Maybe We're Finally Ready to Move Past Internet Comments
We're not living in the most discourse-friendly age in history. Nowhere is that more clear than in comments sections.
Later this month the Online News Association will hold their annual conference, at which the online harassment of women journalists is to be the keynote subject. Not only is this a reaction to several high-profile incidents and a concerning greater trend, the keynote comes at a time when many high profile websites are completely scrapping their comments sections.
There are three main reasons for this. First, they can often serve as a forum for ignorance and abuse, and not just of women. Second, the emergence of social media has made them mostly redundant. Third, most public comment boards promote a state of discourse antithetical to rational thought and debate. By offering a forum for ignorance and failing to curate it you tacitly endorse the spread of philistinism.
Take it from a fellow who knew a lot about Philistines:
The Lord descended to the top of Mount Sinai and called Moses to the top of the mountain. So Moses went up and the Lord said to him, “Don't read the comments, Moses. Don't do it." — Exodus 19:20-22
Okay sure: The above is a slight paraphrase. Let's just say that if the God of Moses had any sense there would have been 11 commandments and the 11th would have been: "Thou shalt not read the comments if thou shalt know what's good for you."
In theory, comments sections are a great idea: an open forum for free discourse related to the content of a piece. Dialogue and debate become democratized. Anyone can join the conversation. And for many sites this still holds true. Not every comments section is a wretched hive of scum, villainy, and the Dunning-Kruger Effect, and not all commenters are misanthropes hell-bent on slinging hate-laced uninformed opinions. But a lot of them are. And since all those folks have Facebook and Twitter accounts from which they can do their thing, what's the point of a website dedicating time and effort (and money) to maintaining the civility of said forum? What's really worth saving here?
Here's a challenge: Take a look at the comments below any random Yahoo News article and try to build an argument that anything there would be missed. It's impossible. Even in our current age in which intelligent discourse is a rarity and this is what passes for "debate," there's very rarely anything of substance in the comments. All you can expect in an echo chamber or a feud.
Below, Walter Isaacson on the tight-knit communities that form around new technology.