The comment section on Internet articles is the most useless part of the Internet. While those of us may joke about the terrible things that happen in the deep dark corners of the Internet, the comment section sits right out in the open and winks at everyone.
Often when talking about the place where sanity and civility goes to die, I think of Godwin’s Law. It’s a theory about how comment sections work. According to the Oxford Dictionary, it states that as a comment section gets longer, the more likely that someone or something is going to be compared to Hitler, no matter what the original topic was. It is the epitome of the Internet: anonymous users will say anything.
During an interview with the Washington Post in September, Mike Godwin (the namesake of Godwin’s Law) said that with the unprecedented power given to users in the Internet age, everyone is a publisher. He spoke on how people unfamiliar with the Internet essentially etch their words in stone.
“The traditional media have a more refined awareness of the lack of control over their content once it’s out there,” said Godwin, while being interviewed after sitting on a congressional panel about the right to be forgotten. “But for people who weren’t in professional journalism, they haven’t had to grapple with it.”
In the short run, it’s just one more tech guru saying “be careful what you post online, kids.” People thinking about what they say online could potentially do some good for the Internet and more importantly, us users. Comment sections deride the world all over. For everyone that says the comment section provides a crucial medium for free speech, I’m willing to bet more are going to swear that it’s useless.
Nick Denton, founder of Gawker Media, said that the notion the Internet brought with it the interactive aspect between writer and reader doesn’t work at all.
“The idea of capturing the intelligence of the readership, that’s a joke,” said Denton speaking to CNN at South By Southwest Interactive. “I don’t like going into the comments. For every two that are interesting, and even if they are critical you want to engage with them, there will be eight that are off-topic or just toxic.”
Articles like “Comment Sections are Poison” from The Guardian point out the real crux of the argument. These portals for the proliferation and pontificating of phony logic and phantasmagorical insights still exist. Since they don’t work and don’t promote good arguments, there isn’t a real reason to keep them.
I also really chuckle at the suggestions that comment sections can be useful if just properly moderated. It’s not my place to be out job-killing but who would want the job of having to dig through the filth?
And I find people self-reporting as useful as it is in online games. For instance, I love how in Halo, if you leave a match because your teammates enjoy the practice of team-killing you, they can report you for being unsporting. See, you have to stick around long enough for the game to think it’s uncool for it to give you the option to kick the offending party from the game. Lots of comment sections allow other people to flag or downvote offensive comments, but they don’t disappear completely.
As for the rest of the Internet, with the ability to create free profiles, there is nothing to stop people from signing up again, especially if they are inclined to troll because now they know people get upset. That gives them targets. There is no common decency. Or do I need to remind people about how trolls targeted Robin Williams’ family after his passing? Or the ongoing Internet disaster GamerGate?
It’s not like this will deprive anyone of a means of commenting on stories online. In the old days we had the letter to the editor; now we just have email. What we are depriving people of the ability to have a front row seat in ruining someone’s day and everyone else from having to see what the curious cat dragged in from the depths of the Internet.
Patrick White is a senior in mass communications.