It’s annoying when people comment without reading the substance

These days, it seems, some people only read headlines before reacting. I suppose it always happened, but social media means the response is right there for everybody to see. Sometimes they get entirely the wrong end of the stick.

A while back I published a piece on the early 1950s sex scandal at the Elbe Milk Bar in Lower Hutt, New Zealand – allegedly a gathering place for teenagers to form trysts. I couldn’t get out-of-copyright pictures of the place and instead, as hero image, used a generic picture of a period milk-bar that sold Elbe brand ice-cream. I made sure it was clearly labelled so nobody would mistake it for the actual Elbe milk bar.

When I promoted the article on Facebook, their system used that image with a few words from the blog post referring to the Elbe. And somebody shortly ‘corrected’ me. The milk bar in the image Facebook had published wasn’t the Elbe. I had used a wrong picture and therefore didn’t know where the Elbe Milk Bar had been.

Well, quite. Actually, my correspondent obviously hadn’t read the article. I responded by suggesting he read it. The milk-bar, as it happens, was on the site of what is now a restaurant – 98 High Street, Lower Hutt – and my idea for the post was triggered when I walked past the site one day. Inevitably it got me thinking of the scandal, which I’d written in to my general history of New Zealand back in 2004. It had national repercussions – there was a formal government investigation, and the enquiry’s report was sent to every household, lest New Zealand suffer a general moral collapse.

I mention this as just one example. I’m sure that this phenomenon of readers triggering their comments from a summary headline, or finding ‘error’ in something presented without the context of the full article, happens to everybody who posts online and promotes it in summary – it’s not just restricted to the things I do.

However, I also figure that if somebody is going to remark on something, it seems reasonable that they should first learn about what they are commenting on, before publishing their opinion. Drive-by comments just aren’t up to the mark.


Copyright © Matthew Wright 2019

6 thoughts on “It’s annoying when people comment without reading the substance

  1. Cripes, the NZ government investigated you? I do hope you pleaded insanity on that one. That’s what I always do! [insane laugh and coughing fit]

    But yes, your topic is a constant everywhere. Glance over the headline, immediately know what you’re on about, comment mindlessly: “I must know best as I are me lol.”

    I don’t know the journalistic situation in NZ, but in England we have certain tabloids (The Daily Mail, for example) where it goes a step further. Readers see a single word in the headline and blast on in to spew invective. And the Daily Mail knows it so creates headlines such as: “We’re denied EXIT from the EU by SNIVELLING SOCIALIST Corbyn!” And it works, they get the views and people in the comments ranting their banal ideologies.

    Erm… I don’t think there’s a solution (the latter word my content manager despises, btw – along with btw, and a hyphen instead of an em dash).

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  2. Hah! I just realised what I managed to write there… 🙂 Apropos local journalism – yeah, it’s broadly the same here. Shallow, geared to push sales, and built around a handful of ‘celebrity journalists’ who ram their obnoxious opinions down everybody’s throats. The ‘tabloid’ aspect isn’t prominent, but it’s not needed as the mainstream aspect seems to do the job quite well. NZ being a very small place, I’ve had dealings with two of the two main journos doing this in the past (I know what I said there), one of whom misrepresented me on TV as having an attitude I didn’t; and the other of whom was simply contemptuous about everybody.

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    1. It was the New Zealand equivalent of a US drugstore soda fountain – essentially, a place to buy milkshakes, soda drinks (sometimes bottled but locally made, e.g. ‘Foxton Fizz’) and snacks. They stayed open well into the evening, far later than public bars (which, between 1917 and 1967 closed at 6.00 pm) and were social gathering places for youth culture, particularly from the 1940s. As a social phenomenon they were essentially enabled by NZ’s drinking laws, which almost, but didn’t quite, switch to prohibition during WW1 (limiting laws were followed in 1919 with a vote for prohibition, which was narrowly defeated). But drinking laws were still restrictive – hence the milk bars as an alternative social gathering place. During the late 1940s, early 1950s period, they were of particular appeal to the new ‘teenage’ generation.

      The larger milk bars often made their own ice cream – there were dozens of brands, usually sold through local districts. The Elbe was one of them.

      Incidentally, despite the modern age of homogenous big-brand products sold worldwide, Foxton Fizz are still going, and still based in Foxton (pop. 3,130) –


  3. I think the same goes for our news media. They hear a headline or read a clip of news on a strip running across the bottom of their TV screen and they run with it, but not really knowing the whole story.

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