What the comments on my views on online comments have taught me

Yesterday’s post about the rising indifference to online comments provoked replies which undermined one of my assertions: that early hopes of intelligent conversation made possible by easier digital access have evaporated in the face of the everyday experience of insult, aggression and irrelevance.

With only a handful of exceptions, the comments have been useful and to the point. A few pointed out, as I ought to have, that other have been there before me. Here’s one example from Helen Lewis of the New Statesman; in a tweet-exchange with others reacting, she said that the NS had switched its comments system to Disqus with good effect.

One thing I ought to straighten out. I was not arguing that online comments should be withdrawn or stopped. No such thing is going to occur. What I was suggesting is that the simple technique of opening comments has not delivered the results hoped for. That has two great attractions: it’s “open” in a simple, inclusive way and requires only minimal moderation to remove unacceptable material.

So I was hinting that I think this is going to evolve. This is exactly the point which Mike Masnick (of Techdirt) drove home: his site asks users to vote on comments and give prominence to those which come out on top. He sees no connection between anonymity and talking rubbish.

I’m not so sure about that last point. With the exception of Plashing Vole (who blogs and comments under that pseudonym to protect his university job), the two most insulting comments on my post were not from real names. A small award for Jeff Raines – based on the assumption that this is his real name – for not hiding his identity when calling me a “narcissistic fool”. (This blog was very nearly retitled “The Supercilious Weasel” after a fan of Julian Assange used this phrase about me.)

And of course I don’t recommend the abandoning of anonymity in societies where wide ranges of opinion are prohibited. Saudi women discussing almost any subject other than make-up on Twitter would be well-advised to hide behind aliases. We know a little more about the straws in the wind of Chinese unofficial opinion because of their Twitter-equivalent, Weibo. But we rarely know who the actual people voicing risky views are.

The key in those societies is that conventions are set by the criterion of value (insisting on anonymity will lower value of contributions). I’m after evolutions which raise the value, not which stop people expressing what they think.



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1 comment

  1. Mr. Brock: I heartily agree with your views. Drivel, verbosity, and cloaking appear in most comments. Frankly, I cannot understand most of them. However, censorship of intelligent discussion from corporate and mil-intel entities might just be the reason why. And how many real life social and political comments are trashed under the pretext of causing fighting in the playground.