Posted by: Paul | 03/31/2010

No Comment

Ever click to read an article online and see the scroll icon on the right-hand side get tinier and tinier? Then, just when you think you’d better dodge this 5,000-word opus, you realize — what a relief! — that it’s not so long, after all. It’s a short piece with tons of comments attached.

Ah, online comments. What a testament to vigorous debate! What a marvelous example of democracy’s “public square” in action!

What a monumental waste of bandwidth.

Yes, occasionally you’ll run across a pithy comment or a worthwhile observation. But it’s like panning for gold — a lot of work for (usually) little reward. You have to run through a pile of junk to get to the good stuff. Comments run the gamut from the banal to the obscene. Conversations quickly descend into foul-mouthed fights over the most trivial nonsense imaginable.

It doesn’t even have to involve a controversial topic. Someone will post a video, say, for some harmless pop song. It may even be a tune about peace and love, for that matter. Folks jump on to say how great and wonderful it is (the banal). Then someone makes a comment about the singer’s discography. Another person notices that he made a mistake. (Maybe he got the date something came out wrong.) Before long, they’re crabbing at each other, and it escalates from there. After all, if someone disagrees with you, he’s obviously [blank]ing [blank], right?

No wonder some people “disable” comments from certain articles and videos. The alternative is to referee a spit-ball match among emotional infants.

Best-case scenario: The comment section is basically an “amen” chorus — nicer, to be sure, but still a waste of time.

Maybe there are some sites where thoughtful comments and civility are the norm and not the exception. But I’ve yet to find them.

Save the space. Can the comments.

UPDATE: Apparently I’m not alone in this view. The New York Times has posted an article titled “News Sites Rethink Anonymous Online Comments.” As Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts notes, anonymity helps make comment streams “havens for a level of crudity, bigotry, meanness and plain nastiness that shocks the tattered remnants of our propriety.”

Amen. Makes me want to post a supportive comment.

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