One major criticism of reality TV shows, especially in the pre-MasterChef era, was they profited from encouraging and rewarding all the worst aspects of human behaviour. I think it’s time we recognised comments on online news and opinion websites have exactly the same problem.
It doesn’t take long before you start seeing the same people making the same kinds of comments over and over. The value to the publisher is obvious, in that it encourages readers to come back, click more articles, view more ads, buy more stuff. But what value, really, does it add for the reader?
Certain topics are guaranteed to bring out particular brands of loonies – think climate change or religion. But even reader comments on relatively innocuous topics are an incredibly effective stupidity concentrator.
Essentially, all reader comments on any article ever can be boiled down to one of the following:
- I had an opinion before I read this article. Since this article agrees with that opinion, it is an unbiased, worthy and well written article.
- I had an opinion before I read this article. Since this article disagrees with that opinion, it is illogical, biased nonsense.
- The parts of this article I disagree with are illogical nonsense. The parts I agree with are worthy points, well argued.
- Some completely irrelevant thing I am obsessed with surely proves this article correct/incorrect.
- This article surely proves some completely irrelevant thing I am obsessed with.
- Personally abusing and/or expressing sexual admiration for author, subject(s) of article and/or other commenters.
- The affiliations of the author who wrote this article allow us to discount anything it says.
- The bias of the publication in which the article appears allows us to discount anything it says.
- Immensely long and off-topic rant containing wild conspiracy theories and LARGE SECTIONS OF ALL CAPS.
- Repeating the same point five dozen other commenters already made and clearly demonstrating this commenter didn’t read any of the previous comments before mouthing off.
- I had an opinion before I read this article. Because the article is logically argued and presents the evidence clearly and without bias, I am willing to concede I was wrong about this subject previously. [Note: this never happens]