Internet comments: The experiment that failed

Back in the infancy of the Internet, the experts told us it would give the voiceless a voice, empowering people in a way we can’t imagine.

We blew the chance.

This was illustrated yesterday, when the Star Tribune, home of some of the most vile commenters ever to be empowered, posted this notice on each of its story pages.


The cynic says it’s a start. The trolls have mostly chased thoughtful dialog from the comments sections and news organizations like the Star Tribune have been more than derelict in their duty with a “in the name of free speech”, anything goes attitude toward steering their conversations.

Comments are editorial content, too, but many news organizations are too unwilling to commit resources to setting a standard of intelligence and decency in directing its conversations. And many people have lost the ability to make a valid point intelligently. And in the absence of any participation by journalists, commenters often go off the rails because no one is listening.

It didn’t have to be this way, of course. But now it probably does. There’s no saving the “comments section” without a sudden infusion of informed, intelligent, rational, and articulate people. But, really, why would they bother to subject themselves to the trouble?

If anyone needed needed confirmation of this — and really, who on earth could possibly need confirmation of this? — last Saturday’s This American Life provided a shocking and pathetic one.

It focused its hour on the people who should have never been empowered in the first place, people who should have never been given a louder voice than the unsubstantive one they already had. Trolls.

Here, listen for yourself. The odds are you won’t last 15 minutes.

It’s hard to imagine CenturyLink getting many calls — except from the very people who created the cesspool from which the company is trying to shield its customers — protesting the outage.

But regardless of the reason for it, what’s the point in wanting comments back? It was a nice experiment. It was a failure.

Related: The Dark Psychology of the Sexist Internet Commenter (The Atlantic).

Internet comment credibility study: Vaccine decisions influenced by online discussion. (Slate).

Related cable: CenturyLink’s much-hyped Twin Cities 1-gig broadband rollout is slow in coming (Pioneer Press)