-smacking that sometimes my brain's defense mechanisms just kick in on their own.
Here's another instance, one where I couldn't even deploy my mental shields of alt-explanations, because I already knew better. A dude who was in the high school band with me extended a FB friend request which I accepted. And it quickly became clear that this dude's Facebook presence was, not to put too fine a point on it, the embodiment of the Bitchy Queen stereotype, so consistent and so over-the-top that if I were reading about him as a fictional character in a book I would suspect the author of having a homophobic agenda evinced by creating a grossly unsympathetic and completely unbelievable caricature. I have a fair number of gay friends and by and large (this seems like a no-brainer but forgive me for belaboring the obvious) their presence in my newsfeed is exactly like my straight friends'. Some of them have kids and post pictures of them. Some of them are into comic books or Dungeons and Dragons and post links and memes about those topics. Some of them are more political than others, and comment on news stories or share petitions or whatever related to LBGT rights (as, again, do many of my straight friends). But one and only one of my gay FB friends posts near-daily status updates consisting entirely of selfies (two variations: at the office in suit and tie, three-quarters profile; at the gym in front of the wall mirror with shirt lifted to show off ripped abs) and whiny, entitled complaining about how he shouldn't have to put up with people who annoy him (a/k/a 99.9% of Earth's population). As I say, I knew this dude ages ago, and back then he was definitely whiny, but also closeted and not vain at all (any more than any other self-conscious teenager). When we connected on FB and I quickly realized he was now out and in a relationship with another dude, I thought maybe the "it gets better" principle would have elevated his overall outlook on life, but apparently not. But it does, to me, beg the question - how can one not realize what one is putting out there into the world, particularly when one is playing all-consumingly into a fairly nasty stereotype? No self-awareness? Self-aware but just don't care? Cultivating the larger-than-life-and-twice-as-catty mystique on purpose?
For what it's worth, eventually I unfollowed the dude. I haven't ever beefed with someone on FB so viciously that I've felt the need to unfriend and block them, but some people with a certain snide, one-note negativity don't need to be speedbumps in my scrolling every day. (The aforementioned pop culture h8r, on the other hand, provides a certain entertainment value because his hot takes are just bonkers sometimes.)
Finally, just to adhere to the Rule of Three, one more gotta-be-a-gimmick case in point. Another fellow author, this one a single mom of one little girl. Not a terrible person by any stretch, not a light-swallowing pit of negativity at all. But lacking self-awareness in her own special way all the same. Specifically, she does that thing, the one where a parent makes their whole FB account, profile pic and cover image and status updates and all, more about their offspring than themselves. The culmination of that came one day when this woman posted that she was so proud of her daughter for making poo in the potty three times that day.
Which ... I just ... I mean ...
That was the whole gist of the status update. There was no joke to it, no snark, no "here's a thing about potty training your children that no one ever talks about" or somesuch. Nor was there any kind of disclaimer acknowledging it was TMI but she didn't care, or any other context. She just put it out there, for whose benefit I can't even hazard a guess. It's one thing when a husband or wife gushes about how proud they are of their spouse; it may be an overly conspicuous bit of online PDA but at least if the spouse in question is also on FB then s/he will see the post and get the warm fuzzies, allocate some brownie points, whatever. It's forcing your entire friends list to be audience to your relationship maintenance, but at least it serves a purpose. Praising a toddler on FB doesn't do much for the toddler, or anyone else. It just forces everyone on your friends list to be audience to something pointless and also usually treated with a bit more discretion and decorum. Has this poor woman never heard of STFU Parents?!?! Or is she in fact totally familiar with it, and purposefully channeling a straight-faced take on it as a kind of very dry humor? Like asking a very tall person how the weather is up there, as if you thought that brand-new witticism up yourself, resurrecting something so utterly played out and ridiculous that it wraps back around to inherently funny again?
Probably not. In fact, after I calmed down a bit I realized that I really should go easy on her because, seriously, being a single mom is hard. So no, she probably hasn't heard of STFU Parents; just because she has a Facebook account and time to post status updates doesn't mean she's up on every hipper-than-thou meme that I have the luxury of familiarizing myself with. More to the point, she doesn't have a homebase partner to share the triumphs and tribulations of parenting with, including the not-for-polite-company aspects of biological functions. I could roll my eyes and say well that's too bad, but keeping it to herself is still her best option, but that feels a little too cold. So I'll give her a pass, not because I admire solid commitment to a comedy bit, but because we're all doing the best we can every day, and shoot, at least she's being positive about it.