“The fantastic advances in the field of electronic communication constitute a greater danger to the privacy of the individual”. –Earl Warren (1891 – 1974)
A few months ago, while playing golf with a friend, the topic of on-line comment sections came up. (Right about now the phrase “nerds playing golf” has popped into your head, but I’ll let that slide for now.) In any event, my friend stated that he was amazed at how people had become so hateful, ignorant, non-compassionate and devoid of class recently. After further discussion, we came to the agreement that many people have always been hateful, ignorant, non-compassionate and devoid of class, however, prior to the internet and social media, we only knew about it through personal contact or the occasional, ranting Letter to the Editor in our local newspaper. But now, we can all share equally in their utter disdain for their fellow man.
In case you haven’t yet noticed, just about every news, blog, music, gossip, opinion and social media site contains a “comment” section after every story or entry. And if you want to know what your fellow citizens think about an issue, regardless of how extreme or mundane the topic, click in and get an insight into the dark side of mankind.
I’ve decided not to share any examples of the insanity found in the comments sections of most on-line publications. If I were to do so, half of the readers would take issue with each example, claim I was “biased” and proceed to lambast me via the comments section of this blog. Instead, I’m going to zero in on two very popular media moguls, USA Today and Facebook.
Increasingly more on-line providers, in an attempt (albeit a weak attempt) to curtail abusive comments and bullying, are requiring some sort of registration in order to comment on their articles. Some provide their own specific registration, some rely on companies that, once registered, allow people to comment on all sites using their service, and others require that you use a Facebook account. And since every one of those registration efforts can be achieved using false information, they haven’t changed the demeanor of comments one iota.
USA Today currently holds the 3rd largest on-line and print circulations in the country, behind only The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times respectively. They require a Facebook account to comment on their stories, and they display one of the most divisive comment sections I’ve ever read on a major publication. Volumes can be written giving examples of what I’m talking (writing?) about, but just click into any article even remotely related to politics, religion, health care, or Tim Tebow, scroll to the comments and see for yourself. I like to lump most, but not all, commenters into the following categories:
The Troll: Very often the first commenter on any article. They’ll post something offensive and then sit back and enjoy the firestorm they’ve created.
The “MY Opinion = Fact” Crowd: Easy to spot. They’ll post something they believe, or heard from their favorite “news” source, friend, coworker, or voice in their head, swear it’s gospel, will argue to the death over it, will demean anyone with a varied “opinion”, and will never provide factual citations for their drama.
The “I Really Have Nothing To Say” Group: They’ll be the ones posting things like “Who cares” or “who reads this rag” on an article, in the rag, they’ve cared enough about to click into and then post a comment on, or those posting one word comments, such as “sad” or “prayers”, after reading of any tragedy anywhere in the world.
But, my personal favorites? The “I Know Everything About Everything (Except How To Make My Facebook Account Private): These are the people who know you’re wrong, even if you aren’t. The people who will post hateful, bigoted, threatening things when you disagree with them. And the people who, when you click into their Facebook profile, have their schools, employers, families and all kinds of personal info & pictures just dangling out there. Example you ask? I once observed a poster lambasting everyone he felt was a “liberal”. He espoused ultra conservative opinions, and threw threatening, hateful and bigoted comments at anyone who dared disagree. When I clicked into his Facebook profile, I found that he listed himself as a 22 year old, working for a very prominent insurance company. (The one that’s “there”). A little more clicking on his page showed pictures of him and his friends being drunk, stupid and smoking a substance most commonly used in a bong. Sooooooooooo….I called him out on it and asked him how his employer would feel knowing that he was acting like such an ass, both on-line and in his personal life. He response was to accuse me of stalking him and making a complaint to Facebook. You couldn’t make this stuff up.
Facebook is not devoid of responsibility in this matter. Click into enough user profiles and you’ll find countless, obviously fake, user profiles. Facebook is failing miserably at enforcing their own Terms of Service. It is a violation of their TOS to “create a fake profile, bully, intimidate, or harass any user, and to post content that: is hate speech, threatening, or pornographic; incites violence; or contains nudity or graphic or gratuitous violence”, and the Terms of Service for USA Today are similarly worded. In defense of both Facebook and USA Today, when your users number in the billions, I suppose it becomes increasingly difficult to enforce your own rules.
And that amounts to many more hours of being entertained and appalled while delving into the bowels of their comments. But please, not in the comments section of this blog.