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Are Internet Comments Getting More Stupid?

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Brainfart, by DragonAssBabeI think internet comments have suffered a collective loss in intelligence. Originally, I was going to write about how nobody bothers leaving blog comments any longer, and that maybe therefore it’s not worth leaving your blog open to comments, especially if you write on a fairly mundance topic. But I realised in my browsing that there are still plenty of people leaving comments. I’m just not sure they’re worth reading these days.

The fact is, the internet is (for now) more open than ever, giving everyone the opportunity to “speak their brains” on any topic they fancy. Now, I’m not demanding they be experts, but is a science article really the best place to start railing against the government? Does your personal anecdote mean that there is a worldwide police conspiracy to issue as many parking tickets as possible?

Don’t get me wrong; there are comments on blog and newspaper articles that are on-topic, articulate and can help to move a discussion forward. Unfortunately, they are outweighed by the sheer volume of rushed, ill-considered invective because some people insist on shoehorning their personal prejudices and bugbears into their comment, whether they have read the article or not. This can happen anywhere, but is especially apparent on US political websites at the moment. I know it’s an election year, but I don’t think 2012 will be won or lost by how many times people can accuse “Obummer” of being a Kenyan* socialist.

Perhaps the freedom of commenting has led to a coarsening in tone. It’s a well-observed phenomenon that people will be far ruder when they are anonymous than they would ever be in person, with a few exceptions for the clinically obnoxious. Freedom of speech is a wonderful thing, and I don’t want to shut anyone up. They’d only come back shriller and more hysterical than ever. What I would like to see is a raising of tone, an improvement in standards, and that is the responsibility of website owners.

Weak, irrelevant comments should be treated the same way as spam. No really, I mean it. If somebody can only provide a “LOLwut?” to a lengthy piece on FGM, that comment doesn’t need to be displayed. When a comment wants to talk about military recruitment underneath an article on deficit reduction, that’s off-topic and can be sent to the trash bin.

Is this censorship? No. People are free to comment, provided their comments are on-topic and substantive. If they want to, they can start a blog of their own to put across their own point of view. Nobody’s rights are being violated; there is no guaranteed right to be a jackass on the internet. This is a plea, a plea to site owners and moderators to pay more attention to quality control on their properties. Not every comment has to go through. Sift for quality, banish the stupid, and send them to belm into the void elsewhere.

*Seriously people, what is up with that? Even with changes to the Kenyan Constitution, the man remains as Kenyan as a Smurf.

[Image by DragonAssBabe]


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