When I read an article online with a list of qualifications as long as my arm, or watch a video made by an internet comedian, that’s what I am there for. I am not there for the usually less well-informed, more vitriolic and far less interesting comments left below it. Comment boxes are where well-reasoned argument goes to die. In the old days newspapers had letter pages where country parsons and eminent philosophers threw down the gauntlet of debate, and a discussion could run for days, even weeks, with each letter carefully thought out, posted, and then looked over by an editor to see if it was worthy of inclusion.
Now, any idiot with access to a computer keyboard (though not necessarily any idea how to use one properly) can send his opinion into the internet at the arbitrary press of a key. This kind of instantaneous response seldom leads to thoughtful comment.
Feel free to claim it widens the global debate about… I don’t know, anything, but frankly any trip down the comment banks of YouTube will eventually lead to someone being compared to the Nazis because they think Chris Brown is a woman-beating mofo. People are dicks on the internet, faceless, ugly, vulgar and unpleasant. Comment sections are where they can breed and feed of each other’s anger. If you don’t believe me, just spend a few minutes on Mail Online (if you can keep to a few minutes – it’s like a car crash, horrific but impossible to look away).
Why is provoking comment seen as a good thing? Why does it matter if a YouTube video gets a million comments, if a star system exists to rate it? Why should writers care when they eke out a few words that add up to ‘You and all your opinions are wrong. Like the Nazis.’ Valid, reasoned debate has a place, but that’s not what an instant comment box asks for. Look at the size of the box – was it built for an essay?
Now that everything has a comment box, from pictures of Kim Jong Il looking at stuff to Facebook statuses, where we used to laugh, or roll our eyes, or put down the paper, we now feel the need to shove our opinion out into the world, no matter how crudely formed. We’re just kidding ourselves if we think we’re contributing anything to anyone’s understanding, because when they scroll down, it’s to add their own brand of pointless.
Then again, maybe I’m just saying all of this to get a rise out of you, and a couple of comments online.