Reading internet comments is driving me insane, and we only have our news organizations to thank for it.
Hey, here’s a fun game if you want to feel depressed and uneasy about the state of society in 2013: go to any news website that has a comments section, click on literally any article, and, instead of reading the article and processing the information, read the comments section. I picked a heartbreaking story on CNN about a girl who was declared legally brain dead after complications from a tonsillectomy. Harmless, right? Wrong:
“Amazing that the surgery was paid for by the taxpayers and now the family will benefit from a lawsuit.” (The implication here is that, because the girl was African-American, she was a thirteen year-old welfare queen.)
“first, if there is insufficient brain activity to sustain life, let ‘em go…been there & done that for my 33 yr old son… unfortunately, this child was a walking train-wreck beforehand and now this family is going to drag this stuff out and then file a suit and get a big payoff then revert to whatever life they had before. darn shame.”
“Reading stories like this rips my heart out and infuriates me. We have tonsils for a reason, if you have issues with your tonsils the first thing you need to do is A DIET CHANGE!! They wanted to “remove” my kids tonsils and I said “the H3ll you will” !! Doctors are doing nothing, but hurting people with their poisonous meds and useless surgeries!!! I am going to go vomit….”
“Looks like the Hospital messed big time. notwithstanding many peoples reflexive dislike of Sarah Palin, she did talk about medical death panels – are we already there?”
Interactions between the media and people who are actually investing their time in news are healthy. That’s why, when print was the premier source of the world’s media, there were “Letters to the Editor” and “Opinion” columns. What isn’t healthy, however, is giving someone with an agenda – whether it be their own agenda or one that was spoon fed to them by a political party or someone with a bone to pick – or just something nonconstructive, slanderous, or just unnecessarily rotten to say, an equal platform to the author of the article.
Michael Errard of the New York Times wrote about this subject back in september and found that some of the online communities that moderate their commenting platform 24/7 have a thriving community of constructive feedback. And for many websites, moderation seems to work; however, for large news organizations such as CNN, Fox News, and the Huffington Post, it’s impossible to cut anything that isn’t blatantly threatening, racist, or homophobic.
Maybe we’re to blame for this. When the most reliably unbiased news source for Americans is the BBC, you have to wonder if we created this problem. The blurring of news and opinion has cultivated a culture of know-it-alls with unfounded claims to make and bullshit talking points to push. So, until news organizations are able to clearly differentiate between what’s news and what’s opinion, and until talking heads are able to admit that what they’re selling viewers and readers is opinion, there’s really nothing that can be done to fix this epidemic. Except, of course, to get your friendly daily reminder to not read the comments.