STFU

I am of that strange in-between generation which quickly embraced and adapted to the internet, yet  which still has plenty of memories of our pre-internet world. Thus while using the internet is mostly second nature for me, there are some aspects of it which I haven’t managed to fully adapt to. Twitter, for example, is a mystery to me. I cannot limit any of my thoughts to 140 characters. I can rarely limit them to 140 words. Another aspect which initially struck me as strange was the explosion of comments sections, and thereafter the transformation of some comments sections into virtual discussion forums. I still get like notifications from comments I’ve made via a Facebook-integrated comment section on an internet publication. I’m happy that so many people have liked my comments written months and in one case over year ago, but I’d rather not be reminded about it constantly. Thus far I’ve learned the only way to turn off those notifications is to actually remove the comments I made, which sounds a bit ridiculous considering how highly liked they were.

Comments sections have a reputation of being the lowest of the low when it comes to debate. Youtube and Yahoo News are probably the top two rivals for the stupidest commentators. I’m sure every reader out there can remember a time when you watched a 30-second video of a kitten playing with a ball of yarn, and then you made the mistake of scrolling down to the comments only to find such gems as:

“This video is fucking bullshit! Just another attempt by the Jews and their Illuminati henchmen to distract us White men as they destroy our society with third world immigrants! Anti-racist is a code word for anti-white!” 

“This cat is gay. The person who shot this video is a faggot.”  

“Bullshit! Everyone knows that the M16 is far more accurate than an AK-47. As long as you keep it clean it will function just fine. That kitten was cute but if Kenyan president Obummer has his way we won’t have any M16’s or AK’s.”

“My friend earned $5000 last week without leaving the house! All he had to do was stay at home and tell people who Obama is a fag. DEPORT ALL ARABS!!!”

“Come to my city and say that shit to my face! I’m an ex-Navy SEAL and I will totally fuck you up. 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, DC, motherfucker.  -President Barack Obama”  

Entire videos have been made on the subject of Youtube comments, in fact.

Suffice it to say that if we see anything posted on the internet, chances are you can scroll down and you will find comments, sometimes numbering in the hundreds. Some comments sections have special platforms like Disqus, which tracks all your comments on any Disqus-based section and basically transforms comments sections into one massive discussion forum. Most sections at least provide some form of subscription so that you can track people’s replies indefinitely. Whatever the system, comments sections have become an integral part of internet media. Should they though? Is this kind of audience participation really desirable?

Should it be, though? The early twenties me, the veteran forum flame warrior, would have most likely answered in the affirmative. But that me is long gone. Now I have to say that the idea of letting everyone comment on everything is simply idiotic. For one thing, unlike a forum where you have to possess a modicum of intelligence to register and create a profile, virtually anyone can easily comment on news stories, even if they have a platform which requires some kind of profile. Usually it’s as simple as telling the program to use one of your existing accounts, such as a Gmail account.  Moreover, most people who comment don’t really plan to debate, which means that they aren’t going to be too concerned about how intelligent their argument is. Most forums exist as a sort of community. I’ve seen bitter forum grudges between users that went on for years; usually this entails the slighted user following the object of their hatred from thread to thread in order to start shit, on-topic or off.  The fact that it’s possible to scroll down to the comments of virtually any news article and simply carpet bomb them with comments makes this a far more attractive trolling prospect than a traditional discussion forum. It also means that complete idiots are better able to participate in discussions, as Yahoo News demonstrates.

In case the reader is wondering at this point why I’ve got so much to say about commenting, I just recently discovered that The Moscow Times no longer has comments on their site. Instead there is this message.

Dear reader,

Due to the increasing number of users engaging in personal attacks, spam, trolling and abusive comments, we are no longer able to host our forum as a site for constructive and intelligent debate.

It is with regret, therefore, that we have found ourselves forced to suspend the commenting function on our articles.

The Moscow Times remains committed to the principle of public debate and hopes to welcome you to a new, constructive forum in the future.

Regards,

The Moscow Times

Judging from the last time I looked at the kind of comments they get there, I’m surprised they managed to endure so long. The comments to my article alone were insane, though entirely predictable. Like many venues for discussion about Russia, MT comments sections tend to neatly divide into rigid pro-Putin “pro-Russian” and pro-Western camps.  Fail to fully support every plank of the party line and your allies may become your enemies. It’s also pretty likely that MT is plagued with paid Russian comment trolls. These trolls can be identified by their poor English, occasional attempts to pose as Americans or citizens of the UK, ridiculously exaggerated claims, and a general unwillingness to actually engage in debate. For example, if the article is about some NGO accusing Russia of having human rights issues, such a troll with a user name like UncleSam1776 will come on and write something like,“Come on! Everyone’s know that there are no human rights in America! Its most undemocratic country in the world. There is no freedom of speech at all!”  

At this point I only see one problem with what The Moscow Times has done; they say they plan to somehow reinstate the system and create a constructive forum in the future. I’m sorry but that just isn’t going to happen. Either the discussion will be severely limited, or the same trolls and binary-thinking dipshits will run wild again.  Seeing as how morons can comment as much as they like on The Moscow Times’ Facebook page, I for one would applaud them if they didn’t reinstate the comments section. If there’s some kind of revenue angle I don’t know about, I can understand. But if there isn’t, I say scrap the comments for good.

There is simply no reason why everyone should be allowed to publicly comment on everything. Even today, newspapers have a small, limited section for letters to the editor, and they tend to be quite strict and discriminating in regards to what they print. Granted, I know there are plenty of stupid letters to the editor, but I guarantee you that a lot of stuff gets filtered out. Compare that to the comments section of a news article, where the filtering is usually far less strict.  If readers want to discuss the articles they read, that’s what their co-workers, significant others, children, parents, and other relatives are for.  When you read an article, and particularly an editorial, that’s usually the work of a professional writer. If you take issue with what they wrote, there are usually channels through which you can contact them and share your grievance.  If you actually possess writing skills, you can possibly write a response to their article. If you can’t get it into their publication, you can either find one which will publish it or just publish yourself for free on a personal blog.  If you’re not capable of composing an intelligent response, that’s on you. It’s not the responsibility of that author’s publication or of the author to provide you with a platform to respond at all, much less a platform that allows you to write ignorant, uninformed opinions.

There is a rather childish, if not imbecilic notion in modern internet culture which says that anything and everything should be totally open to debate indefinitely, and any refusal to either debate or continue a debate in progress results in an automatic win for the other side. I’m terribly sorry but this is bullshit. Some arguments simply do not have merit. They do not warrant debate. There really aren’t two sides to every story.  This being the case, there is no reason why authors or publications should feel compelled to provide millions of anonymous strangers with a platform to publicly discuss their own hard work. Again, if your argument really holds weight, you should be able to produce some written work of merit and get it published somewhere. Do…the…fucking…work.

Note that I’m not saying that comments sections should end. I’m merely putting forth an opinion that it might be nice for more publications and websites to consider closing their comments sections. I’m saying we need to stop expecting every single website to solicit our opinions, because quite frankly sometimes our opinions are crap. As for Russia Without BS, I don’t have any upcoming plans to close the comments section, but that’s because thus far I have been blessed with some of the best, most rational comment writers I’ve ever seen on the internet.  How a blog about Russia could manage to somehow avoid becoming a battleground, especially over Ukraine, is beyond me.  The Moscow Times on the other hand is far too well-known and much more of a target since it is one of the few independent media sources left in Russia. As such, I’d say they really ought to consider making their closure of the comments section permanent.

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8 thoughts on “STFU

  1. Estragon

    Re “paid Russian comment trolls”: how well established is that really? I see stories like the Atlantic one, but I’m still somewhat skeptical, simply because these trolls are so ludicrously bad at getting a comprehensible POV across. (My personal favorite was the obviously google-translated Russian troll who rendered Pussy Riot as “Revolting Cats.”) The Russian gov’t still has plenty of money; one would think they could hire smoother, more polished commenters.

    Reply
    1. Big Bill Haywood Post author

      There’s definitely a lot more info on them out there. The Guardian keeps track of them because what happens is they find these new accounts which appear and then comment strictly on stories about Russia. Their job isn’t to present any coherent narrative, only to muddy the waters and make it look like people in the West love Russia.

      As for whether they can afford better well, this is the country that pays people like Sleboda, Kirby, Bridge, and many others.

      Reply
  2. W

    Leaked documents allegedly obtained from anti-Kremlin hackers recently outlined the work of paid trolls attempting to muddy the waters of political discourse surrounding Russia. While the source is Buzzfeed, Max Seddon was the former Moscow correspondent for AP – he does really good work, the quality of which risks being obfuscated due to his current employer.

    http://www.buzzfeed.com/maxseddon/documents-show-how-russias-troll-army-hit-america

    A lack of clarity is what the entire Russian media projection is about, and ironically, unlike the West free market models, they have the money to do it. The BBC is cutting back on staff, France24 manages to put out consistently good content on 3 channels for 52 million euro per year, CNN just laid off 8 percent of its workforce (300 people); things are looking dire. And yet during these lean economic times, RT’s budget increased by 41 percent to 15.38 billion rubles for 2015. The truly abysmal RIA-Novosti, both in terms of content and editorial angle (it is quite apparent that they never rehired all the output editors they fired last year; much google translating is afoot with misread/misunderstood stories from the Western press being sensationalized and rewritten into journalistic travesties) gets 2.35 billion rubles for 2015. It is very clear Russia is flush with cash when it comes to two things; military spending and internet presence. Trolls are just a drop in that bucket.

    Reply
  3. W

    As for the article, the reason for comments sections is simple; it’s all part of monetization. If there is no comments section, people read the article once and move on, unless it is of particular interest to them or intersects with some sort of research. If, however, people get involved in some form of debate, you could return to the same article dozens of times (especially for obsessive types constantly checking if their honor has been besmirched or if they are undergoing a public flogging which their egos cannot handle.) Site traffic is simply measured in clicks, and while there is a difference between unique visitors and repeat visitors, Google metrics breaks down the number of visitors to any particular article at any given time, which correlates into potential exposure for advertisers. Even return visits provides the opportunity for further exposure to an advertisers message; more clicks, more money.

    The second thing comments do is tell a would-be reader how popular an article is. That’s why the Guardian, for example, often posts the number of comments beneath the main pic for a story on its front page. If you see one story has 1000 plus comments, while the one next to it has 41, that has a psychological effect. Controversy, intrigue, doesn’t matter, people will click to see what’s going on. All of this is a far cry from whether or not comments help or hurt the delivery of news. Wrap it up any way you like, comments sections equal money, and Moscow Times will bring it back; they have to, they’re barely keeping their nose above water as it is.

    Reply
  4. Big Bill Haywood Post author

    I figured there had to be a monetary angle to it. Online media has always been tricky ever since the beginning of the internet. I remember Bob McChesney talking about how one of the Grateful Dead who was an early enthusiast of the internet made the prediction that traditional media was the Titanic, and that the internet would be its iceberg. Even back when this interview happened, around 2004, that idea had been proved laughably false.

    As for Russia’s spending on military and media, it’s sad because the regime thinks this will save it. Neither will, however. Too bad they wouldn’t put it into things like this: http://openleft.ru/?p=4582&fb_action_ids=10205251242620039&fb_action_types=og.likes

    Reply

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