Comment Sections: Do we Need them?

I have an obsession with going to— website of the Boston Globe– not to read the actual news, but to read the comment sections for each article. This is simply because I have a pornographic fascination with moronicness and unqualified sensationalism. I can look at the heading for an article saying ‘Obama calls for new financial regulations’ and I can expect an overload of comments reducing the issue to ‘Obama’s a socialist’ or ‘Obama’s better than Bush.’ And then there is the ensuing back and forth bickering and name-calling, along with ironic reprimands from people who tell others not to resort to name-calling, while they engage in said activity. This is the Internet, and of course it’s not just on; YouTube,,,, Google forums, all forums that are broad enough to touch on the political, cultural and personal all at once– these are where comments thrive. And while we all realize that the majority of these comments are a highly un-constructive waste of time, we all post them ourselves from time to time. And you know what? We love them. Several disclaimers: I do not post comments myself (several on YouTube in the past, but not really). I actually think the Boston Globe has become a very dismal newspaper, though not because of the comments section, but rather because of it’s trivial news reportage and it’s purging of some of the best writers over the past five years. Furthermore, the aforementioned article on– about Obama’s healthcare overhaul– saw a surprisingly civil debate ensue. However I do have a sensational thrill, similar to how a raccoon probably feels when he rummages through all the junk in a trashcan, when I read the comments on various stories. This for example from ‘Typical-White-Person’ under a story about Health Care costs rising in Massachusetts: ‘BUT THE PRICE IS STILL THE SAME IF YOU CANT’ READ A LICK OF THIS ARTICLE…FREE!!’ It took me a little while to realize that the author was implying that poor, uneducated illiterates are receiving free health care, with the all-capital letters implying that this is a disgrace to everybody else. That the author calls themselves ‘Typical White Person’ does not exactly help for their opinion to be taken seriously. Yet it has not been removed, as some truly inane comments are. It has even been recommended by five people. Elsewhere on this same site I have seen comments stating that Obama’s cigarette smoking is ruining the economy and one commenter who said that he would beat his daughter if he found out she were gay. (This comment was removed). Just to prove how politically unbiased I am, I saw a more left-of-center comment under an article about the tea party protests in Washington D.C. stating that some people are too stupid to be allowed to vote. Also sheer lunacy, and I delight in it as much as I do in reading it’s reactionary cousins. There are plenty of insightful comments to be read on these sites, and one could argue that the content of the story influences the insightfulness of the comments. Whatever Obama said about Kanye West, for example, does not matter, and hardly begs critique. But a general pattern of what David Denby in his latest book calls ‘snark’ permeates all online message boards everywhere, and one can only conclude one of two things; either there are far too many stupid people in the world, or there are a mixture of smart and stupid, but writing on the Internet drags everybody down a notch. I go with the second. Snarkiness is the inevitable by-product of internet commerce. It is what will come out of your (figurative) mouth if you take the internet too seriously. I am guilty of it and so are you. So perhaps this is another reason why newspapers and magazines should stay in physical print circulation and why letters to the editor are really not a bad idea. The Internet has not really become more democratic; it has become more sloppy and anarchic. If it gets too sloppy and anarchic, what will happen? Will it explode? But it’s not going to change. New comment sections will keep popping up on new sites. The reason is not because we are a democratic, debating, conversing people. It is because we are snarky speed demons addicted to trash for the pure thrill of it. We love snark.