“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” – Mark Twain
The Internet versus intelligence
The Internet is a black hole, sucking in anyone and everyone with the slightest curiosity about anything – but a lot of the gold at the end of the rainbow is not gold at all. No, it’s not coal, or brass, or poisonous lead, it’s something worse: A pile of YouTube/Hacker News/TechCrunch comments.
YouTube comments in particular are a cesspool of humanity, full of gems like:
- Can I get likes for no reason
- check out my channel!
- Seems legit
- I see what you did there
- You just went full retard. Never go full retard
- Faith in humanity lost
- No fucks where given that day
- Still a better love story than twilight
- Go home you’re drunk
- Do you even lift?
- Getting real tired of your shit
- Dafuq did I just see
- Then suddenly a wild pokemon appears
- Watch out bitches! coming through
- A wild chess game appears!
- Doesn’t matter, had sex
- 10/10 would bang
- That’s enough internet for today
- You had ONE job
- Jokes on you, still masturbated
- You sir won the internetz
- Comment with most likes is a *
- Fuking grammer Nazi
(hat tip Verge forum user Micr0b3)
The Internet has facilitated such sentiment on an unprecedented scale. The opportunity for anyone to spew bottomless rage against Miley Cyrus, cast “doubt” on the president’s birthplace, or derail a conversation by discussing the finer points of home-brew console development…well, I’ll grant that that’s “unprecedented,” a word often applied to the Internet (damn, I did it earlier and didn’t realize it til now!)
Comments sections may be the best case against “openness” online, a vaguely defined term that nevertheless puts on the airs of “anyone can write anything with no consequences while darting between YouTube, Netflix and Reddit on a bandwidth-neutral Net.” Every commenter is an expert, or at the very least a potential conversation hijacker whose hastily gathered yet half coherent sentiments can trigger thousand-word outbursts from her faceless peers.
Popular Science and the damage to knowledge
Online commenters are not simply wailing in a vacuum – they’re frequently causing real damage to the whole of human knowledge from behind their often anonymous guises. The paradox is that the Internet’s promise of anonymity and even impersonality has resulted in the creation of countless communities that are defined almost completely by edgy personality. Evolutionary cues like strength and appearance are worthless when anyone can feign virility from behind a screen name, and as such, anger has become the quintessential online emotion.
It would be sad enough if the Internet were just an enabler for millions of angry, sad persons. It’s worse, though, since comments sections have become news unto themselves, their poisonous din distracting from actual events and trying to erode any achievement by others as individuals try to feel better about their own narrow outlooks. Today, Popular Science (finally!) announced that it was shutting down its comments sections on news stories:
“[B]ecause comments sections tend to be a grotesque reflection of the media culture surrounding them, the cynical work of undermining bedrock scientific doctrine is now being done beneath our own stories, within a website devoted to championing science.”
The issue with comments is probably evolutionary. As if caving to some outdated instinct to follow the tribe lest they be eaten by wild animals, people easily surrender in the face of massive upvotes, agreement, and likes. Unfortunately, the comments section conventional wisdom isn’t good at much else other than estimating the weight of a bull. I mean, did you ever try to assess music albums on the old Rolling Stone forums? Anonymity made it nigh impossible to get anywhere without having to slog through some contrarian bile or irrelevant points-earning sideshow.
Google+ to the rescue?
In a happy coincidence (in many fora, someone would mistakenly call this “ironic” and receive a stupidly stern, pointless lecture from a language bully, which contributes no value to civilization and probably destroys some by making someone feel bad), Google also announced today that it would begin tying YouTube comments to Google+ accounts.
Google+ is more than a social network – more like an identity service. I have mixed feelings toward its increasingly comprehensive tracking of every online twitch or murmur, but its commitment to real names (and who really is going to expend the effort to create many G+ personae?) means that YouTube’s comments sections will finally have accountability, which is what comments have always needed. If G+ can get YouTube under control and also remain a valuable photo backup service, it’ll have contributed more societal value than Facebook ever has/will.