I wrote this earlier this year, probably in the summer of 2017, on a Tumblr blog that no longer exists.  It is about a local radio show “podcast” that I was enjoying…. until the toxic call-in comment section made me stop listening to it.

I read “Toxic Comment Section Made Me Stop Listening to a Podcast” in episode 23 of my Words of Jen podcast.

Recently, I listened to an episode of a local radio show.  Like many other radio shows, it doesn’t really have a podcast that you can subscribe to. But, you can listen to “chunks” of each show on the radio station’s website. It’s sort of, but not quite, a podcast.

My husband pointed out an episode (for lack of a more accurate term) he had listened to and thought I would enjoy. That particular episode featured an author who used to live where we do – and maybe still does, for all I know. One of the author’s books recently received a whole lot of attention because it had been turned into a TV series.

So, I listened to the episode of the local radio show.  The author was giddy in the way that I figure all authors whose work becomes a TV show are. He seemed very genuine, and kind, and down to earth. The host sounded very intelligent, and did a good job of directing the conversation (so that it fit in between ads). I definitely enjoyed listening to that episode.

Later, I listened to another episode of this local radio show because I thought it would be interesting. The episode was about a political thing that happened locally. A long time, well known, Republican woman had been accused of electioneering in a polling place. She was a senior citizen.

The host invited a guest who was a Republican (and who wrote about politics for a local paper). This made sense to me, because it seemed like this guest knew the senior citizen personally, and was also knowledgeable about rules regarding polling places, and stuff like that.

The woman’s trial was going on while that episode was being recorded, so there wasn’t an outcome yet.  The one thing that the host, the guest, and I all agreed on was that the situation at the polling station had not been handled correctly. Things escalated, and the senior citizen ended up in court. I didn’t agree with every viewpoint of this guest, but he was being civil, so that was ok.

And then… the host opened up the show for callers.

Most of the callers were people who personally knew the senior citizen. They were enraged, and shouty, and demanding that the person who filed the lawsuit against the senior citizen should be put in jail because they took a video of her engaging in (alleged) electioneering.

Each caller was more irate than the last, and it turned what was a discussion about rules at polling places, information about the procedures one should follow if they think someone is electioneering in a polling place, and the concept that maybe the senior citizen should be excused from (allegedly) breaking the law because of her age… into a toxic, partisan, mess. The guest, who appeared reasonable before the “audio comment section” took over, was influenced by the toxic comments, and he started saying awful things about Democrats and making things even more partisan.

It totally turned me off. I complained to my husband about it, asking him to stop sending me links to this local radio show “podcast”. I was certain that the host, whom I thought was a reasonable person at first, must have agreed with what the commenters were saying. He certainly didn’t do anything to stop them.

My husband, who has listened to much more of this radio show than I have, insisted I was wrong in my assumption. He sent me another link to the radio show, this one about conspiracy theories.

Specifically, the host, and a male guest who used to have a radio show some time ago, talked about the Seth Rich conspiracy. This led to a discussion about Sean Hannity pushing the conspiracy despite the fact that there was no evidence of his claims. Part of the discussion was about the changes at Fox News (including its drop in viewers and both Bill O’Reilly and Megyn Kelly leaving it).

The host and the guest pondered why people believe conspiracy theories, and why those people fail to change their mind when faced with factual information.  It was an interesting show.

And then… the host opened up the show for callers.

Suddenly, it felt as though I was listening to an audio version of the most egregious, partisan, “alternative-fact” believing, Trump supporting parts of Twitter. It was shocking, especially since this was a local radio show. These horrible people live somewhere near me!

To his credit, the host did push back a bit on some of these callers. I admit I was wrong about my assumption that the host was a partisan conservative. The callers, however, instead of listening to what the host had to say simply shouted over him. It was difficult to listen to, it made me uncomfortable, and I seriously considered deleting the whole episode without hearing the rest of it.

But, I wanted to hear what the guest had to say, since he seemed very educated and interesting. I was enjoying the discussion between the guest and the host before the irate commenters called in and got all shouty.

A while later, I decided to give this local radio show another try.  I listened to an episode where the host clearly told the people calling in to “knock it off”.  He did not take any callers on this episode. He pointed out that he didn’t like what the loud minority of commenters were saying, or the way they were saying it. He said it made him uncomfortable.

The host said that there was a woman who was going to be a guest on his show – but she canceled after hearing how the irate commenters treated another woman who was on the show before her. The woman, who had cancer, didn’t want to subject herself to that. The host understood. He yelled that the mean commenters (who must have been out there, waiting for their chance to call in and scream some more) need to knock it off.  It was one thing to disagree with someone’s views, but quite another to hurl insults at guests.

The host basically said that he was not going to put up with it anymore. Either the commenters are civil, or “you’re outta here.” He said he did not care what it would do to his ratings, and quoted a mentor who said “Having no comments is better than having really bad comments.”

I was impressed, so I gave the local radio show one more try. I picked a two part episode where a female guest was invited to explain what happened with the recent UK “snap” election, and how that might effect Brexit. She was also there to discuss the recent hearing where former director of the FBI, James Comey, spoke.

The woman was intelligent, very knowledgable, and good at explaining difficult political concepts. She quoted people directly and cited her sources by saying where she was reading the quote from. Again, it was a very interesting discussion.

And then… the host opened up the show for callers.

Right from the start, the callers were absolutely irate. One man attempted to interrogate the female guest as though he were a prosecutor and she was on trial. He refused to listen to the answers she gave to his questions, talked over her, and got louder and louder. To his credit, the host pushed back and moved on to the next caller. But, the damage had already been done.

I gave this episode a chance, hoping that the shouty people would go away and I would hear from some callers who were interested in intelligent, rational, conversation based on the facts. It was hard, but I did stick around to hear one or two of them.  And then… the shouty people returned.

This was more than I could stand. I stopped listening to that episode, and deleted all almost all of the episodes that I had downloaded.  I kept the one with the local author. That episode was very pleasant to listen to.

I will never listen to this particular local radio show “podcast” ever again – because of how toxic the call-in commenters were. If you are a podcaster, please take the time to moderate your comment section (be it in text or audio format). Toxic comment sections cause people, who might otherwise enjoy your content, to run away from it and never return.

Toxic Comment Section Made Me Stop Listening to a Podcast is a post written by Jen Thorpe on Book of Jen and is not allowed to be copied to other sites.

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