Thursday, March 11, 2010

Epistolary Structure of Disagreeing with someone on the Internet

I was reading CNN today--like I do almost every day--and I accidentally started reading the comments again. I always do this. I get to the end of the article, and see that someone commented on it, and I'm curious about what they think. I think I might even half-way expect an informed response.

Inevitably, some guy named something like Starwhizard342 wrote something along the lines of: "I'm sorry, but everyone out there is a toolbucket. We should build robot-dogs and make them govern Somolia. If you disagree, you're a terrorist." I roll my eyes and move on to the next comment which is equally brilliant. Every now and then, I get so perturbed by Starwhizard342's complete disregard for logic that my brain falls out of my head and I start drafting a response. I pound the keys one finger at a time muttering to myself while I write out: "Dear Starwhizard342. I think you're wrong. And stupid." I then erase that and try to be cordial. So, I draft a forty line dissertation about the nuances of the socio-religious struggle in modern-day Somolia and why that means we shouldn't go in there and set up robot-dog police like Starwhizard recommended. Eventually, I realize that the only person who will actually read my comment is a person who actually knows something about the socio-religious struggle in modern-day Somolia. I admit to myself that I don't know what I'm talking about, and then I delete it.

Occasionally, I realize that I do, in fact, know what I'm talking about. We really shouldn't send robot dog police to Somolia. So, I reread and edit my response and hit "send" or whatever the button says, and sit back and wait for the comments to roll in. Usually, I'm fairly certain that what I've written down should fix every misconception held by each and every reader. So I'm always a little surprised when no one responds at all. Occasionally I'll get a "1 person likes this" which is almost more annoying than no response at all. And on the best of days, Starwhizard342 will respond by saying: "douche"

That's why I tend not to comment anymore. But today, I was so worked up that I really, really, really wanted to comment. But, because I knew that my comment was going to embody the very essence of futility, I managed to hold my tongue. Er, fingers...

After thinking about it (yes I thought about it... I know, there's something wrong.) I realized that I wasn't frustrated with the person's opinion, I was frustrated with the way the person argued. And I realized, there is a typical way of voicing disagreement on the Internet. It's almost an epistolary structure:

1 - Say that you're right.
1' - Claim that you are an expert in X.
2 - Say that everyone else is wrong.
2' - (Optional) Say that you love/hate America.
3 - Say that everyone who disagrees with you is an idiot.
4 - Remind everyone who disagrees with you that they are also the kind of person who rips puppies in half and drowns poor people. (Must type YOU in caps a lot.)
5 - Say how right you are again.

As I think about it, I'm not bothered by 1-3. It's really step 4 that gets to me for some reason. Why does everyone think that just because I disagree with you, it's because I'm the type of person who knocks over old people and pisses in their shoes? It's almost inevitable that when people disagree on the Internet, it's not enough to simply disagree, it's necessary to stifle the voice of all disagreement by saying that anyone who responds in disagreement is also a goat-headed-she-devil.

I know there's no fix to it. And I'm guessing that the social environment of the Internet will always be that way. Maybe it's some kind of commenter's road-rage. And even though I know it's impossible to fix it, I still find myself perturbed enough to respond from time to time. But, I think I've finally made up my mind. I will never again respond to a comment on CNN. Eventually, maybe I'll learn my lesson and ignore the comments section altogether.


Christian said...

Great stuff Josh. Have you ever heard of Godwin's Law? It's somewhat related.

Joshua said...

Nice. I particularly like the "reduction ad Hitlerum."

Joshua said...

Since I wrote this earlier today, I have subsequently read the comments on no less than four articles on CNN. Each time, I found one and thought for a split second: "What an idiot! I'm going to set him straight right here and now..."

Don't worry though, I haven't left any comments.

R & L Photography said...

Love your thoughts and brilliant writing Josh! ~ Liga