What are the two worst things about the comments sections in online news outlets for articles and (even worse) for blogs or other opinion pieces?
The first is that contentious topics draw so many comments that you would need a day or two to read them (assuming you would want to). The lead article on The Huffington Post tonight about the Senate finance reform bill has drawn 5,506 comments thus far (more than 500 added since I began this entry), accumulated over thirteen hours. I quickly calculated the average wordcount: about 13.5 words per entry. So there are over 74,000 words in the comments section, longer than many novels. (The article itself clocks in at under 900 words.)
There something very wrong here, and nothing, as far as I can see, that is at all useful.
But there’s an even worse flaw of many comment sections: the pointlessly nasty insult.
Canada’s mainstream Globe and Mail carried a story in yesterday’s edition headlined “Canada blasts Malawi over jailing of gay couple,” with a subtitle explaining why Canada would bother going after little Malawi: “Criticism comes days after Ottawa extended invitation to Malawi for G20 summit.” Got it.
Would you think this even worthy of comment? Four readers did, and inevitably one of them, with the pseudonym “Bromelia”, couldn’t miss the opportunity for YAGI (Yet Another Gay Insult) “Presumably, the men knew the laws and they were able to maintain a relationship as long as they didn’t flaunt it. When they did, they got the book thrown at them. Another histrionic gay martyrdom — yawn.”
Just as inevitably this triggered outrage from other readers. Here comes the nasty insults:
“Bromelia you are a monumentally pathetic and despicable person. Flaunt it? Are you that mentally challenged? A young couple tries to celebrate their commitment to each other and is jailed for over a decade and all you can do is yawn? You’re just an utter failure as a human being. Two adults in a consenting relationship should not be jailed for falling in love.
“How about I flaunt my fist in your face?”
…while “RestOfTheStory” chimed in with the illuminating remark “Bromelia — You are a pompous ass.”
This is not helpful. So kudos to Politics Daily for its upcoming manners enforcement policy:
In an effort to encourage the same level of civil dialogue among Politics Daily’s readers that we expect of our writers – a “civilogue,” to use the term coined by PD’s Jeffrey Weiss – we will soon be requiring commenters to use their AOL or AIM screennames. Personal attacks (on writers, other readers, Nancy Pelosi, George W. Bush, or anyone at all) will not be published, period, to make room for a discussion among those with ideas to kick around.
I’d say it’s none too soon.
Now we have to work on getting it through the mind of the average web reader that WE DON’T CARE WHAT YOU THINK (unless you think deep original thoughts and can express them in clear language).