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.
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.
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.