Thursday, September 26, 2013

Sealing up the Underpass, and Starving out the Trolls

This fucking thing is ruining democracy.
Two days ago, Popular Science announced that they will no longer accept comments on new articles.

After citing studies which illustrate the effect that comment sections have on public opinion, they wrote:

"If you carry out those results to their logical end--commenters shape public opinion; public opinion shapes public policy; public policy shapes how and whether and what research gets funded--you start to see why we feel compelled to hit the 'off' switch."

I completely agree, and I wish all major news outlets would follow suit.

I once saw an interview with a sociology professor who argued that the internet had democratized media in the way the Protestant Reformation, widespread literacy, and the printing press had democratized Christianity.  Previously, people had relied on the clergy to interpret the Bible, and so the Catholic Church had a monopoly on the faith.  When people gained the means to read the gospels on their own, they learned that a lot of the major doctrines they were being taught weren't even in the Bible.  Likewise, the news used to be the domain of a handful of mega-corporations.  But now, thanks to the internet, anyone with a Google account can be a virtual journalist.

The problem with that theory is that it leaves out the fact that most people on the internet have no idea what they're talking about.  If you're wondering if that includes me, fuck yes it does!  I'm not qualified to talk about ANYTHING outside of geek culture.  And I probably don't know what I'm talking about there either.

While it's certainly good to have an alternative to the corporate-serving rodents of mainstream media, idealism and good intentions don't equal credibility.  Major reporters might be corrupt, but they usually have first-hand access to the stories they cover, and many of them have advanced degrees in law and political science.  The majority of independent bloggers, on the other hand, are at best sharing a layman's take on second-hand information.

There's nothing inherently wrong with regular people sharing their views.  In fact, it's kind of the cornerstone of democracy.  It becomes a problem when we lose sight of the fact that not all views are equally valid.  Over the last generation it's become American dogma that personal belief is just as important as professional opinion.  We have an abundance of evidence supporting Darwinian evolution, yet people insist that Creationism, which has no logical support whatsoever, be treated with equal regard.  When they get argued into a corner, their trump card is invariably, "Well, that's what I believe."

Also, I can't help but notice that the people who champion this mode of thinking are usually the ones who are so in love with their hatred of egalitarianism when it comes to fiscal politics.  We constantly hear the line, "I believe in equal OPPORTUNITY but not equal RESULTS!" (as if anyone actually believed otherwise.)  Yet when it comes to the market of ideas, they want total socialism.  Their views, regardless of whether or not they're informed, well-reasoned, or even based in objective reality, should be given the same respect as any other.

Personally, I don't give a shit if Joe the Plumber believes in climate change.  I care if climate scientists believe in climate change.  Yes, there should be forums where Joe can share his views and have it out with everyone else.  But when it comes to our primary news sources, it would be nice to have an environment where the debate is limited to the experts.

Undoubtedly a few of you are wondering why I don't just ignore the comments section and move on with my life.  To you I say: look, I'm a horror writer.  I'm irresistibly drawn to things that disgust me.

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