Nasty, Brutish, and Short: A Word on Internet Commenters


Can I talk to you for five minutes about why the internet is a bad idea?  Three words: comment enabled websites.

For millennia, the plebian masses desiring to consume media of any kind – be it newspapers, radio programs, Papyrus scrolls, or minstrel bands – were nothing more than receptacles for the information doled out by the wise and benevolent media overlords.  It was widely believed that the forebears of modern web-surfers had opinions, but for the most part they mercifully kept those opinions to themselves.  Not anymore.

As the internet has expanded in breadth and influence, the proprietors of many popular sites (including this one) have decided to turn their collective back on historical tradition and Natural Law by creating venues for dialogue between the creators of media and the slack-jawed simpletons consuming it.  Thus were user comment sections born.  The result has left people everywhere (and by “people everywhere” I mean “me”) disgusted, disillusioned, and a bit depressed.

Turns out, the overwhelming majority of people with internet access are inarticulate, misanthropic pricks with a surplus of time but a deficit of brain activity.  This revelation would likely have come as no surprise to previous generations.  People have long suspected that the whole of humanity outside their immediate social circle was a petty, uncharitable lot of malcontents with nary a decent thing to say about anyone.  This is evidenced in ancient texts like the Hindu Upanishads, the epic of Gilgamesh, and the Biblical story of Noah.  Yet only now can we see how accurate these ageless tales of suspicion and ethnocentrism were.

Have you ever read the comments on Youtube videos or Facebook group walls?  Some of the more popular Youtube videos have over 200,000 comments!  Of those 200,000 comments, however, perhaps 30 address the root video/article/post.  The rest are an assortment of profane ad hominems, racially offensive non sequitors, and vociferous accusations of homosexuality.  Even videos as harmless as that “Charlie Bit Me” one and groups as noble as Save Darfur manage to elicit hateful diatribes from some of the angriest people you will ever have the misfortune of encountering.      Observe the lifespan of the average comment section:

  • Comment Stage 1: I like this.
  • Comment Stage 2: I hate this
  • Comment Stage 3: I hate you.
  • Comment Stage 4: I hate Christians/Republicans.
  • Comment Stage 5: The only thing I hate more than minorities, gays, and Europeans is this video/article/post and the other commenters on this site.
  • Comment Stage 6: I think you guys are all terrible people and are getting way too worked up about this.
  • Comment Stage 7: I am amused by your failure to follow rudimentary principles of grammar and/or punctuation and will commence in mocking you.

The above progression is accurate for 75% of all comment pages, and the window it opens into the blackened human heart is far more disturbing than anything Kierkegaard or Kant, with their fancy-shmancy systems of ethics and metaphysics, could have predicted.

Behold the modern man: He sits at the controls of the most powerful tool ever created.  Before him is the compendium of 10,000 years of human learning.  He can read things that people used to get killed for.  He can perform in seconds tasks that used to take a lifetime.  Yet the only thing he wants to do is inform the world of his conviction that the video he just watched sucked something awful.

This mind-boggling misuse of resources is rooted in the internet’s democratic diffusion of information.  By celebrating the voice of the common man, comment pages have given John and Jane Dickwad the impression that their opinion matters and that people want to hear it.  Furthermore, by allowing Mr. and Mrs. Dickwad to post comments alongside articles by respected journalists and movies by talented directors, the internet blurs the distinctions between the educated and brain dead.  Everyone is on the same page.  Everyone can be an expert, a critic, a scholar, a credible source.

With this knowledge, The Dickwads take to the web.  Armed with a limited vocabulary and an unwavering conviction of their superiority to all other internet users, they venture forth into the digital world.  They present their passionately uninformed feelings to a waiting world, happy to contribute their small part to the corpus of human knowledge.   And thanks to the miracle of modern science, The Dickwads are able to share their message of disdain with audiences larger than any seen by Augustine, Aquinas, Galileo, or Shakespeare.  If that doesn’t make you question the future solvency of the human race, I don’t know what will.

I’m starting to think Darwin was right.  Maybe we are just brute animals with opposable thumbs.

That picture is copyright of pennyarcade and probably John Gabriel.

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