As Irish writer Mic Wright noted in yesterday’s Telegraph
If ignorance was an Olympic event, the heats would be held in the comment sections of national newspapers.
…At their worst, comments are like toxic waste buried under the foundations of an article and irradiating all rational debate with ignorance and aggression.
…There’s an old sporting adage “play the ball, not the man”. That sentiment gets absolutely no traction online. There is no quarter in the world of online comments. The assumption of many regular commenters is that they could do better than anyone who plies their trade as a writer; they see through the “agendas” of those they find so abjectly infuriating.
I’m fairly certain that nearly everyone who comments at In My Head would agree, particularly those of us who know each other from Ta-Nehisi Coates’s blog over at The Atlantic — he and we spend real effort keeping his boards free of toxic waste, and no little time complaining of the toxicity so prevalent in other locales.
But so, ok — yes. Commenting sections suck. We know this.
Here’s the part I didn’t know:
Comment sections are actually frequented by a very small minority of readers. Industry averages suggest less than one per cent of the readership of any given article will comment.
Less than one percent!
Right. Let’s round that up to 1% for the sake of ease, and then, for the sake of argument, let’s say — what — 50% of comments are either positive, helpful, or at least benign? That means that .5% of internet readership is setting the tone for everyone else.
Half a percent, give or take. Half a percent!
That is more kinds of wrong than I can count. Aside from anything else, I know and you know that a lot more intelligent, kindhearted and generous people would be adding their voices to our global conversation, if only they didn’t have to dodge so many trolls.
I do what I can in my wee corner. I just banned someone today, for sheer rudeness, and I know that Ta-Nehisi spends a really egregious amount of time fighting back the filth — but he does, after all, have a day job. I’m pretty sure the amount of time he has to spend weeding out crazy people (or “the barmy,” as Mr. Wright so Irish-ly puts it) is why he posts so few open threads anymore.
But I don’t know what the answer is on the larger scale, other than a broad and generally held commitment to civility and simple manners. I do believe that we are on are way to that Promised Land, but it may be a really long while before we get there. Because an unscientifically estimated .5% of readers don’t want us to.
h/t Gonzai55 for pointing me to Nic Wright’s piece in yesterday’s open thread.