Check Out Them Threads


Mindset of the mob can sway citizen journalism – The Irish Times – Fri, Nov 06, 2009

The most interesting thing about such threads is the mob mindset that seems to underlie them. They are not neutral conduits for spontaneous opinions, but channels dedicated to forms of disgruntlement from people with, for perhaps good reasons, no other outlet. Contributors appear to come to the process with a mindset possibly symptomatic of the isolationism involved in internet relationships generally, and anticipating a certain group dynamic. The tone of a thread seems to be set by the early contributors.

Most contributors appear mostly to want to draw attention to themselves, seeking to convey strength, cleverness, cynicism or aggression, while pre-empting the possibility of hostility or ridicule by pushing these responses in front like swords.

There isn’t all that much to disagree with here, though I have no idea what he means by the ‘isolationism’ of ‘internet relationships’. I stopped reading the comment threads on the Comment is Free site a long time ago, not so much because all comments are stupid, but because the incidence of moronic attention-seeking comments is so high that the thread is practically unreadable. Other newspaper sites are just as bad, if not worse. However, this is not so much a general problem with internet-related technology, as Waters seems to think, but a particular problem with the nature of responses certain news sites -as opposed to other sites that exist for the purposes of debate and discussion- tend to elicit. I suggest that this has more to do with the established role of newspapers, and the degree of influence they are thought to hold.

What’s interesting is the degree of importance that gets attached to comments (and latterly, to Twitter tweets). A lot of the time it’s as though the range of comments that might appear are held to be accurately indicative of some wider trends in public thought. They may not be, even though, particularly in the case of twitter trends, they perform a useful vox populi function for news sites on the lookout for cheaply sourced content.

Posting comments on newpaper site threads is very much a minority activity, and I do not think it wise to infer anything of wider social importance from them, particularly since it is difficult to know, aside from the question of how representative the comments are of any wider group, how many people actually read them, and how wide the actual influence of the comments therefore is. It would be like looking at a series of porno sites and concluding that people these days seem to do nothing but have degrading sexual encounters.

As someone who writes on a site that gets the odd comment, I would hazard a guess that the person most likely to attribute importance to the comments of a particular thread is the person who wrote the inciting post or article. I remember finding it both surprising and admirable a couple of years back to see Anthony Giddens write a post in which he responded to his (probably pseudonymous) critics, whom, in a forgivable lapse of terminological inexactitude, he described as ‘bloggers’. Surprising in the sense that I didn’t imagine that a prominent intellectual like Anthony Giddens was the sort of person who thought going through comment threads to read responses was a worthwhile activity, and that he deemed that the responses ought to be granted a degree of importance. Admirable in the sense that he didn’t really have to do it; he could have simply said nothing and justified his decision to do so based on the stance that anything that appeared in the comment threads was merely the work of attention-seeking sociopaths.

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6 Responses to “Check Out Them Threads”

  1. 1 Longman Oz November 6, 2009 at 10:09 am

    People who leave comments on Internet sites are middle-class dilettante degenerates who should all be castrated. Chemically or otherwise. Including the women. LOL.

    I do have some sympathy for the mystic Jean des Eaux’s point of view this week insofar as newspaper comments threads are an obvious sinkhole of rank pish. However, you can find the good, the bad, and the downright appalling right through mainstream media too.

    It is also telling that Monsieur des Eaux only ever takes pop shots at sitting ducks when writing about the evolving nature of the Internet. Didn’t his mother ever tell him to stay out of the gutter?

  2. 2 Hugh Green November 6, 2009 at 10:19 am

    Blaming the Jooz again, eh? That’s enough of your swivel-eyed hate-filled rants for one day.

    Seriously, I think it is worth asking what one would think of a ‘citizen journalist’ who wrote an article that could be summarised thus:

    ‘People keep saying newspapers are great, but I read one and it was really awful, so we really need to give this more thought, because, contrary to conventional wisdom, newspapers might be bad.’

    Of course, the ‘citizen journalist’ is usually unpaid.

  3. 3 coc November 6, 2009 at 11:16 am

    We must also consider the intended audience. Who does the watery one write for? For people who know what’s right and what’s wrong and who know how the world is ordered, i.e. largely for their benefit, that’s who. I doubt he ever loses his visuo-spatial awareness regarding the orientation of his bread, vis-a-vis the buttery goodness bestowed upon him by the Good Major’s trust.

    Such people definitely don’t want to be told that the internets foster the blooming of a thousand blossoms where one day some messiah will post a killer tweet that will kick off the revolution to overthrow the hated parasitic class.

    They want to be told that the internet is full of sociopathic loons with no girlfriends or even the hope of acquiring same. People not unlike the house-looper himself in fact.

    • 4 Hugh Green November 6, 2009 at 11:30 am

      Yeah! Like the Bruce Springsteen song, the dominant message is that all these people on the internet are wasting their summer praying in vain for a saviour to rise from these tweets.

  4. 6 coc November 6, 2009 at 1:16 pm

    In fact, I have just struck on an excellent web2.0 concept, where I can set up a site where people can attempt to answer the question
    “Why should we rise up and make the world anew?” in 140 characters or less.

    I was going to call it but that domain has unaccountably been taken by Burger King. The bastards!

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