Tuesday, February 21, 2012

On Internet Comments

This is why I love – and hate – the internet.

It emerged last Monday that every time Aaron Ramsey scores for Arsenal, a really famous person dies. Inspired by some comments to a similar story run in The Sun, it's interesting to ponder what would happen if he scores a hat-trick.

This is perhaps the first story in ages that I've bothered reading the comments to, simply because it draws such a long bow. For the longest time, Internet comments have appealed to some for their sense of the insane, but from time to time, they're worth a read. In the Sun, contributions from readers verge from enjoying the tenuous, amusing spirit of the article to being quite malicious.

This wasn't journalism, and (hopefully) nor was it intended that way. Paradoxically, however, on the sidebar of The Sun's website is some alleged journalism. It was titled “Did Whitney Houston 'binge on drugs and alcohol to numb pain of being a secret lesbian?' Don't bother asking me what's behind that link, I didn't read either the story or it's comments. This stuff has always existed, it's just that the internet has given it a louder voice.

The beauty, and sometimes horror, of the interweb is that it gives everyone a publicly accessible voice. Some are worth hearing, if only to make you think. In the immortal words of the cinematic masterpiece Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, “Everyone … uses that voice to bitch about movies”.

Or in this case, Justin Bieber.

The paradox of the internet is that it gives beautiful creativity – say, XKCD, The Football Ramble and Pun Street – the same voice used by people who can sometimes only be described as hateful. All governed by this mystical branch of magic “Search Engine Optimisation”. The ability to dial up the volume of one's free speech is one of the reasons bills like SOPA and PIPA were fought so strongly. The internet has become a jungle – one which seems remarkably cutthroat and uncaring.

Welcome to the Jungle. Watch it b-b-b-b-bring you to your knees.

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