I had to remind myself last week not to read the comments on news sites, or as a friend calls it, “the bottom half of the Internet.”
But I just can’t help myself sometimes, and then I’m disappointed by the mindless cruelty, inane (and sometimes insane) insults and laughable arguments put forth.
To be fair, it’s not just news sites where you’ll find such sniping, but pretty much anywhere that has a comment section. Site moderation is key to keeping things civil, and too many sites don’t have very active moderators. Because of the added headaches of moderation, then, many sites have limited or completely stopped the posting of comments on their sites. (For example, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette only allows comments on opinion pieces; The New York Times has a select number of articles they’ll open to comments each day.)
As Suzanne Labarre wrote when Popular Science decided to shut off its comments in 2013, “As the news arm of a 141-year-old science and technology magazine, we are as committed to fostering lively, intellectual debate as we are to spreading the word of science far and wide. The problem is when trolls and spambots overwhelm the former, diminishing our ability to do the latter. …
“[E]ven a fractious minority wields enough power to skew a reader’s perception of a story, recent research suggests. In one study led by University of Wisconsin-Madison professor Dominique Brossard, 1,183 Americans read a fake blog post on nanotechnology and revealed in survey questions how they felt about the subject (are they wary of the benefits or supportive?). Then, through a randomly assigned condition, they read either epithet- and insult-laden comments (‘If you don’t see the benefits of using nanotechnology in these kinds of products, you’re an idiot’) or civil comments.
“The results, as Brossard and co-author Dietram A. Scheufele wrote in a New York Times op-ed: ‘Uncivil comments not only polarized readers, but they often changed a participant’s interpretation of the news story itself. In the civil group, those who initially did or did not support the technology — whom we identified with preliminary survey questions — continued to feel the same way after reading the comments. Those exposed to rude comments, however, ended up with a much more polarized understanding of the risks connected with the technology. Simply including an ad hominem attack in a reader comment was enough to make study participants think the downside of the reported technology was greater than they’d previously thought.'”
But yeah, I know, it’s these people’s right to be rude. The rest of us will continue being considerate of our fellow humans.
But some people aren’t fans of not being able to comment, saying that the sites want to control the narrative. Sure, that’s possible, but I think the more likely explanation is what poet Arjan Tupan posted on Quora in response to a question about news sites disabling comments (most of the respondents were on the side of sites trying to control the narrative, by the way): “Maybe it is due to the fact that we have lost the ability to be civil and courteous in public debate, and especially on divisive issues, the debate quickly turns to name-calling and repeating one’s position at an increasingly aggressive tone. We are slowly losing the skill of empathy, which might have to do with the fact that in media and on social networks we find ourselves in echo chambers, only hearing our opinions mirrored by the people around us, without ever hearing or acknowledging a different opinion.”
Or as Charles G. Hill wisecracked: “Most of them allowed comments at one time, and discovered to their horror that the sections rapidly filled up with seriously hateful, dreadfully uninformed, and utterly irrelevant crap.”
So there. Nyah.
With that in mind, a few tongue-in-cheek points for those who want to know how to argue on the Internet like a troll (the simple, kinder definition of “troll” from How-To Geek is “someone who makes intentionally inflammatory, rude, or upsetting statements online to elicit strong emotional responses in people or to steer the conversation off-topic,” usually for their own amusement). Behold:
🗨️ Use the same talking points every time, whether they’re those of a party, special-interest group, or your own.
Cutting and pasting is your friend. You shouldn’t be expected to think or cite actual evidence to prove your case. And if what you cut and paste has absolutely nothing to do with what you’re supposedly commenting on, bonus points.
🕵️♀️ Can’t prove your point with evidence? Tell anyone who challenges you to do their own research!
Why should you have the burden of proof just because you’re the one who made the allegations? Research is hard work! Tell those lazy, ungrateful sods to Google it (or as one of my trolls advised, “the archives” … dude, I’ve checked the archives for the paper and for the blog, and I can’t find anywhere that I said what you said I did … sheesh).
🤬 Insult and demean every person who disagrees with you, the more personal the better. That’ll fix ’em!
All those dang commie snowflakes, libtards, Teavangelicals and Rethuglicans should know better than to mess with you. If they don’t straighten up and agree with everything you say, they’ll find themselves on the wrong end of an unimaginative slur. Shakespeare these trolls ain’t.
👈 Hey, look over there!
So you say that red-flag laws have proved beneficial in states like Florida? But what about the 1994 crime bill? What about Monica Lewinsky? What about other whatabouts I haven’t thought of yet to try to divert your attention from the topic at hand?
🥨 Don’t have a good argument? Twist what you’re arguing against into a pretzel … and you can always just make crap up.
You can make anyone a villain if you’re just willing to try. Claim that because someone said they love cats that they said they want to drown puppies and make them into fur coats. Turn your responses to any objections into “So you admit …” It doesn’t matter what they actually said. C’mon, get some imagination!
😪 If all else fails, claim victimhood.
Say that someone who doesn’t have the time or the permission to do so is deleting your comments. Say you’ve been horribly mistreated by those who’ve challenged you on facts or your lack of civility. This is your playground, dang it, and you’re the boss! How dare anyone not recognize that!
Is there any wonder I need to stay away from comment sections? My smackin’ hand is always itching, and I’m not about to smack anybody I like.
A lot of this comes down to the obsession with “winning” (am I the only one who hears that in Charlie “Tiger Blood” Sheen’s voice?). What it means on the Internet is that you can waste hours of your valuable time trying to win an argument with someone who has nothing better to do (and no desire to come up with new arguments; that’s … like, work).
The lack of boundaries is part of the problem with online debate, according to Elizabeth Grace Saunders in Wired: “[I]f you’ve given in to this addiction, your mind is never at rest. You’re ever alert looking for what you can attack online and thinking about how to defend yourself.” The key to stopping yourself from getting into arguments online is to choose the right forum, she says, using personal conversations as an equivalent; you don’t speak the same way to a friend that you do to your boss, for example. By making your comments public, especially if they’re controversial, you’re inviting trolls to attack.
Which basically means that by opening your mouth, you’ve asked any and all critics to come at you. How dare you! If you’re lucky, most will be polite … but not all will.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make your opinions known. It just means you should be wary of people who try to start a fight for no good reason and with nothing but insults to back them up. Don’t feed the trolls.
Or as Elsa sang in Frozen, “Let it go.”
I’m Charlie-sitting again this week (I was due for a dose of Vitamin Charlie), and started the week with some very hot days and another friend’s air conditioning going out. So for the first few days of this week, I also got to have fun with another one of my recuperation buddies (and fur-nephew), Spike. Spike and his mom got to go home Tuesday, so now it’s just me and Charlie, who spent a big part of Tuesday afternoon loving on me (we had to catch up on snuggles). I love hanging out with my buddy Chuckles the Cat.