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Website Comment Sections: A Sad Commentary

December 20, 2010 – by Per Christensson

Many websites now offer visitors an opportunity to post comments about the content of each page. For example, YouTube videos are followed by a comments section, in which users can post responses to the video. News stories on CNN.com include a "sound off" section that allows users to respond to the article. These comment sections are designed to provide a forum for intelligent discourse about the related material, but they have strayed far from that purpose.

Nearly all the video and news story comments I have read in recent months are either bitingly sarcastic or filled with negativity. Worse yet, the majority of comments are not even about the article. They are often directed towards other user's comments or aimed at users themselves. Too often, the comments section turns into a flaming war among commenters, who berate each other with increasingly insolent rhetoric.

All it takes to start these verbal battles is one negative comment. The next commenter then seems to feel the need to one-up the previous comment with greater negativity. Before long, the comment section has turned into a derogatory dialog that would be rated unsuitable for television. So much for an intelligent discourse.

It would be one thing if these types of comments were isolated incidents. But they are widespread. Comment sections across the Web and are littered with this type of offensive language. I find it to be a sad commentary on our society. Instead of providing useful feedback, the majority of people use these comment sections to vent their most negative feelings with little to no filter. I don't have a problem with negative feedback, but the harsh language and personal attacks really bother me.

I suppose these types of comments should not be all that surprising, since on the Web, people can hide behind the anonymity of a made-up username. This online guise allows people to type comments they would never say in person. But it's not an excuse for making intentionally offensive remarks or berating other users. Even if someone post a comment anonymously, that person is still responsible for what he says.

Hopefully, in this Christmas season, people will take a moment to reflect on their words and learn to be more gracious with each other. Then maybe website comments would provide a more positive commentary on today's society.

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