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The Information wars - What I’ve learnt in the frontlines of comment sections 

Fought by Onjei Bond (he/him)

When I wake up with fourteen notifications from Instagram, it’s not because I’ve posted anything. It’s because the night before, I went out and engaged with every untasteful,  misinformed, and downright hateful comment I could find. 

And they always respond.  

Usually, it’s a one-off. I feel compelled to respond, and then suddenly I’m stuck in debate,  and this goes on for as long as I can stand it. 

Lately, however, I’ve noticed a huge increase of transphobia on New Zealand posts. If the increase in transphobia that I had noticed was infecting local content- how long until it infected locals, point blank?  

In the comment section of a RE:News post, my battle reached new heights. I saw a hate comment. I engaged. And whenever I went back to  respond, I would see that every new comment was also wildly transphobic, and more were  pouring in.


Rapidly, my righteous war became compulsive—it wasn’t  enough to stick to the fights already started, I had to find  the new comments, and fight them too.  

It’s not as if I had a thesis proposal overdue, a social life, and a loving family which meant I didn’t need attention from angry strangers. But to me, these comments felt like  an insult, and a very dangerous one at that.  

This is the lowest form of activism. The least effective, the least productive. This is the sort  of glue trap that saps your energy fast, your compassion even faster, and yields absolutely  zero results.  

And yet, I couldn’t stop. 

In Bad Taste


The stage is set.

Me: knowing how Joan of Arc felt. The commenters: armed with the most  stereotypical transphobia imaginable. In the comment section of RE:News’ recent piece  posted on Instagram- ‘How the software GP’s use is harming Queer patients’, I picked up the  holy sword of my anthropology degree and prepared to do battle.  

And battle I did. Over two-thirds of the comments fit into the eleven themes of transgender social hate, mainly focusing on ‘gender essentialism’, the idea that gender is immutable and binary. The post centred on the idea that “The system used by GPs is married to the gender binary”, as it had no space to put in pronouns and therefore frequently misgendered trans patients, providing boundaries for transpeople’s medical care. This,  

obviously, was an unthinkable critique of the system.


Featuring such responses as “RNZ you fuckwits. pronouns are based on sex not gender”,  “Biological only has two genders and doesn’t cater to how you feel”, and “DR ARE TOO BUSY  SAVING LIVES TO REMEMBER YR PRONOUNS”, the idea that you shouldn’t misgender people  is a divisive one.  

Misgendering “has recently emerged as [a] new frontier in  the culture wars”3, and has finally reached New Zealand’s  shores. When I was commenting, I was unknowingly joining  in on a war effort that spanned the Western world.  

The scene set, the lines drawn, let’s discuss the interesting phenomena I noticed whilst I  mindlessly refreshed my notifications for the next conflict. 

The Furry Defence

By far the most common rebuttal was something I term ‘The Furry Defence’. It’s a political strawman (or should I say fursuitman) which  assimilates transgenderism as wanting to identify as a cat. The idea that trans-people are identifying as animals   is not new. It stems from propaganda in America, and has been spread by sites such as the Daily Mail, Fox News, and anyone looking for a quick piece of outrage bait to misinform their viewers. And it was an idea which got brought up a lot. Seems a lot of people are worried about how trans-people “wanna piss in trees then [at] school start meowing like a mentality [sic] ill  person”. They never responded to my plea to Google what a furry was, nor provided a  source.  

Why are transgender issues so commonly rejoined with “I won’t treat you like a cat?” 

For the same reason protesters in the past claimed legalising homosexuality would encourage bestiality.  To incite outrage.  

This political move is called ‘disgust rhetoric’, the act  of utilising an outrageous statement as a defence. It’s  impossible to counter, because it’s blatantly untrue and preys on emotion-based response. When you can’t win on facts, win on feelings, right?

So This Is How The News Dies, with Thunderous Applause

Another thing I noticed was the commenters who were excited for the impending shutdown  of Newshub, and the job cuts at TVNZ.  

The distrust and active vitriol aimed at journalism isn’t surprising—there is a vested interest  from right-leaning groups to discredit any and all media aimed at reporting pretty much anything. 

With such hits as “News.orgs up for the chop proving once again why it’s a good idea”, and  “can’t wait for you guys to close down”, it was not enough that trans people dared to desire  basic respect—it was an insult that anyone would report on it at all.  

All Engagement is Good Engagement

So where was RE:News? I was bleeding out on their front doorstep. Where was the platform  that describes itself as “a platform that helps people get heard”, and the proud creators of  “Queer Academy”? 

No fucking clue.  

I attempted to reach out to RE:News about moderating or disabling their comments.  Unfortunately, their website Contact Us page doesn’t work. I then tried TVNZ, and haven’t  heard back. I sincerely doubt I will.  

The comments under this post are triple their average engagement.  

To report stories about trans people, and then refuse to moderate the comment section, is  to use transgender people as bait for engagement. There is no way to claim to be a safe  platform when you engage in such practices.  

This is not a critique of RE:News. I believe the lack of moderation ties into their cuts, another reason why it’s such a blow to Aotearoa. Without proper resources, it’s impossible to ensure  articles are received the way they’re intended.  

That being said. Once you have reported about an at-risk group, you become responsible for  your impact on that community. The idea that another trans person could open the  comments on an article about trans people, and see it’s full of hatred, is extremely  demoralising. If Re:News lacks the resources to moderate comments, they should disable them. Reporting on  transgender issues should not come at the expense of hatred.  

I want hate comments to cease. I want reliable and ethical reporting of the issues that affect  my community, without paying the price in discourse. I want to beat my sword into a  ploughshare.  

But until I wake up and find my notifications empty, I guess I’ll just keep commenting. 


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