Opinion: Back Off, Angry Commenters

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Opinion: Back Off, Angry Commenters

Post by Erik_Kowal » Fri Dec 02, 2011 4:57 am

Slate contributor Katie Roiphe introduces her latest article thus:
A new species has risen from the shallows of the Internet: the angry commenter. Sure, there is a long tradition of inspired cranks and interested retirees who have always written letters to the editor, but something in the anonymity and speed and stamplessness of the Internet has unleashed a more powerful and uncontrolled vitriol. I am not here talking about the thoughtful, intelligent comments, which also abound, but rather the bile unloosed, flashes of fury and unexamined rage that pass as “comment.”
Your (examined) thoughts?
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Re: Opinion: Back Off, Angry Commenters

Post by dante » Sat Dec 03, 2011 10:10 pm

I wish Katie all the luck in her attempt to define this “angry commenter” breed but I must say I have my doubts about it. It seems like it could take some time before she manages to put together anything that would look like a meaningful theory of this specie. The way the author put it, a member of this breed could be considered any literate person with enough free time and at least one (preferably index) finger on their hands , who got into habit of using a PC as a tool of communication, dissatisfied with whatever aspect of their lives (which obviously can be literally anything one can think of), who at least on one occasion has given vent to their anger by writing an “uncontrolled vitriol” (previously unaware of the existence of the word “vitriol” I use it here as the opposite to “thoughtful and intelligent comments”) on the net. No wonder the author herself , in this obviously preliminary phase of the investigation of the phenomenon of “angry commenters” found it difficult to point to a specific social or political group, gender or whatever, as the one making up the majority of this breed.
My guess is that the angry commenter is functional, loving, and peaceable in his daily life, and it is only in the comments section that his darkest fury is unleashed (though I could be wrong).
Well, I’d agree with the part the author put in the brackets, that this “Mr Jekyll & Dr Hyde” dichotomy of “functional, loving, peaceable in their private lives” as the opposite “breed” to “angry” in their comments , could be an inaccurate way of describing people. Speaking personally, I’m not sure which group I belong to then, if any. I’ve written a few embittered “vitriol” ( “diatribe”, “rant” ..my writing has been qualified with such words, probably close synonyms to “vitriol”) when I felt like that. I believe that there are times when anyone feels dissatisfied with either their own lives or with the world outside, and feels like giving vent to their dissatisfaction somehow. In my opinion, it’s a natural thing to express your negative feelings too, be it writing anonymous comments on the web, as long as the number of swear words per hundred words written is not bigger than one (if you want to stick to your puritan beliefs than make it per a million).
I mean, not that I suggest that writing angry comments is the best thing in the world to do, but if, for example, you’ve tried riding bicycle for hours, did your yoga, listened to Beethoven four CD pack, had more sex in a day than you normally have in a month, and still itching to argue your point in an anonymous comment on the net, whatever is the issue, go ahead, don’t keep it inside.

Generally speaking, the form should be secondary for anyone reading internet articles, and it shouldn’t prevent the reader from focusing on the content of the writing, as long as the whole message makes sense, and argues the point well, and is written in basically literate and meaningful manner. As I said, the particular wording doesn’t help much in evaluating the writer as peaceable, loving person or the opposite. For example, there’s more than enough evidence to say that the worst ideas the humanity has seen have always been wrapped in a beautiful, bland wording. This modern industry of air-attacks, for example, is without exception preceded with tireless repetitions of words like “peace” and similar, you could almost think you’re in a stress relief course when you read it. Peace, harmony and tranquility. Who could wish for better?
I believe that it’s impossible to paint people in such large brush strokes. For example, I’ve once watched on TV lamas of Tibet throwing stones at people, and hitting them with sticks and all. That’s not an image of loveable, peaceable and functional people, and on the other hand, there’s an image of lamas as bald, tranquil people devoted to their faith, living secluded life and everything. I’m not arguing they’re either or I possibly can as I’ve never been on Tibet, never talked with a living lama in person or anything. My point instead is that everyone has their boiling point. I’ll leave "peaceable" and "loveable" to poets to use them as epithets, in their heavenly descriptions of human characters.
One can agree though that there are many people with angry predisposition today, anywhere in the world, where a particular cause which will trigger that anger in them can be anything, often a basically unimportant thing ,often far from the true issues that produce such state of mind in them. Although I won’t be as bold as Katie to draw a parallel to Chinese&Vietnamese history, I’ll agree with her on the general point that angry protesters might be angry commenters. I’d add also that if they’re angry they will be angry whatever else they are in their lives.

To add a cherry to Katie’s insightful article, and ultimately prove her basic premise about angry commenters I’ll add my comment to her article in the end. The article is hardly more than stating the obvious, garnered with superficial comments of dubious meaning and only more ambitious than succinct definitions of everything. Some claims like “ We are clearly in a season of class war” referring to “Occupy thieves” protests, leaves no room for argument, some as I said include historical (Chinese&Vietnamese history) perspective to the subject of the article “This is, in other words, a class war Mao or Ho Chi Minh could get behind. In fact, it’s possible that Mao or Ho Chi Minh living today would be angry commenters”.


Now, the question for me is what the phrase "angry commenter" actually entails in Katie's mind. As I disagree on her stance on the protests, qualifying them as "class war" I'd probably comment on it as I believe that she made light of the ideas she doesn't like or understand, and which the protesters clearly stated on many occasions, raising voice against the system in which speculators, thieves of all sorts, greedy politicians, paid lobbyist, and the rest of similar professionals live on the back of hard-working people.Not contributing to the well-being of people in any way, legally stealing a huge share of national produce, those people are in my mind, undoubtedly a huge problem for any country, especially when the whole system is made around such practices.

That would be my position on that part of Katie's writing, which might qualify me as an angry commenter I don't know. I understand that Katie's opinion on this particular subject is different, but so I'd understand if those protesters are unhappy coming across Katie's nebulous writing about Mao Zedong and Ho Chi Minh in the context of their protests. So the question is, would it be right to keep only the comments that praise Katie's insightful writing, or to also allow the comments which find Katie's writing otherwise?

It depends on the format of the website and the overall intention of the author of a web writing. Personally, if I was writing on anything on the net, had a blog or something, I can only imagine two solutions : I'd either write my musings, and turn off comments or I'd allow all the comments on the subject, even those that irritate me, as long as they are not meaningless, obscene or mere repetition of the already stated.

So,to conclude, the question Katie raised in the article was ok but her position on it is as shallow as "the shallows of the Internet":) Including of course, a dumb response of an "non-angry commenter" she quoted “The internet is big. Go somewhere else.” It doesn't go that way. If you want to know people's opinions let them have their say. If you want to read only like-minded people than rename the section Comments to "Positive comments".
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