Answers to a Question No One Asked

Why comments and talkbacks need to go

A decade ago, the world was a smaller place. Before smart phones, Facebook, and Twitter, we communicated verbally, and often face to face. However, with the advent of social networking and the devices that allow us to access these networks, it has become possible to read the opinions of
anonymous strangers from halfway across the globe … and tell them they are complete idiots.

It used to be that news anchors and editorialists were the only voices that helped carve our opinions and world view, but nowadays it isn’t the pundits and their articles that are the main attraction – it’s what follows the articles. You see, somewhere, somebody had the brilliant notion to add an element of social media to the real media and allow for comments and “talkbacks” to appear at the end of online articles. This somebody screwed up royally.

It isn’t that I’m for censorship or revoking Constitutional freedoms; but like most liberties, a few jerks abuse the freedom that’s been granted, and then eventually those few jerks grow into a majority until what was once supposed to be a forum for the layperson to share ideas and opinions becomes a place for people to tell one another that they are complete idiots.

In short, it seems that most people aren’t responsible enough to voice an opinion publically.

For proof, one needs to look no further than the comments sections of the Toms River Patch’s recent series of articles about folks returning to the barrier island to assess storm damage.

Go back and scroll to the bottom of any of those articles and you’re likely to find “Mr. So-and-So” blame President Obama for not personally securing the Kohr’s Ice Cream sign to the rooftop while “Town Mom 73” spins yarns about Chris Christie standing at the bridge entrance with a stop sign and whistle, turning residents away. “Angry Dude NJ” then calls “Town Mom 73” a fascist, and “Mr. So-and-So” threatens “Pork Roll Lover’s” life for implying that the power wasn’t purposely being kept off in order to help overfund pensions.

Of course the paragraph above is satire and none of those commenter handles exist to my knowledge, but the sad part is the hyperbole isn’t very far from the truth. Many readers have made it their business to wage ideological war with anyone and everyone who disagrees with them on the internet. Through the safety of anonymity, residents spew the kind visceral bile that was once relegated to barber’s chairs and bar stools.

The larger issue is what these online “flame wars” represent. We’ve just come off the most negative presidential race in American history in which both candidates ran on a platform of “vote for me because I’m not the other guy,” our nation is more divided than ever, and judging from the comments on this outlet and others more people are interested in the whining about the problem than the working towards a solution.

We’ve become a nation of complainers, people so blinded by rhetoric and bias that we take more pride in pointing out the flaws of our opponent’s argument than building up our own.

When I was growing up, my mother always voted Republican and my father always the straight Democrat ticket. Somehow we got through it without my mom questioning my dad’s citizenship or my dad accusing her of supporting outsourcing.  

Maybe if they each had a laptop at the kitchen table they would have felt empowered to trade jabs behind a screen name and avatar and dinner would have been as sad an affair as the comment bin is here on the Toms River Patch.

want2say November 24, 2012 at 04:06 PM
right on, right on. ain't it the sad truth? amazing the hatred that gets spewed from behind the mask of an avatar. sad to know there is so much negativity in people =(
tuna stick November 24, 2012 at 04:55 PM
Justin, while there are comments that are not pertinent, nor that add contructively, to the conversation, they too have the right to their opinions. Albeit, most are trollers looking to provoke someone's sense of decency so far as to drive them to the point of "visceral bile", I suggest they just be ignored. History is full of the naysayers, and modern times (i.e. the internet) enable those same people to get up on their soapbox and spout whatever the "I hate" of the day might be. But don't be disheartened. While they may feel like they are getting their 15 minutes of fame because some decides to "reply" to there comments, they are still left feeling, or better yet, dealing with their own feeling of bitterness. If they are just trolling to incite a reaction, then they are merely playing. And while that me be a shame, or even disruptive to the argument at hand, they are simple-minded, and not worth the time to "reply" to. However, if they are indeed that hate-filled, or less-then-open-minded, whereas to call everyone who disagrees with them an "idiot", then they are the ones who themselves will suffer. Lastly, I too remember things being simpler when I was younger, even when there was disagreement amongst people. But I also remember the saying we always said when we were kids: "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me".
bayboat November 24, 2012 at 09:35 PM
Justin states that comments sections were instituted as "a forum for the layperson to "share ideas and opinions" but now people use it call each other "complete idiots" Justin calling someone an idiot IS AN OPINION! Contrary to your stated intention of NOT wanting to revoke constitutional freedoms , thats EXACTLY what you are doing. Shutting down someones freedom to say WHAT THEY WANT ..IS a form of censorship. Now the "patch" ,et all, can set comments when and where they like, they are a private company free to do as they choose. If you feel your tender sensibilities MIGHT be disturbed by reading the comments section... DONT READ THEM! However, we DONT need a SELF APPOINTED community manners monitor telling us to play nice or else. ps - The following statement is from a layperson who is constitutionally expressing his opinion. Idiot.
~Barb~ November 24, 2012 at 10:13 PM
Justin, if the Patch had mods like most message boards, this wouldn't be an issue. I'm all for free speech, but foul language and personal attacks should be deleted and IP addresses of flagrant abusers should be blocked. One can get their point across without being a troll.
ed crowley November 24, 2012 at 10:37 PM
This is why the APP changed their format and that is my real name.
Pavlivdogs November 25, 2012 at 12:50 AM
The blog is where people like JD can say what they want, swear its fact, & get people to believe them. The patch needs to regulate this forum or we ll wind up in another sinking ship like the one TRBOE is in now after JD convinced people the the dirty slate team was the way to go. Just cause its in print ona blog doesn't make it true.
Mattie November 25, 2012 at 03:51 PM
Thank You Barb. I agree 100%. I have no problem with anyone (or even everyone!) disagreeing with me, and maturely and logically explaining WHY they disagree. This can lead to great conversations & new information for everyone involved -- even if in the end, no one has changed their opinions. This kind of exchange used to happen frequently here on the Patch pages. But in the last 8-12 months or so? Hardly ever. Now it's all name calling, bullying, and injecting completely ridiculous political bigotry and labeling - into nearly every single article no matter what the topic. I've been weaning myself off the Patch for the last few weeks because of this. My daily reading has gone down to reading the patch only 2-3 times a week. Can't deal with the nasty comments and trolls.
bayboat November 25, 2012 at 05:24 PM
@Barb Youre NOT for free speech. Youre for free speech, AS LONG AS youre not offended. Then the offenders (who decides, you?) shall be deleted and blocked! They will never again be allowed to sully the comments section with opinions or comments that (you?) deem unacceptable. Doesnt sound free to me.
bayboat November 25, 2012 at 05:31 PM
Back in the day there are more than a few people on this site that would have been leading the charge for Elvis to be banned from tv, Lenny Bruce to banned from radio and Judas Priest albums banned from music stores. "Freedom!" (untill Im personally offended by bad manners) then "Not So Much!"
want2say November 26, 2012 at 04:44 PM
i think the do unto others as you would have done unto you rule would help here, a lot. who wants to be called an idiot by some idiot??? Peace please.
bayboat November 26, 2012 at 07:33 PM
Being called an idiot is prefereable to being censored for calling someone an idiot. Freedom of speech is sometimes ugly. Ya either believe in it, or ya dont. Many "donts" on this board.
John smith November 29, 2012 at 08:30 PM
I live in the old Snug Harbor. I want to complement the trash haulers for an outstanding job in collecting the ruins from my and other people's homes on our streets.jack smith
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