Vetting Commenters Is An Act Of Self-Protection

And it protects subscribers too - that's why I do it

Hello friends,

Some time back I published an article about trolls, as I do from time to time. And I mentioned that I vet commenters on this newsletter. In fact, I pay attention to all the people who comment across all the platforms where I’m present. It’s something I’ve done ever since I first started blogging more than 15 years ago, and now that I write about anti-racism, it’s more necessary than ever.

In three plus years now of talking more openly about racism and other isms, I’ve discovered that some people will try anything to propagate their hatred and spew venom on people writing about these topics, especially Black people, and especially Black women. Anti-Blackness and misogynoir are real.

I do have options. I could turn off comments on everything I post here, and on social media posts too, but what would be the point? I believe we have to bring things into the open to be able to solve them one day. If I turn off comments, how can I hear from the people who really want to move forward?

At the same time, I see no reason to open myself up to constant vitriol. Since launching this newsletter, I’ve had a fair bit of racist abuse in the comments, as well as some nasty comments that stop short of actual racial abuse, but where the intent to harm is crystal clear. I know it happens all the time to others doing the same kind of work, both on their newsletters/blogs and on their social media platforms.

If you haven’t seen any of it, it’s precisely because I root it out instantly. This newsletter has a “new commenter approval” feature that has been a lifesaver. I wish that existed on my social media platforms too. The feature is precisely what it sounds like: it means all comments by new commenters get held. That allows me to get rid of anything dodgy before anyone else sees it, and I have the further option of permanently banning anyone who’s verbally abusive. (As readers, you also have the option to report any dodgy comments that slip through.)

What’s slightly less effective is the filter for anything that’s spammy. It’s fine for the really obvious stuff, but as on social media platforms, it’s not good at picking up dog whistles, so I have to weed those out myself.

I should make it clear, I don’t gatekeep because I’m afraid of dissenting opinions; I just don’t believe I should subject myself and my readers to hate speech and bigotry. That means more work for me. It’s pretty easy to ban out and out bigots; where I’m not sure, I have to do some checking:

  • What other comments have they made on social or what Notes have they posted on Substack?

  • Do they endorse the views of people whose values are opposed to mine or who have published hateful things about people who face isms?

  • If they publish content somewhere, what’s it all about?

Once that’s done, I know what action to take.

Sadly, that doesn’t stop the few who send their venom by email instead, though again, it’s the matter of a few seconds to end their subscription and permanently ban them. I did not sign up for vitriol, nor will I accept it. And I don’t want it aimed at readers and subscribers either.

Maybe one day people will be better and I won’t need to do this at all. In the meantime, I’ll continue to vet comments and commenters rigorously so we’re all a little safer from the vitriol.

Thanks for reading,


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© Sharon Hurley Hall, 2023. All Rights Reserved.

Cover photo courtesy of Canva.

I am an anti-racism educator and activist, Co-Founder of Mission Equality, the author of “I’m Tired of Racism”, and co-host of The Introvert Sisters podcast.

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