Snark has many definitions. Some say that it’s a combination of the words “snide” and “remark“, or “biting, cruel humor or wit, commonly used to verbally attack someone or something“. Snark is commonly found in blog posts and comments, formats which allow those who would otherwise never act this way in a face-to-face situation say just about anything they want.

I am a recovering snark-addict.

Many of you may know me from around the Internet. I have been on LiveJournal since late 2000, currently maintain a blog on my own website for the past 2 years, share recipes and photos via a few venues, and blog for two Seattle sites. While it is deceptively easy to build a bad reputation for yourself online, it turns out that it’s significantly harder to change other’s impressions of you online than it is in real life.

The two notable places for snark that I want to cite today: the Seattle LiveJournal community and the Slog. For years, I snarked in the Seattle LJ. It was almost a game: see a new post and try to make the first snotty remark. Even if multiple commenter had already told the poster how stupid they were for not using Google, I would add my voice to the masses. It became instinct to respond in this manner, though the guilt I experienced when someone became obviously upset due to my actions never went away.

About three months ago, I finally decided that enough was enough. I couldn’t snark anymore. As dumb as this sounds to those who haven’t experienced it, initially it was hard to quit. I would see a post in the Seattle LJ and immediately start typing a mean response. Catching myself, I would see if I could write anything productive and if not, close the window and move on. After the first month, it became easier to automatically think of something nice to write instead of something harsh and criticizing. I’ve had quite a few discussions about the recent changes, mostly positive, and feel better about myself because of it. The guilt is gone.

This brings me to the Slog. A fellow Metblogger passed around a link to guest Slog blogger Chelsea Alvarez-Bell’s last post as a guest blogger. She is opting out of future guest posts due to the high-level of snark that flourishes in the Slog comments. In her words: “I have no desire to contribute here any longer. I am taking my ball and going home.” She calls some of the regular commenters “cruel“, “small, awful, miserable people“.

As a recovering snark-addict, I have to agree with her in some regard. People who exhibit a sense of pleasure in verbally tearing down another person’s statements of opinion or fact, may well allude to an intrinsic unhappiness or frustration in other areas of the abuser’s life. It could be that those who snark are stuck in dead-end jobs with nothing better to do or have such low self-esteem that hurting others through an anonymous venue gives them enough validation to feel better about themselves. I am applying those very same suggestions to my own state of mind for the time that I was a snarker, but it is hard to really self-evaluate as an objective third-party after the fact. At this point, I am happier without snark than I ever was when I engaged in it.

Regardless of the real motivation for snarking, there are people who enjoy perpetuating it. No online forum is immune to it, but there are ways to minimize it. Required comment registration is a good way to lessen it’s impact. Moderated comments is another, more pro-active stance. Not “feeding the trolls” is a third option that requires the cooperation of the rest of the commenter community. Or, one can do what Chelsea did: leave the snark-tainted venue and seek solace in a place that is designed to bring about productive commentary and conversation.

In conclusion, I will quote Metblogger Chaya: “thank you for not being assholes, Metblogs commenters!”

7 Comments so far

  1. Beth (sea_beth2) on June 13th, 2008 @ 4:14 pm

    I’ve been very impressed at how nice our commenters are, partly due to the rampant snarkiness on Livejournal.

    Before I moved here, I had been a participant in the LJ community for my hometown, never thinking twice before posting questions about the Farmer’s Market, impressions of the town, or pretty much anything else. It would occasionally bring me a mean comment or two, but very rarely.

    My first post to the Seattle LJ, when we were thinking about moving was admittedly a Googleable question- but I’d never been made to feel so stupid in my online life, honestly. I can play along now nicely in the community, having figured out the tone of things, but it really made me actually reconsider *moving* to Seattle because of how mean everyone was in that post. Maybe I’m overly sensitive or heaven forbid, not a local Seattleite… but whatever. That really negatively affected my view of the city for a few days until I met some nice Seattle journalers who were happy to answer my question (in my own journal, of course).

    I was hoping that if I learned to let things slide that I would do better in that community, and I have, to an extent. But last summer, after we moved, I posted another question to the community- this one on a fairly sensitive topic that wasn’t Googleable (adoption laws in Washington for those living in one-bedroom apartments). That one garned such negative feedback that I just stopped looking at the responses after a while…

    More recently, I posted another question asking about infertility specialists… and after about four snarky comments about how I probably shouldn’t be having children anyway because I was just such a terrible human being… I deleted the post, and am now extremely wary of posting anything at all there.

    Chelsea must be pretty courageous to write for Slog- I’ve seen the commenters there, and … it can’t be good for anyone’s emotional health to be subject to that kind of comment. I hope she finds a good place where she can get more constructive feedback. And I’m glad, too, Wesa, that you’re trying to make Seattle’s Internet a slightly nicer place to be.

  2. josh on June 13th, 2008 @ 4:39 pm

    note that most of those definitions include a component of "wit" or "creativity" to go with the "sarcasm". there’s a big difference between clever biting commentary and all out cruel asshatery for its own sake. covering both with the same blanket of "snark" doesn’t make the former any more acceptable.

  3. tonyb on June 13th, 2008 @ 4:58 pm

    Good post wesa. Seattle Metblogs is a lot less snarky then just about any other blog in Seattle! It’s one of the reasons I read and comment here. I’ve been involved with a couple of comment wars that always seem to end decently. While everyone may or may not agree on an issue it’s nice to know that it doesn’t just degenerate to assholery.

  4. Seattlest Tom (seattlesttom) on June 13th, 2008 @ 5:11 pm

    That’s the thing I positively can’t stand about the Seattle LJ community. Yet I can’t unsubscribe from it for some reason. Usually, I just read the posts but skip the comments.

  5. josh on June 13th, 2008 @ 5:41 pm

    the most amazing thing is that the Seattle LJ community used to be small and close enough to be lj user=seattle_party. I can’t imagine how that would play out now other than that a whole lot of security would probably be required.

    evan handed over the moderator key to me one time; that only lasted for a horrible twelve hours.

  6. chau on June 14th, 2008 @ 12:41 pm

    Beth- your initial experience with the Seattle LJ community is nothing more than the result of an extremely passive aggressive group of children (who happen to be stuck inside the bodies of 20 and thirty something humans) who have no other healthy outlet for communication.

    People move from small towns to places like Seattle and revel in the semi-anonymous nature of their new found "personalities". They come to the city not to find themselves but to loss themselves in whatever little hipster posse they latch onto.

    They live sad little lives. I wouldn’t pay them too much attention. They act that way because they were either given too much or too little attention growing up. What they really need is to move to a real city and let it swallow them up and spit them out like every other person who thought more of themselves than was good for them.

  7. sbdc» Blog Archive » City blogging and comments, thoughts from barcampseattle (pingback) on June 16th, 2008 @ 1:15 pm

    […] at ignoring bullshit than others. So be it. This situation at the Slog was local and had recently been discussed on Seattle Metblogs so it only made sense that in a session about local blogging, and things sucking, we’d end up […]

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