After reading yet another political article on Facebook today I made the same mistake I often do; I scrolled down and started perusing some of the comments. And that’s when it hit me. The comments are one of the things fueling the hate and divisiveness that’s out there. As if we don’t have enough to deal with these days, there is this additional layer of anger and meanness which rears its ugly head almost every time something is posted. And it doesn’t just have to be about politics. You could write a completely benign piece which says, “The sky is blue” and someone would say, “No it’s not, you’re deranged” or “This is what’s wrong with this country, @#%-holes like you think they can come along and just assign a color to the sky.” Even worse, you could write a piece about someone close to you dying and someone might respond, “You deserved it.” I kid you not, I’ve seen it happen.
Now I know that some of the people who comment are trolls. Meaning they are bored individuals who roam the internet looking to stir up trouble and see if they can get a reaction out of unsuspecting readers. I have no idea why this is more entertaining than reading a book or even cleaning out a sock drawer, but then again I’m not known for being the most fun person on earth so what do I know? And then there are folks who only read the headline or first few words of an article and therefore their remarks bear no correlation to the actual content of the piece. Sometimes I will see a comment and think, “Did we just read the same piece?” There are also those who, to put it nicely, are misinformed and spout facts that are just not true; they are either just making stuff up as they type or quoting fake sources. Accuracy is not their goal. And then lastly, there are the angry, spiteful people who use the anonymity of the internet to vent their hostilities.
Sometimes I take the bait and respond to a comment. Which leads to more comments and often a debate. Even though I know I shouldn’t do it, I can’t seem to help myself. I just start typing before my brain can tell my fingers not to. And nothing good ever comes of it. Do I actually think I am going to win a battle against a professional troll? Of course not! But for some unknown reason I do it anyway. It’s like when you feel compelled to touch something that has a “wet paint” sign on it. And it’s not like I think I am going to change anyone’s mind about anything. Has anyone ever countered a comment only to have the other person say, “Wow, thank you so much for making me see the light! I am totally going to realign my entire thought process now.” Or, “I am so sorry I was mean to you. I truly know better and am going to be much nicer going forward.” It’s highly unlikely.
So this leads to my proposal. I do not think comments should be allowed anywhere on the internet (other than among Facebook friends—those birthday wishes are really nice). Only cute emojis should be permitted. Even though I have read many polite and thoughtful comments, those bad apples have ruined it for the rest of us. If you really feel you have something you need to say to the author of a piece you have read, you should be required to sit down and pen an actual letter, like we had to do before the internet (yes, I’m that old). The trolls would probably be too lazy to do this; they would be forced to find another activity for amusement, like torturing kittens (I don’t condone this behavior, to clarify). It also might give some people time to gather their thoughts before jotting down the first thing that pops into their head, which trust me, isn’t necessarily a reflection of their best self. And even if you are super annoyed or angry by something you’ve read, it’s likely you might be dissuaded by the thought of writing a letter, locating an envelope and stamp, finding the address to where you need to send your letter and then walking it to the mailbox. Of course there are people who will never be deterred, but they are in the minority. I definitely don’t have that kind of perseverance. I would probably start writing and then give up and go off to get a snack.
I know that the internet is here to stay, but perhaps we can at least do something about the comments. What do you think? Just kidding—no comments please!!