American Conversation in the Digital Age
Comments sections on social media and viral articles can give you a glimpse into Americans’ opinions across political affiliations and cultural differences.
By Terry Nguyen, University of Southern California
The comments section is an abhorring virtual scene—one that many readers wisely choose to avoid.
Filled with ad hominems, circular arguments and irrational ideas, it is every reasonable internet user’s nightmare: A scroll-down game of losing faith in humanity. Some, however, find great joy or an unusual necessity in rebutting claims, spewing opinions and contributing to the spitfire in the notorious comments chain.
As a result, the comments section is a well-known disaster in every corner of the virtual world, and many critics are calling to revise commenting or simply restrict it altogether. This solution to restrict harmful, free and sometimes idiotic speech would not do the public any good. Instead of avoiding this contentious space, users should act against their self-preserving instincts to occasionally browse through the comments, whether they’re of a controversial article or a thought-provoking documentary.
Wait, what? Browse through comments? For many, this suggestion sounds like a ridiculous waste of time and energy. It shouldn’t be—if done methodically with a clear process in mind.
For many years, the comments section has been a discussion space for journalists, bloggers, Youtubers and the average online user to interact with others. In the minds of its creators, the section was intended to be a virtual democratic forum that sparked thought and discussion from all corners of the world wide web.
This optimistic version of online democracy was quickly tarnished by intervening internet trolls, memes and blatantly rude folks who came along to chime into the discussion. Alas, that is the beauty of democracy: Freedom of speech and the liberty to string ignorant words into mildly coherent sentences.
Nevertheless, there are still many enlightening opinions, suggestions and stories revealed in this section that should not be overlooked. In a world where ideas are quickly politicized and polarized, there are bound to be numerous disagreers and nay-sayers among such commenters. This, however, does not negate the thousands of intellectually thought out comments, blessings or interesting questions left by other users.
Not all comments are created equal; there are a variety of comments sections found on the Internet. Some are filled to the brim with hate and ignorance while others can be inspiring or simply sprinkled with disagreements in lengthy discussions.
Here are the types of comments users should occasionally seek out to read.
1. The Lengthy, Detailed and Overly Impassionate Comments
The best comments to read are those that initiate this type of discussion that is less opinion-based—instead, focusing more on factual evidence and reasoning. Many users who post these comments have done their research on the topic or simply know it extensively and sound overtly preachy and passionate about their views. These are moderately educational posts, usually triggering the “see more” option on Facebook, but the ones with over a hundred likes are definitely read-worthy. Of course, there will be the random troll in the midst of these long posts who insists that every oppositional opinion is simply wrong or brainwashed, but for the most part, these discussions fulfill the original purpose of the comments section.
In the pre-trolling past, many journalists used this medium to find out the strengths and weaknesses of their writing through the response of the audience. Nowadays, comments sections of mainstream media or journalism outlets tend to be teeming with outright dissenters who poorly refute the article’s argument.
2. Opinion Article Comments: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Another type of comment to focus on should be the ones after opinion articles. It is not only an interesting way to understand the content of the article and its argument, but also provides outside perspectives that the article doesn’t address. Reading these “outside perspectives” on opinion articles can strengthen a reader’s own opinion on a certain issue or provoke questions about the matter.
Nowadays, it is extremely easy to be stuck in a bubble of information that affirms beliefs, rather than question them. For example, conservative Facebook users will consistently see news or media that relate to their point of views and vice versa with liberal users. Reading comments provides individuals, regardless of political affiliation, an external perspective that is critical to their knowledge of the world outside of this perpetual bubble.
With all comments, there comes the good, the bad and the ugly. Unfortunately, opinion articles are more prone to have lists of “ugly” comments and refutable incoherent claims. These comments, however, deserve their own special place in the world alongside the next type of comments to read.
3. Blissfully Ignorant, On-the-Edge Conspiracy Theorist Comments
This election has incited open political hostility, and comments sections are not exempt from this issue. Some of these ignorant, crazy comments are made by self-righteous internet users who refuse to take others’ ideas and opinions into account when typing up their incoherent ideas.
Why read them? Although these comments are the ones that suggest humanity’s impending intellectual downfall, users should read them to observe how simply wrong they are.
Usually, these comments are the most easily refuted and serve as a space for others to point out the fallacies of the comment. Online arguing is not encouraged, but some comments need to be stopped by pointing out their wrongs.
These are the toughest, most cringe-worthy comments to read, but sometimes, everyone needs to have a taste of reality by getting inside the minds of the politically insane and unreasonable folks in the world. Although they may be “unreasonable,” a large percentage of the population does agree with their incomprehensible arguments.
The comments section is more than just a pillar of free speech and online democracy. It is a space where others interact in their stories and ideas; it can be a very educationally uplifting section. Unfortunately, it’s also a space where divisive views and detrimental comments have created their reign. It’s difficult to not get caught up in the comments section after reading a few, but it’s important to gain a little online perspective once in a while from the wise men and trolls of the Internet realm.