When some Canadian historian a few hundred years from now turns his or her hand to writing a definitive work on why so much of the continent below the 49th Parallel has become a smoldering wasteland, surely that historian will point to the comments sections of newspapers as the gateway to the eventual demise of this once great nation.
I’m not the first to see how horrible the comments sections on news articles have become or to think that comments and exchanges on social media has led to a less civil society. There are lots of people who have looked at this over the years and you can find a lot of good information on it. I liked this article by William Margulies from Coalesce Thought Shop in NY, in which he explores the idea of the comments section as a cesspool while also tracing its history back to the beginnings of the internet. That was written way back in 2016.
But there are plenty of other articles about comments sections, Salon.com ran an article, “Why Comments Sections Must Die,” in 2018 and in 2014 the Guardian had an article headlined “Comments Sections are Poison.”
I think on the whole, there shouldn’t be comments on things like news articles. I read through them and generally they offer nothing to the article in way of understanding the issue at hand and you really shouldn’t expect that from comments. There’s no real quality control on the comments. Comments were seen as an extension of the letters to the editor that newspapers used to publish in their opinion and editorial sections. Those letters, were reviewed by editors before being posted and the letter writer had to actually take time to compose his or her thoughts before sending them over to the paper. The editors could then decide whether to run a letter or not based not only on the content, argument and sentiment of the letter, but also its clarity.
I can testify to the fact that most newspapers when the comments sections on articles started to be implemented discussed whether they should be there. There was a belief that the readers should be allowed to comment on each article and it allowed them to be a part of the news and thus we were creating a true community newspapers. Others pointed out that the comments could be anonymous and that there was little to no editorial control over them and that they really should belong in the op-ed sector, not hanging off the bottom of an actual news stories. I believe the latter position was correct, but it didn’t in the day for the most part.
Today we get articles in which people just speculate, attack each other and generally post conspiracy theories connected to an article that’s reporting on a trial or a political protest or rally. It’s crazy. I mean you see it with articles on the pandemic and precautions people should be taking. Comments like masks are killing people and that the U.S. economy was shut down for politics alone and that covid isn’t that bad because less than 1 percent die from it. The continued shopping of this misleading statistic actually does make me quite angry. Not only does it show a lack of compassion and a willingness to let Americans die for economic reasons, but it also fails to recognize that the efforts to slow the spread of covid have contributed to the lower mortality rate. If we didn’t do any of these things, how many more people would be dead? More than 500,000 people is a lot.)
And you gotta be brave to even read the comments on any story about the Derek Chauvin’s trial. He’s the police officer charged with killing George Floyd by kneeling on Floyd’s neck for more than 8 minutes. I read the comments on the latest story, about an EMT who tried to help Floyd during the incident and I really didn’t see a single comment that added anything to the article. There are a lot of insult trading in the comments. A lot of speculation. A lot of misinformation, more than a few people with a bad grasp of the law and grammar. And of course a lot of trolls who are just there to spark more division and hatred in this country. Some are no doubt under the employ of foreign powers who, if their purposes are achieved and the United States splinters like the old USSR, will have to face the possibility of trying to deal with nuclear states run by people who want to hasten the end of times. (Good plan Putin, you moron. Way to really think this through, Moscow.)
One of the reasons this is happening is there isn’t much of a filter on comments. I mean the bottom few comments on the trial article were comments about how to make money with NFTs or investing in some person’s system where you can make tens of thousands of dollars or how you can save money with Geico.
Anyway, leave me a comment about what you think of this or the idea of a story based on the smoldering ruin of the United States brought about by the comments section of online news sites?