Discommentinue

Sometime in the back half of 2015, there was a spate of news sites that announced that they were doing away with the comment sections on their sites. The articles elsewhere reporting on this elimination were doubtlessly brimming over with people voicing their disapproval of the move, and doubtlessly they received some “strongly worded” e-mails about the decision. There was—and continues to be—a sizable contingent on the internet who would be upset about the removal of the ability to comment on articles and postings. It seems a lot of these objections range from the legally illiterate claim that it is somehow a violation of their freedom of speech, to the slightly more reasonable one that in doing so the culprits are actively harming online communities and their abilities to conduct discourse.

I, personally, don’t allow comments on either my blog or Superdickery. Anyone who wants to talk to me is free to get a hold of me on Twitter, or use the handy contact forms to shoot me a missive. This is in part because screening legitimate comments from the unrelenting tide of botspam and moderating what remains would be a full time job (an immensely unfulfilling one at that). I don’t want to do it, and I sure as shit am not about to pay someone to do it. But that is all perhaps secondary to the greater underlying problem with comment sections:

Comment sections are shit.

Every one of them. Shit. Like open sewer systems. The kind from third world countries where they’re so toxic they kill people who so much as get it on their exposed skin.

I’ve always been a stalwart opponent of the comment section, but most of that stems from my Old Man on the Internet Syndrome where I don’t see the value of platforms like Twitter (which I use regardless) and services like WhatsApp or Snapchat (which I do not). That there seems to be movement on the ending of comment sections is less me being ahead of the curve, and more the rest of the world coming full circle and meeting me where I sat waiting the entire time. Not that I don’t care what other people think, but the signal to noise ratio of genuine thoughtful commentary versus garbage just makes it not worth my while.

It’s not worth anyone’s while.

And—while I have absolutely no actual data to back this assertion—it certainly seems that things have only gotten worse over the years with the rise of social media. Now has the actual contents of comment sections gotten worse? I have no idea, nor do I have any idea how you would go about quantifying such a thing. But it definitely seems to have increased in frequency and volume (both as a measure of loudness and space occupied). Undoubtedly some or much of that can be attributed to the increased prevalence of internet access, but all of it?

John Gabriel’s Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory has a superfluous variable. Once upon a time, it was easy to believe the fact that it was easy to hide behind faceless pseudonyms made it easy to hurl vitriol. Remember when Google tried to coerce everyone into converting their YouTube accounts to Google+ accounts and claimed that making people use their real names would encourage people to be better behaved in the comment sections?

Yeah. How’d that work out?

That is the confounding element of all this. The advent of social media mandating the use of your real name and encouraging the use of the user’s face, has at best had a neutral effect, and at worst has exacerbated the problem. People have no reservations about spewing distilled misanthropic hatred across all spectrums on all channels. People’s livelihoods are ruined by the shit they say on Twitter or Facebook, either directly from the shit they say, or indirectly by having howling masses of people take it upon themselves to mete out punishment for some perceived slight.

Not that the end of comment sections would put an end to any of that, but at the very least it would put a stopper in an outlet that does practically nothing but spew unadulterated abuse at all comers. “Don’t read the comments” has gone from a snarky quip to a cardinal rule for the use of the internet, but there’s an argument to be made that in doing so you are only turning a blind eye to the problem and emboldening those who contribute to it. Some would advocate more proactive curating to separate the chaff from the wheat, but I am still in the camp of going one step further and just removing the feature entirely. I don’t think I could ever be convinced that it’s worth the effort for such meager gains.

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–Mike