Your face sucks. (And other things you shouldn’t say on the Internet.)

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A few weeks ago, I read a thought-provoking article on Elephant Journal posted by Waylon Lewis on behalf of his friend’s mother, who wished to remain anonymous for legal reasons. It was the story of a woman whose son, she believed, was being unjustly accused of rape by a woman he briefly dated. The mother writes how, as a former member of the feminist community, she was responsible in part for creating a “culture of ‘women don’t lie.’” A culture that she felt made it possible for a woman with a number of risk factors to wreck her son’s life on a whim.  Her pain was palpable.


I read the comments.

From missives suggesting that only liberals lie[1] (*cough weaponsofmassdestruction? *cough) to mind-reading[2] to those whose authors may have been stood up for prom like 20 years ago[3], comments ranged from fear-mongering to bitter to plain ole paranoid[4].

Biting remarks on the Internet are commonplace. See every popular YouTube video ever or a Miley Cyrus in Natarajasana article for evidence.  But criticizing says more about the commenter than the subject on which they are commenting.  With liberties taken from Emerson, I’ve translated this theory into handy yoga speak.  Something like, “Your shadow speaks so loudly, I can’t hear what you’re saying.”

Moreover, often these comments are not signed with an email address, personal website, or any other identifying information that might suggest a modicum of courage behind the drive-by attacks.  Do the social mores that prevent normal people from walking up to a stranger and telling her that she should never procreate stop at the Internet?

Several months ago I read a piece on Marie Claire by a staffer writing her views on obesity. While her opinions might’ve been insensitive, many throughout the 27,000+ comments she received were thinly-veiled death threats.  Jesus, people, death threats?  Shouldn’t we reserve that sort of anger for more egregious crimes?  My vote: People Who Call Me When I’m Watching Gossip Girl.

Back to this Elephant Journal piece.  After reading the anonymous ramblings, I felt inclined to add my two cents.  See the thing is, while I think unconstructive criticizing is uncool on YouTube, I have kind of grown to accept it.  Elephant Journal is different.  Maybe my naïveté is on account of that whole “mindful community” thing.  I assume that the people drawn to EJ at least endeavor to an ounce of self-reflection.

So I commented.  You can see it here.

Innocuous, right?

I got TEN thumbs down.  At least.  I now have a negative “user reputation score.”  There goes my Santa Monica Co-Op aspirations.  Thanks, guys.

In the mythical wonderland called Vanessa Rules All Things, I’ve imagined a place where there are always comments that add value, (i.e. marked by one or more of the following:  supportive, constructive, or humorous).  But since that magical world is probably a few more years away, I’ve pulled together some thoughts in the interim.  Thinking about posting on a site? Here’s a little test you can give yourself before you push that “send” button:

  1. If your mom or boyfriend or anyone that you actually cared about said something that you disagreed with, would you say what you’re about to say to their face?   If the answer is no and you still want to post, please include your name, address, and place of work so it’s at least fair game.
  2. If you’re going to bitch about something, at least be funny.  Actually, this just goes for everything always.  Except for maybe tragic world news.  (Puns don’t count.)
  3. Anecdotal experience is not universal proof. You might think that all dogs bite because of that experience in 3rd grade, but turns out there’re millions and billions of dogs out there who don’t even bite people with Om tattoos.  Pausing to know the difference makes for more rational sentiment.
  4. Spellcheck, maybe?  It’s free!
  5. Still feel like ranting?  I get that. Sometimes I do too.  That’s what personal blogs are for.

So when it comes to comments, you don’t have to agree with everyone.  That’d be fake.  And boring.  But you can at least be cool about it.

[1] “If Leftists could lie so big about something as basic as male female relationships…what else might the Left be lying about?”

[2] “I know what you are thinking deep down, something like ‘sure a few innocent men may go to prison, but we gals have to stick together.”

[3] “The vast majority of women are perfectly capable of believing anything that will allow them to manipulate people.”

[4] “I am never alone with any woman unless I have video and audio equipment I control running. Period. She may not know about it, but it WILL be there.”

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Vanessa Fiola (Recovering Yogi)

Vanessa Fiola is a business consultant, artist, writer, and—after years spent teaching yoga—a co-founder of You can find her micro-blogging at @vanessafiola or through her personal website, wants to hear your 5 things.

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anonymous Nov 2, 2011 2:37pm

As someone who could have written this article myself – I understand the bitterness and anger of those posters.

My son was falsely accused, forced into an Alford plea, and had his life ruined. F.O.R.E.V.E.R.

He will pay til the day he dies.

I too will someday write about his story – once he is out of the clutches of this very un just "just us" system.

I understood the pain and anger of those posting. The men and boys who feel their mothers have betrayed them, and continue to betray them.

I check back from time to time hoping to find the outcome of this case. If her son slipped the noose, I doubt I'll ever hear about it. If he did not, she will not be allowed to EVER speak about his innocence. My son nearly went back to prison because I refused to believe in his guilt. Yes. They CAN do that.

It's a shame. This could have been a learning experience.

I have attracted a cyber stalker from postng about my son's case, not to mention he will be punished it it comes out I'm still insisting his innocence, or I'd gladly post my full name.

anonymous Jul 22, 2011 10:38am

[…] Print Spread the word!ShareTweetIn our relatively brief life, we’ve gotten plenty of umm, colorful comments on our stories, along with the pieces we periodically publish on Elephant […]

anonymous Jun 13, 2011 8:20am

[…] risks, write more passionately, and reach into places you didn’t know existed. Ideas and images and language with brilliant plumage will parade on the page before your eyes. Then one day, after a particularly […]

anonymous Jun 10, 2011 9:21am

I LOVE LOVE LOVE your Jesus drawing. You are a genius. I'm so glad I met you when you were a still a yoga groupie. It's like you CAME from the trenches. You're also the smartest wittiest writer I know…and I know a lot of writers and stuff.

    anonymous Jun 10, 2011 3:29pm

    Hahaha, KarmaKrystals! You mean, like, you knew me when I was a crystal healer? Or when I thought it was a mortal sin to play music in yoga? Those were the days.

    On another note, considering how wicked funny you are, and how much I dig your writing, that's a high compliment.

anonymous Jun 10, 2011 7:44am

Well done.


anonymous Jun 10, 2011 6:11am

Bravo, Vanessa! Well said and with a dose of humor. Nasty, anonymous comments are similar to those who risk lives by cutting you off in their car but would never think to cut in line at the check-out line. In fact, that same person might even let you in front of them if you only have a couple items and they have a cart full.

Everyone is entitled to their opinion but it can be stated with compassion and respect… and shouldn't count if you're not willing to put your name on it. Cheers!

anonymous Jun 10, 2011 5:48am

Whoa. Seriously? That's just really sad. Thanks for moderating.

anonymous Jun 9, 2011 11:28pm

Vanessa, thank you for this excellent and very thought provoking article. I have nothing to offer other than my deepest gratitude. You have voiced what I have experienced ever since becoming active on a social network. I found myself here at elephantjournal because I needed positive input; words that beckoned me to respond internally with a new perspective. Your article was nourishing, as are so many of the articles I read here on EJ. Thank you to all the contributing writers who always make me think, feel and respond in a more mindful and kind way.

anonymous Jun 9, 2011 11:23pm

That article's comments had me in such a state! I am glad you wrote this, thank you. After that particular article, wherein I was really shocked by the nastiness, I did start noticing meanness in other article comments … but nothing like that one article. My husband talked me into taking a little sabbitical from the internet, that's how wrapped around the axel I got!

Bob Weisenberg Jun 9, 2011 11:20pm

That's an important perspective, Waylon. I probably read as many comments as anyone, and I've taken a pretty hard line against attacks on the person. Yet I've only had to delete a handful of comments this year.

I'm not saying I'm catching all of them. There's far too much going on. But yes, as Waylon says, this particular blog is way off the map. In general, I'm surprised that that we have relatively little of this, especially since we encourage and enjoy strongly expressed debates on the issues themselves.

Anyway, Vanessa, at least I have a positive comment rating. Nanny-nanny-boo-boo.


    anonymous Jun 10, 2011 4:57am

    I know that that article was an exception. It struck a chord with a group that normally does not read Elephant and then got usurped for the propaganda of that segment of the population looking for an outlet for misogyny.

    I could be totally wrong here, but I have noticed that ever since that article, more people are giving thumbs down ratings and giving them completely unrelated to the comment. Instead rating the person. Like I don't like Kimberly, because of other articles she has written or her comments on said post, so therefore I give a thumbs down to anything she writes. Some of the other authors here, Ben, Vanessa, Joslyn, may be others, also get the same treatment.

    This forum is awesome for critical inquiry and debate. A good chance to separate the message from the messenger.

    I have to admit I have entered into the thumbs up/ thumbs down war. Mostly I use it to try to neutralize the thumbs down on what are benign and thoughtful responses. But maybe I am just bowing to immaturity?

    anonymous Jun 10, 2011 5:50am

    Bob, I promise that I wasn't your "thumbs down" you on this comment. Also, thanks for moderating!
    Kimberly, I agree — this forum IS awesome for critical inquiry and debate.

anonymous Jun 9, 2011 10:53pm

there will always, always be haters. f*** 'em.

    anonymous Jun 10, 2011 3:55am

    Indeed. I've come round to that way of thinking too.

      anonymous Jun 10, 2011 7:09am

      There will always, always be haters. Love 'em.

Bob Weisenberg Jun 9, 2011 10:36pm

What a terrific conversation you've generated here, Vanessa. Thanks.

Now, let's all help Vanessa get her rating out of the negative so she can get into the Santa Monica Co-op (I'm just glad to hear they're all reading Elephant over there.)

Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

Bob W. Yoga Editor
Like Elephant Yoga on Facebook
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    anonymous Jun 10, 2011 5:47am

    Thanks, Bob. This kissin' babies business can't be for naught.

anonymous Jun 9, 2011 6:01pm

sorry, just kidding. Yeap, the anonymity gives US power to be mean. Its like when you are going to enter a building and somebody is going out, and you hold the door for her. But if you were driving a car, you'll never let that f***** b**** go first!!!
but I think at the end of the day, the important thing is, we should try to be strong enough for not letting other people to take us down very easily, even more if we don't even know them!!!

anonymous Jun 9, 2011 5:57pm

I don't know, for someone who has a pretty douchey website where you feel anything goes with your snark about yoga, I find it pretty thin skinned of you to complain about comments to your comments. I guess what's douchey is all in the eye of the beholder.

    anonymous Jun 9, 2011 6:33pm

    Is this your way of being ironic? 'Cause like, that's cute.

anonymous Jun 9, 2011 5:55pm

you are all a bunch of idiots!

anonymous Jun 9, 2011 1:53pm

Great article. I especially liked the Jesus drawing. I think its a lot more practical to make decisions based on the principle WWn'tJD, than trying to predict what he would do.

anonymous Jun 9, 2011 11:45am

If threads are collapsible it’s ok to feed trolls, you won’t change their mind, but you will nudge- it is a rare sentence that isn’t written for the sake of the writer alone. If on the off chance you do engage someone and together come to some consensus, one week later the lesson has been mysteriously unlearned, but, it’s still a nudge. I ignore the thumbs, if there is already a + or – showing, people are more likely to follow the trend, a variation I think on conformation bias.

Mostly though, I am sad that people call during Gossip Girl. This has happened to me and is as distressing as you say.

    anonymous Jun 9, 2011 5:38pm

    I love this: "it is a rare sentence that isn't written for the sake of the writer alone." Truth.

anonymous Jun 9, 2011 11:26am

sounds about as on target as i could hope to say it, thank you much

i guess i should add that, though i've more contra-opinions to my own on ej than other sites, with the possible exception of , and there really haven't been that many, they have tended to be more thought out and backed up by whatever it is that person is believing from

thanks again

anonymous Jun 9, 2011 10:38am

Very good article.
I feel like comments are often mental marginalia. ( I don't know which I like less though: condescending attacks, ad hominem attacks or straw man attacks. Maybe AlpineLily can break it down in a comment in this thread? Oh! HOW Excellent. )
Nice work, Vanessa. You articulated something a lot of us have struggled with. I am, having been flamed within an inch of my life in comments in the past, grateful that EJ and other thought-provoking sites allow comments. I always regret the fact that Andrew Sullivan won't allow comments on his site. I would pay to read those!
Well done, V.

    anonymous Jun 9, 2011 5:37pm

    Who's Andrew Sullivan? If you're going to make cultural references to me, you need to do it via hip reference in Gossip Girl. (And thanks, MM.)

      anonymous Jun 9, 2011 7:55pm

      I love that yogi’s are engaged in flame wars here regarding your article, Vanessa. AlpineLace…I mean AlpineLily is getting the worst of it. Ms. Hamilton bringing the thunder!
      I’m a little disappointed nobody has been called a Nazi yet.

        anonymous Jun 9, 2011 11:19pm

        You Nazi! (There you go, you're welcome.)

anonymous Jun 9, 2011 10:26am

Great article Vanessa. Since I decided to feed myself to the "trolls" (thanks catlyn777), I found out the hard way.
I too was surprised at how many thumbs down marks people gave for what I thought was being honest. I didn't even think I was being controversial. Lately I have seen people placing thumbs down when someone writes "nice article." I don't see the point of that.

On the other hand, I love it when there is actual thoughtful discussion going on, which does happen. I just have to not take the thumbs downs personally.

    anonymous Jun 9, 2011 8:15pm

    I couldn't agree more, Kimberly; it seems like the Intense Debate commets-rating system has degenerated from a way of encouraging a positive approach to a referendum on whether the commenter agrees with what is said.

anonymous Jun 9, 2011 9:33am

Spot on Vanessa! There are times when I think I’m reading Yahoo News comments and not Elephant Journal. I was astonished by the comments on the article you reference, but have also seen the same on other articles, Kris Nelson’s articles on money and Kimberly Johnson’s article on cultural differences come to mind. I guess blind obedience to dogma shows up the same whether it’s catholicism, politics (right and left) or mindfulness.

    anonymous Jun 9, 2011 5:35pm

    Anecdote: it was the responses to Kimberly's comments on Women Don't Lie that even got me to comment in the first place.

    anonymous Jun 9, 2011 8:13pm

    Careful with the stereotypes, Don; recent polls show American Catholics more gay-rights-friendly than the general population. "Blind obedience to dogma" is a pretty high-octane accusation to make so broadly.

anonymous Jun 9, 2011 8:59am

Ben- you have been called those names because of the WAY you talk about your healing practice!
When you claim to "cure" someone of all trauma in a couple of hours and then lecture others on how they are ignorant because they don't believe everything you say it's only fitting for people to call you out!
Perhaps instead of trying to control everyone's opinions through force you could examine HOW you approach people and talk about your work? I know I would be more willing to take you seriously if it came from a humble place of caring and not a talk-down ego filled lecture.

anonymous Jun 9, 2011 7:37am

My favorites are the incredibly condescending passive aggressive types of comments that pretend to be helpful and compassionate. Things like: "I can understand what you're saying because I thought the same thing in an earlier stage of my own development. Once you become more spiritually grounded, as I am. I know you will understand how false the cherished beliefs you currently hold are, and maybe some day we'll laugh about this over a cup of organic chai. Think about it. Namaste." Personally, I'd take a "shutup u fukin morron" over that crap any day…

anonymous Jun 9, 2011 7:26am

Brava, Vanessa. As a person who's been accused in these pages of being the Right Speech Police (by a fellow Elephant writer, no less!) I'm with you on this. I wish I were more sanguine about your message being received where it is most needed, but we do what we can.

    anonymous Jun 9, 2011 5:19pm

    Oh shit. There's a Right Speech Police? I'm f*cked.

      anonymous Jun 9, 2011 6:04pm

      Here's a thumbs up to balance out your scorecard!

      anonymous Jun 9, 2011 8:11pm

      I won't rat you out!

      Now I'm wondering who in the world gave my above comment a thumbs-down, and why, for Pete's sake? Evidently, people are now rating comments, based not on whether they find them positive or negative, but based solely on whether they agree with what a person says. Oy.

        anonymous Jun 9, 2011 9:33pm

        Looks like you got evened out. All's right in the world. Actually…

        …Thumbs down = a micro drive-by. Still a drive-by.

anonymous Jun 9, 2011 5:03am

Wow, reading the article was very good experience, since I so often think the exact same thing! When I have tried to (very tactfully and politely) recommend that someone can disagree, but they must try to be more kind in their responses, etc., then I have also been turned on, insulted, attacked, and called names. My son taught me the term for this…"trolls", defined as people who love to get a fight going on the internet and that is their sole purpose for posting (often they only skimmed the conversation, or not even that). He also told me to "never feed the trolls" because that is exactly what they are seeking: attention. I agreed with him, made common sense, and stopped responding. It is a sad part of our society, it just is what it is. Peace!

anonymous Jun 9, 2011 2:01am

Frankly, some of the comments I see make me feel ashamed to be part of the same species (apparently – but David Icke would disagree!) as the commenters…
The article you reference was a good case in point. Also Lynn Henderson's article Trust after an Affair – where she (incredibly courageously) opened her (wounded) heart to the world, only to be aggressively attacked. For what? Honesty…
I've also written articles about healing in which people have called me dangerous, delusional, megalomaniac, a 'giant douche'… the list goes on and on.
People are animals. Some people are compassionate, mindful animals. But some lack the compassion and mindfulness and just behave like animals when given half the chance – which is what the internet provides. Anonymity, and an easy target.
Anyway, great article Vanessa, I'm posting it to the EJ FB page now.
With love, Ben

    anonymous Jun 9, 2011 8:59am

    Ben- you have been called those names because of the WAY you talk about your healing practice!
    When you claim to "cure" someone of all trauma in a couple of hours and then lecture others on how they are ignorant because they don't believe everything you say it's only fitting for people to call you out!
    Perhaps instead of trying to control everyone's opinions through force you could examine HOW you approach people and talk about your work? I know I would be more willing to take you seriously if it came from a humble place of caring and not a talk-down ego filled lecture.

      anonymous Jun 9, 2011 11:33am

      Alpine Lily, is that your real name? Did you even read this article? Seriously?

        anonymous Jun 9, 2011 12:27pm

        Yes I did read the article, but my comment above was a direct answer to Ben regarding his comment.

        I notice you are not asking "yogaforcynics" or "yogini5" about their real name?

        Why are you singling me out over a comment directed at Ben? Do I need your permission to post to him?

          anonymous Jun 9, 2011 1:30pm

          The entire point of this article — which you seem to have missed — is that when you post a comment on a public blog, you are not just "posting to Ben." You are disparaging Ben, personally, on a public forum. I just find it odd that you choose to pick on Ben HERE, on THIS particular article, which was all about not anonymously picking on people in public forums.

          Ben didn't even write this article, and your response to him doesn't seem to be about what he said in his comment. It seems to be a greater issue you have with Ben and, quite frankly, I think it's sad that you chose this forum to air your grievance with him. Send him an email. Or at least use your real name.

            anonymous Jun 9, 2011 5:30pm

            that's my girl.

            anonymous Jun 10, 2011 6:58am

            True that, Jos.

            I can't believe you got five thumbs down for giving intelligent, compassionate, and truthful feedback…

            I'm going to start a blog… Recovering Human…

          anonymous Jun 9, 2011 1:36pm

          Joslyn, I don't know if it's her real name, but it's the same name she goes by on Facebook. I know because she also likes to have a go at me there 🙂
          Alpine – I'll take the time to respond to you only because you posted the same comment twice, so I'm guessing it means a lot to you:
          Please, if you are going to quote me, don't mis-quote me. I have NEVER used the word "cure" in relation to my work with trauma. An apology would be nice.
          You seem to be saying that it's ok for people to call me "A Giant Douche" because of the 'way' I talk about my work. Really?
          Also, I don't lecture people who don't agree with me. I hunt them down and beat them with a stick… only kidding. I don't mind people not agreeing with me at all. I welcome it. It's how we learn and grow. Nothing better than healthy debate
          But this is NOT about that. It's about people name-calling and making nasty, negative comments!
          I propose a truce. You don't like me. I don't mind! Just stop leaving comments about me eh? Haven't we both got better ways of spending our time? Whadya say?!

            anonymous Jun 10, 2011 4:02am

            Hilarious. Someone obviously cares a lot about the intense debates 'thumbs', and thinks we do too…

              anonymous Jun 10, 2011 7:01am

              I think we should disable the thumbs for a while; people are using them to express disagreement, rather than to promote civility.

                anonymous Jun 11, 2011 2:47pm

                I never even notice those thumbs, quite frankly.

    anonymous Jun 9, 2011 5:29pm

    thanks for commenting and posting to FB, ben! btw, i read that article (and its comments) by Lynn. i know the feeling of being on the receiving end of mean, anonymous comments. it blows.

anonymous Jun 9, 2011 9:50pm

Good point, Matthew: "The biggest casualty of online aggression is probably unseen: the views, sentiments, and knowledge that never come to light because the hopeful writer is staring into an abyss of distrust, and just decides to keep it to themselves."

anonymous Jun 9, 2011 11:23pm

What an insightful comment, Matthew. Thank you for taking the time share your thoughts.

"Trolls aren't just attacking their intended targets, but creativity itself." That's jaw-dropping truth to me.

"The biggest casualty of online aggression is probaby unseen; the views, sentiments, and knowledge that never come to light because the hopeful writer is staring into an abyss of distrust, and just decides to keep it to themselves."

I so often find myself unable to comment, for exactly the reason you have state above. I just never realized it until I read your words. Thank you for the enlightenment. You changed my world today.

anonymous Jun 10, 2011 5:54am

Sindar, it may be more productive to write for EJ yourself, and post the kinds of articles that you consider devoid of "sloppy thinking." You know, that Gandhi "Be the change," kind of thing.

anonymous Jun 10, 2011 7:06am

"The first casualty of war is truth."