Most people who write online for a living (or even just regularly for their own pleasure) will have their own story to tell regarding commenters, and usually it’s bad (though we here at FishbowlNY have no complaints! Mostly because our readers choose to forego the complicated(?) commenting system and write us directly…also, you’re all very nice.). Some examples: last month the NYT had to shut down the comments on Emily Gould’s Magazine cover story, Huffington Post is overwhelmed with over-the-top remarks, and we’ve known more than one blogger who’s closed the comments feature on their personal sites because the vitriol has gotten out of hand. So what is it exactly about commenting that brings out the maniac in a person?
Over at Time Lev Grossman is concluding that at the end of the day all it proves is that people are “basically mean,” also that the anonymity factor can be disinhibiting (he’s quick to compliment Gawker’s army of commenters). Furthermore, he points out that the current economic model of the internet is based on traffic, and who among us won’t slow down for an accident (Grossman would have inevitably generated more traffic on his piece had he bashed Gawker’s anonymous chorus)? But are we ruining the internet faster than we can save it? Maybe, maybe not.
Maybe commenters are just on one side of a cultural disconnect between two incompatible ideas of what the social conventions of the Internet should be. One is based on the standards of real-world, off-line politeness. The other is a kind of communal game in which whoever is cleverest and pushes the most buttons wins.Of course by that point our covert war with Iran may become less covert, or our oil reserves will completely run out, or global warming will have flooded most of our major cities and we will go back to taking out our aggression in the time-tested manner of war. Or maybe we’ll just develop better manners.
This disconnect is probably just temporary. In another decade or two, one side or the other will have won out, and then we’ll all be on the same page, and we won’t have this kind of misunderstanding anymore.