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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.

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
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