Gosh, I so love reading Internet comments. It’s like a stroll on a warm spring day … in a fetid swamp. (Or the Fire Swamp … while being beset by rodents of unusual size …)
It’s not the horrible affronts to logic and truth or the lack of regard for fellow humans (last I checked, that’s what we are). Nor is it the constant refusal to stray from extreme partisan stances (oh my God, a RINO!!!).
OK, it is that, and so much more.
For one thing, I’d like back all those wasted hours reading unbelievable (literally … and yet they believe) tripe. Just like a car wreck, you can’t turn away. And yep, there it goes, slowing down traffic to a crawl.
One of the things I find most annoying about comment boards is that so many of the denizens think it’s all right to re-imagine how a writer feels about one thing or another. And yep, I and other writers for the paper are often misquoted and/or have our stances misrepresented. For instance, a couple of commenters on the newspaper’s site have decided that I define trolls as “anyone who disagrees with you.” (Of course they mean anyone who disagrees with me, because I obviously think I’m always right.)
Last April, here’s how I defined trolls (emphasis added):
“It should come as no surprise that I’m not a fan of trolls, either the ugly little dolls or the anonymous Internet variety only interested in stirring people up by purposely posting inflammatory or off-topic statements (bridge trolls I’m still on the fence about … just not a fence near a bridge).”
You can disagree with a troll, but someone is not a troll because you disagree with him. That someone is a troll if, for example, he purposely posts, as standard practice, often-outrageously incendiary remarks that have nothing to do with the topic at hand in an effort to distract other commenters and disrupt discussion. (Hey, did you see that unicorn prance through here???)
Trolls are also fans of further spreading long-debunked tales (if I hear that Vince Foster story one more time …), picking totally unnecessary fights, misinterpreting straightforward statements (why, yes, when I say I’m a cat lover, it means I’m evil incarnate), and posting multiple claims with no evidence or with made-up evidence, then attacking anyone who points that out, especially if the “attacker” provides evidence to the contrary.
And yes, there are trolls on the newspaper’s site and many others. You know who you are.
Funnily enough, trolls are often the first to take offense at anything they perceive to be an insult (such as someone calling them out for their trolling, because it’s just not polite to say what they are), which … uhhh … sort of reminds me of a certain thin-skinned presidential candidate. One commenter on our website last week compared insulting people like him to putting “a thorny crown on Jesus’ head,” saying name-calling and insults just make them stronger.
That’s name-calling not done by the commenter, I’m assuming, based on other comments he’s made. I also love how he managed to work Jesus imagery in there (well, it was not his first victim rodeo).
As far as insults go on the Internet, pretty much anything goes, it seems. It all hinges on the intent of the person hurling the insults, so relatively benign terms like “liberal,” “moderate” and “conservative” can be pejoratives if the hurler meant them as such.
Of course, those are rarely what you’ll see on the Internet, especially once a “discussion” really gets going, because moderators, when they’re there, can still only do so much. A lot of those terms can’t be printed in a family newspaper.
Where it gets complicated is when members of our easily offended nation are taken aback by things that were not meant as insults (perhaps such offensive terms as “man,” “day,” “cat” … you never know). Yep, that includes the trolls, who are offended quite often by spirited debate backed by facts (not the made-up “facts” they prefer).
Part of the problem arises because assumptions are made about other commenters (see above) and what kind of people they really are, as well as those creepy mind-reading narratives describing what someone thinks the other commenters would do or say. That’s when you see all those “typical dimlib” or “typical Rethuglicon” comments. Generalization serves no one but the person uninterested in actual debate.
And hack comics looking to steal jokes.
Add anonymity to the mix, and the ad hominems and straw men tend to fly like a flock of startled grackles. The social niceties and the rules of debate don’t exist because it’s so much easier to just lob insults at others than to attack the logic and veracity of an argument.
And if the troll can make it all about him by acting the victim? Score! (Someone call the whaaaambulance, STAT!)
Blogger and author Mark Manson has noted:
“Freud made the argument that for society to exist, man’s worst impulses—violence, selfishness, inappropriate sexuality—must be kept in check. The Internet is possibly the first mechanism in human history that allows society to not only exist, but to thrive by removing the need for self-censorship. With no consequences and less efficient communication, people are rewarded for shock value of what they say as much as the content and meaning.”
What, you mean people would say outrageous things just to get a rise out of someone?
Oh, wait a minute … isn’t that the Fox News business plan? C’mon, people, we’re better than that!
What would be nice would be if people on comment boards behaved more like people talking to each other in real life, but sadly, it seems online behavior is seeping more and more into real life. All it takes to prove that is one Donald Trump rally. People have been given license to be complete asses, and they’re running with it.
I know my fantasy won’t come true—people won’t just start debating the facts in a civilized manner; it’s too easy to stick to rumors, myths and insults than to deal with real life.
Because, you know, real life is scary for someone who sees nothing but his own face staring back at him from the computer monitor. Meh, reality is overrated.