"I was, for years, an enthusiastic advocate of the egalitarian, free-for-all, let's-level-the-playing field aspect of the Web. More voices! More feedback! More participation! Bring it on!As Web 2.0 has made journalism into an obligatory conversation, he's watched as comments have devolved from signed and thoughtful emails to short, snarky anonymous blasts:
"Not anymore. As I've mentioned before, I now tend to agree with "West Wing" creator Aaron Sorkin, who said, 'Nothing has done more to make us dumber or meaner than the anonymity of the Internet.' Hyperbole? Not by much."
"If you've ever spent much time in the comment boards of this or any major media site (or, of course, any popular blog), you already know: Anonymity tends to bring out the absolute worst in people, the meanest and nastiest and least considerate. Something about not having to reveal who you really are caters to the basest, most unkind instincts of the human animal. Go figure.
"Thoughtful discourse? Humorous insight? Sometimes. But mostly it's a tactless spectator sport. It's about being seen, about out-snarking the previous poster, about trying to top one another in the quest for... I'm not sure what. A tiny shot of notoriety? The feeling of being "published" on a major media site? Or is it the thrill that can only come from hurling a verbal Molotov at the Great Satan of "corporate media," and then running away like a snorting 8-year-old? All of the above?
"Do not misunderstand: It is far from all bad, and many intelligent, eloquent, hilarious people still add their voices to comment boards across the Interwebs, including ours. Hell, I still get terrific pleasure from reading some of the comments on a few of my favorite blogs, along with rich information, morbid humor, even new column ideas and unusual angles I never thought of. What's more, some of the larger media sites still have enough resources (read: overworked, as-of-yet-not-laid-off staffers) to moderate their forums and keep the verbal chyme to a minimum.
"But the coherent voices are, by and large, increasingly drowned out by the nasty, the puerile, the inane, to the point where, unless you're in the mood to have your positive mood ruined and your belief in the inherent goodness of humanity stomped like a rainbow flag in the Mormon church, there's almost no point in trying to sift through it anymore. The relentless nastiness is, quite literally, sickening."