I have a confession to make.
I have succumbed to the enticing world of internet news and opinion. I spend hours a day on the internet as a copywriter at a web design company. Some of this time is spent reading articles, blogs, blurbs, opinion pieces and yes, sometimes even Buzzfeed.
This, however, is not my confession. Many people turn to the interwebs for these reasons. Someday everyone will, if the web developer pundits are correct.
No, what I must confess is that I am sadly hooked. On internet comment sections.
About Comment Sections
Everyone that engages in the new realm of social media marketing – from developers, to web designers, to writers and business owners, to online news media – realizes that allowing users to comment on articles, blogs and opinion pieces is expected.
They also know it can be a double edged sword. Internet trolls are everywhere. We try to avoid them. They cause damage to online communities. They post snide remarks about otherwise completely harmless fluff pieces. They’ve driven some websites to shut down some or all web comment sections. There are articles and opinion pieces about how to shut down trolls (don’t feed them!). Even Uncle George Takei has taken a stab at squeezing the trolls (video).
Then there are the flame wars. Especially prevalent on tech websites or any articles weighing the benefits of Mac vs PC (despite the fact that the technology backing each is so similar that we are now splitting not hairs but atoms to discredit the other camps’ fangirls/boys), these flame wars are both shockingly snide and creatively insulting.
Such creative invective never did flow so freely as on the anonymous comment section.
How I Got Hooked
I used to be mostly annoyed, as many are, at the hurling of insults, the nitpicky grammar checking, the name calling. I’d avoid comment sections or my blood would inevitably begin to boil.
I don’t know when things began to change. But change they did.
It was slow and subtle. I’d read comments only on those sites that refereed contributions, thinking I could pick out the more reasonable discussions. I branched out slowly to sites with a bit more acidic rhetoric, a bit more opinionated name calling.
Then I began to read every comment section, no matter how benign, how infuriating, how injurious to the frank and calm discussion of ideas.
Eventually, I was just skimming articles, picking out key facts, zooming over headlines before diving headlong into the comment section. Sometimes I sought articles that I knew would have contributors spewing ridiculous “facts” and labeling other contributors and the article authors with tired cliches.
Sometimes it was articles that I knew would spark a flame war, full of “are you a complete idiot?” and “obviously you are a (enter brand/game/political party) mouthpiece and cannot see what is in front of you!” barbs.
I began to search it all out. I would read the comment section of small bloggers, national news outlets, science websites, Gawker, Buzzfeed and Imgur. I even read Facebook and LinkedIn comments!
It was only when I started looking for the comment section in print newspapers and magazines, seeking out those shockingly insightful or laughably ignorant opinions I had grown to love, that I acknowledged I might have a problem.
Why it Might be a Problem
Researchers have discovered that reading the comments section has a greater impact on how we read and absorb information than they originally assumed. TIL being hooked on internet comment sections might actually be harming my outlook on life and society!
I spend a lot of time on the web. Web design work requires it. Life requires it. There’s stuff out there that is important, worthwhile and enlightening.
Web comment sections may or may not be included in that important, enlightening stuff. For now, though, they are still proliferating. So do I go on a comment section hiatus? Or should I just stop worrying about it and take it for what it is – people talking to each other in more and different ways than has ever been possible?
What about you? Are you like me, looking for the next troll or flame war?
Leave you comments here. Don’t worry – I’ll read them. I can’t stop myself.