I’m not sure when or why I started this habit, but it’s gripped me for some time now. I admit I’m an avid reader of website comment sections. Some who know me would suggest my argumentative nature led me down this rabbit hole. However my habit started it’s obvious that website comment sections are a window into our societal loony bin. If you want to see the ugly underbelly of society visit the online comment section of any newspaper or magazine.
Comment sections used to be a tool for websites to feel like they were interactive; an updated letters to the editor. It made online publications and readers alike feel they were actually communicating with each other. Instead comment sections have become free-for-all forums that barely connect to the topic at hand. Last summer a comment section in an article about the 10th anniversary of Dora the Explorer told me Dora was a liberal plot to trick Americans into accepting illegal immigration. My 2 ½ year old’s hard line support of the DREAM Act convinced me this theory was probably true (she was inconsolable when the bill failed).
People make mostly absurd points, argue endlessly about minutia or take extreme positions generally under the cloak of anonymity. That’s what these sections have become. No matter the topic, people are more than willing to inject the ugliest racial, ethnic and sexual insults into the discussion.
The worst offending topics are politics, sports and race. Imagine what happens when they’re all rolled into one article. It’s like Super Bowl Sunday for keyboard loudmouths. If Obama, Palin, a Bush or a Clinton is somehow mentioned in an article then it’s comment section Fourth of July and Christmas at the same time. That’s when you get the real fun comments. No matter which end of the political spectrum these folks sit; the slings and arrows come fast, furious and ludicrous. They just can’t stop themselves.
Some sections by the very nature of the participants retain a mostly civil, respectful tone. Other sites make an effort to clean it all up. That doesn’t matter though, the loudest, most disturbing voices always seem to worm their way into online discussions. Some sites just throw up their hands and let users have at it.
Is it the anonymous nature of most comment sections that draws people to say the things they wouldn’t say if people knew who was saying it? Is it just the lunatic fringe airing their grievances in a public forum? I can’t decide which it is or if it’s some combination of all of the above or none of the above. I know that it does say we’ve gotten to the point where we hold so tightly to our differences that we refuse to hear what the other side is saying. In many respects that’s just sad.
Over the years I’ve vowed, several times, to stop reading these comment sections. Honestly though I just can’t. They are really comedy at its most absurd. They remind also me that sometimes that a sheep is really a wolf wearing a sweater.