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May 14, 2016

“If you have something to say, here’s what you do:
You write it down on a piece of paper, you go out in the lobby,
and then you go home and you kill yourself.”

– Louis CK

I admit it. I do it too.
I read the comments on youtube videos.
And on blogs. Online newspapers. I look at yelp reviews. iTunes. Grubhub. Rotten tomatoes. And especially check out the best reviews on Amazon before making any purchase.

Some comments I read by accident.
They’re right there for my eyes to see. It’s hard to avoid them. And usually the top comment is someone saying something controversial, dumb, ignorant, funny, or all at the same time.

Other comments, I seek out.
If I have to spend two and a half hours at a movie theater, I want to be sure that it will be a good investment of my time. Let’s see what other humans have to say about the flick.

If you had to rank all of the comment sections in order of classy to trashy, who would be at the bottom?

It would have to be some place where there is nearly zero cost of admission. The commenters don’t have to buy anything. Don’t have to put their real name, no one sees what they look like, no consequences to anything they say, and it should be relatively easy to say anything. No moderators to keep them in check. No big hurdles to jump through.

What else?

Most importantly, the comments would need high visibility.

No one wants to say something where no one else will see it.

I’ve never left a youtube review, even though I’m on there every day. I’ve left maybe one or two amazon reviews, and a handful of yelp reviews. I gave that up because it’s time consuming and I didn’t like criticizing others. Nor did I like other commenters commenting on my comments.

Also I noticed none of my rolemodels go around commenting on websites. Not Warren Buffett, Charlie Munger, Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Dalai Lama, Oprah, Michael Jordan, Louise Hay, or any other high achiever. If they have something to say, they’ll say it publicly on video, audio, or writing. No hiding anonymously in a comment section.

I’ve never actually met a commenter in real life but there are apparently millions of them out there.

So, who are these people?

This last piece of the puzzle, I figured out while reading Business Adventures by John Brooks. You know, the book highly recommended by Warren Buffett, and one that was sought out and republished by Bill Gates because he loved it too.

The stories in the book, originally published in 1969, are oddly evergreen. Even though Mr. Brooks is talking about business stories from a bygone era, the characters in each chapter seem familiar.

What I figured out is that John Brooks was able to talk about the universal human condition, through the vehicle of business. Just like Star Trek TNG is about what it feels like to be a human, using space travel as the backdrop to tell that story.

There’s a chapter about shareholders in Business Adventures.

John travels to different annual shareholder meetings to get an idea what it was all about. He noticed that different company meetings had the same cast of characters.

There were professional stockholders who travel from one meeting to another, hog the microphone, and heckle the chairman. Some wear outlandish outfits and sit near the cameras to get attention. Others think they are doing a service to humanity but instead are being unruly and incoherent.

That’s when I figured it out.
These were the O.G. commenters.
Before youtube, they actually had to get dressed, leave their home, and travel to popular places to let their opinions be known. It’s a certain subset of humans that like to do this.

If you ever regularly watch the WWE, you’ll see these types of folks.

There are superfans who show up at every RAW and pay per view. They wear unique outfits, sit in camera-facing front rows, and try to do something to get attention.

There’s one guy who paints his face and wears a rainbow colored wig to look like a clown. Every time. That’s his signature. Another guy wears the same skull and snakes designer tshirt to every event. He takes unique selfies while the action is near, and strikes a signature pose when the cameras are on. Another guy wears a backwards red hat, the same outfit, and holds up signs. That’s his gimmick.

These guys seem harmless and sometimes make watching the shows better. I have no idea how the wrestlers, doing all the work, feel.

The extreme version of attention-seeking and piggybacking off of popular events is the art of youtube commenting. It’s the sewer of public opinion + high visibility.

Watch a breakfast club interview, joe rogan podcast, health talk, a cooking show, or even a music video, there’s chaos happening in the comments section.

There are those who want to be the first to comment. Simple enough.
Some like to discover connections to the illuminati. Others like to point out some personal flaw of the person. A big nose, a tshirt one size too small, a bald spot, unevenly trimmed sideburns, big boobs, small boobs, manboobs, everything is fair game.

There are the rare religious folks who think the video is blasphemous. There are patriots defending the morals of the country. There are the devil’s advocates. And there’s the last group who like to scientifically disagree with the contents of the video, writing multiple paragraphs and links to studies.

The game is to get the most attention for their comment.
Usually some combination of nasty + racist/sexist/otherist + critical + funny gets the most likes and the top spot. The commenter almost always has some random image as an avatar and a fake name. No skin in the game and nothing to lose, yet gets all the benefits of being comment-section famous.

The Main Point
Seth Godin doesn’t allow comments on his blog.
Doreen Virtue no longer allows comments on her youtube videos.
I’m following their suit.

Once I started making content, I understood why they do this.
It’s fun and games for the commenter, and sometimes funny for the audience, but these anonymous critical comments are poison to the creative person.

If they want to say something, they can create their own blog, video channel, or podcast. We don’t need to let flies hitch a free ride on our backs while we walk through the jungle.

Business Adventures – John Brooks