Thursday, January 12, 2017

Ten Rules for Public Discourse as Internet Comments Section

Back when Donald Trump's candidacy was still funny, there was a joke going around that he was the personification of an internet comments section. But the real joke has turned out to be that all public discourse now happens at the level of an internet comments section.  Or if not all of it, far more than is healthy for us as a society or as individuals.

One consequence of our comment section discourse is that we spend so much time telling people what they think that there's no time to ask them what they think and why.  We’re so busy cultivating cynicism and trying to be edgy that we forget to be kind and compassionate.  This situation has been the source of some of my melancholic mood as of late.

Alas, if we are to live in the era of public discourse as internet comments section, we ought to know what we’re getting into.  So without further ado...

Ten Rules for Public Discourse as Internet Comments Section

1. You must never think critically about your own beliefs. Your view is automatically right because it is yours. USE ALL CAPS INSTEAD OF REASONS!!!!

2. You must never empathize with people who disagree with you.

3. You must never admit that people who disagree with you might be decent human beings. 

4.  If people tell you that your view dehumanizes them, you must never reflect on whether they have a point. Remember: your view is automatically right because it is yours (see Rule 1). How dare they question it?

5. All issues must be black-or-white, with-me-or-against-me.  There can be no coalition building with people who disagree about a few issues; there is no such thing as an in-house disagreement. You are either 100% in my house or 100% outside of it.

6. All positions must be believed with the searing zeal of the martyrs; your enthusiasm for your position must burn as hot as your hatred for any opposing view. USE ALL CAPS TO EXPRESS YOUR COMMITMENT TO YOUR VIEW AND CONTEMPT FOR OTHERS!!!!!

7. Godwin’s Law is in full force: your opponents and/or their associates must be compared to Nazis as soon as possible.  It doesn't matter whether you're talking about powerful politicians or your local PTA.  No issue is too trivial to be compared to genocide.

8. Bombastic, hastily generalized claims must be made and clung to irrespective of nuance, truth, or new evidence.

9. You get to choose your own facts! If people disagree with your facts, direct them to a conspiracy theory or partisan website as evidence. Bonus points for hour-long YouTube videos of people rambling in their basements.

10. And of course, if your view can’t be expressed in 140 characters, it is not a view worth having. Sad!


  1. Yeah, I made the mistake of reading the comment section on a NPR news story once. It had to do with a grassroots boycott of Rush Limbaugh sponsors after he had made outrageous and sexist statements about a woman. Many of the commenters were ready for civil war since they viewed the boycott as an attempt to stifle Rush's First Amendment rights.

    And on the other hand I made a comment disagreeing with some of my liberal comrades over military expenditures a few years back and was called some seriously nasty names. Many of these internet friends blocked me on Facebook over my opinion that it might be better to bite the bullet and purchase a good number of the expensive F-22 fighters to maintain air superiority.

    The basic human instinct to so easily abandon rational discourse and go straight for mob thinking is quite disturbing. It doesn't say much for our species.

    1. I've had very similar experiences. And what I've found most alarming in the last year or so is that these sorts of tendencies are becoming the standard outside of comments sections where they might do more damage. For all their bluster online, I doubt those Rush Limbaugh fans were going to step away from their computers and actually start a civil war. But now we seem to be moving toward a culture of public discourse where those sorts of comments have real consequences. That can't be good.

      Anyway, thanks for your civil and thoughtful comments. I appreciate it!

  2. I learned a while back that often times the comment sections are all about who can get the last word in regardless if their approach has any sufficient merit. People can be dogmatic in their approach and will double down in their argument even in the face of reason. If people cannot be civil and insist on turning things into a digital shouting match online, then I see little that can come from engaging in comment sections of various forums.

    1. Thanks for the comment. I generally avoid comment sections for the reasons you're giving. I have been relatively lucky in my own comment sections on this blog to have mostly civil commenters such as yourself!

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