Someone Is… On The Internet

An article on politics—
No if, no ands, no buts—
Will bring out Libertarians
Who’ll demonstrate they’re nuts
But also arch-conservatives
And liberals by the score
Who’ll engage in verbal fisticuffs
And all return for more.

An essay on religion—
Any angle you might choose—
An opinionated blog post
Or the fair and balanced news
Will find arguments aplenty
By extremists on both sides
(Oh, and everyone’s extremist)
As predictable as tides

A feminist perspective—
On whatever thing you want—
Will, like maggots on a rotting corpse,
Erupt in shouts of “cunt!”
Any argument transmogrified,
Distorted, shouted down;
The important thing is showing
Who’s the big dog in this town

A report about the climate,
Evolution, or vaccines,
Gun control, or education,
GM foods, or gay Marines—
In the comments, it’s a certainty,
As daytime follows night,
That opposing sides will gather there
And then begin to fight.

A picture of a kitten—
Or a puppy, or some ducks—
The comments start with “ooh!” and “squee!”
And then—“Obama sucks!”
Or a photo of a fetus
Or “nice pussy!” or some threat…
It’s depressing; it’s disturbing;
It’s annoying… it’s the ‘net.

I was going to link the article that inspired this particular verse, but it frankly doesn’t deserve singling out. And I don’t mean that in a positive way–it does deserve being seen as shameful… but so do countless others that could just as easily have inspired today’s verse… and, to some extent, did, I guess. I am sure you’ve had the experience (unless you have taken the very good advice of NEVER READ THE COMMENTS!!!!) of reading some innocuous piece of reporting, or some blog post (whether a report on breaking news, new science, or what the writer did last night or found in their shoes this morning), and there in the comments, a non-sequitor (or at best, tangential) comment linking the writing to the commenter’s particular grudge–Obama, usually, or atheists or christians or muslims or libertarians or gays or blacks or trans or women or mentally ill or republican or democrat or jews or nazis or activists of all sorts… it will depend on who are the naturally occurring flora and fauna at that particular site. If your experience is with completely different accusations, all that means is that you read different sites than I do.

It almost doesn’t matter what the original writing was about; the real action is in the comments. People who say this is a post-racial society… don’t read the comments. People who say this is a post-feminist society… don’t read the comments. People who say the real victims today are conservative white Christian males… don’t read the comments. Reading the comments is like turning on the lights in a filthy room–you see things you really wish you had not.

I think I’ll go shower now.

I suppose this is related.

If You Don’t Agree With This, You’re An Idiot

It’s the modern world I live in,
And I use it when I can
I get all my information
From my common, fellow man
I won’t venture an opinion
Till I see what others think—
And I’ll read it all in pixels,
Cos I cannot wait for ink.
Yes, the internet is perfect
When you cannot wait for ink.

Now, some drama is expected
When you get your news online
Where a claim won’t go unchallenged
(And this happens by design)
A democracy of chaos,
Where the hoi polloi will roar—
When the comments are uncivil
I will listen all the more!
Yes, when comments are uncivil
This will bring them to the fore.

There is vitriol aplenty—
It’s a caustic, nasty mess!
Some may strive, perhaps, to educate,
Still others, to impress—
While yet others play a sort of game,
Where points are won or lost
Where truth and reputation are
A portion of the cost
Yes, respect for fact or person
Is a line that’s often crossed!

When the comments are uncivil
They are given much more weight
So the rude and boorish bastards
Hold more sway in the debate—
There’s no need to point to evidence
Or logic, you can tell—
When the comments thrive on rancor
All you have to do is yell.
Yes, the winner (on the internet)
Is he who best can yell.

In today’s New York Times, an editorial that speaks to the current state of news commentary on the interwebs. The editorial comments on a recent article in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, investigating the relative effect of civil vs uncivil commentary (regarding a nanotechnology issue) on participants’ opinions of nanotechnology’s risks vs benefits.

Ok… if you read the NYTimes article the results are “both surprising and disturbing”.

Uncivil comments not only polarized readers, but they often changed a participant’s interpretation of the news story itself.

In the civil group, those who initially did or did not support the technology — whom we identified with preliminary survey questions — continued to feel the same way after reading the comments. Those exposed to rude comments, however, ended up with a much more polarized understanding of the risks connected with the technology.

But, really… these were not big effects. The sample sizes were large, so significance could be found without really large effects. But… oh, well.

What is strange is that there is no mention in the NYT article of the religious interaction effect. From the paper itself:

Our findings also reveal a significant interaction between religiosity and incivility on risk perception. (beta=-.07;p< .05). Among those exposed to uncivil comments, those with high levels of religiosity were more likely to report higher levels of risk perception and those with low levels of religiosity were more likely to report lower levels of risk perception...

So, yeah… incivility contributes to polarization of positions. Perhaps especially with regard to religious issues. And incivility is a weapon, it appears. Not that it should be, but it is. Incivility and argument should be orthogonal… but it seems, empirically, they are not.

Civility matters, empirically, it seems. And truth matters. And people are more swayed by incivility than by truth, especially where religion is concerned. So… dickishness, on such comment threads, is actually an adaptive trait, contributing to one’s cause?

We are all so screwed.