The Internet Commenter: A Valuable Cultural Indicator

Frustrated Chinese woman using laptop
Frustrated Chinese woman using laptop

Having a Disqus commenting account is a truth serum, of sorts.

If you're a kind, analytical person who likes to consider the opinions of others and thoughtfully present your own perspective, internet commenting will bring that out. If you're a big asshole, it will bring that out of you, too.

As I've started to branch out and write for more online mediums, I've realized that writing an article on the internet is equivalent to throwing yourself to the vultures. They are ready to peck at just about anything with some meat to it. Sometimes, they really tear you apart.

It would be nice to take the "don't worry what people think of you" lessons from teachers and parents of our childhood. However, "back then," I don't think they had the entire internet in mind. Within an article, the first few comments will sometimes sway the rest in something of a bandwagon effect. In an era of listicles and filler content, when you work really hard on something only to have the negativity brigade come and flip out on you, it can be disheartening. I'm noticing that it affects my writing on certain topics. It shouldn't. But there. I said it. If you've never been published on the merciless internet, trust me, a thick skin is easier talked about than owned.

A deep thinker (and maybe a bit of an over-thinker), I always examine a "problem," like internet trolls, and try to decide if it is instead a symptom of a larger issue. What's the real problem, here? I think there is more than one.

First, what's interesting is that we clutch our pearls at young teens posting "Hot or Not" pictures on the internet, snapping nudes, and allowing themselves to be publicly judged by anyone with a WiFi connection. But really, this baring for approval has become a cultural phenomenon, transcending teens and adolescent social media. Just about everybody does it. We'll take ten pictures before we post the perfect one to Instagram. We will travel to the coolest places on Earth, just to filter the experience through a camera lens. We will attend a relative's concert and miss the essence of it, because we are too busy trying to get the iPad switched to the right mode for easy uploading (...and compliment-fishing) later that night. The entire way we interact with our world has shifted.

In the world of social media "sharing," we get the privilege of seeing every single person who is--or who is appearing to be--thinner, better, smarter, funnier, cooler, and prettier. If we participate in the internet community, regardless of which social media platform, we toss our tickets in to an endless competition with no tangible victory.

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By "MOBSTR," via

Unfortunately, writing is no different. Writing has become so exploited, whored and demeaned, that talented writers think they are lucky to be paid $10, if at all, for a 1000-word article. If you aren't a writer and can't spatially imagine 1000 words, think of it like this: I'm barely halfway there right about now.

Our words take time in a world that doesn't have any time. A person's art, which is relegated to the internet because that's just how things are, has become the venting forum for someone who hasn't gotten enough likes on Instagram. Back to the schoolyard: "bullies who are mean to others do it so they feel better about themselves."

It tells something about our society that so many haven't grown out of it yet.

Lastly, it has become a gender issue. I, personally, am not a PC-policewoman, but the taunting on female journalists' pieces is utterly nauseating. In fact, nauseating might not be a strong enough word. Lately, we have female newscasters and writers reporting that not only do they get rape threats on the pieces they write, some commenters find it necessary to communicate their horrendousness directly to the supposed sacred space of a journalist's home via a personal visit or phone call. All for an internet article that the commenter didn't like. It's tempting to say "don't let those jerks win!" and that this is the path women need to take toward full equality, to pave the way, if you will. However, if a woman, quite literally, fears for her safety, it's completely understandable why she might stop. Not all of us want to fight the good fight.

Of course the moral of the story is to think before you type and maybe be a little nicer to each other, but that won't be enough.

What is wrong with us? It's a vicious circle, really. As a general rule, we don't fill each other's tanks with deep love and approval, and instead worry about how the rest of the world sees us on account of being made to feel insecure since childhood. Just take the recent article in The Atlantic, which states that almost half of middle-class Americans can't come up with $400 for an emergency. Underemployment and financial struggle account for some it, sure, but if we go by the author's choices, draining a 401k for a lavish wedding sounds more like keeping up appearances. Man, do we live for appearances. It makes for the perfect consumer culture that we all bask in. When you feel like shit about yourself, you'll try harder to convince others that you don't. You'll buy more clothes, shoes, home decor, purses, belts, hair care products, Botox, implants, and BMWs. And we do. And we take pictures to show how we do. And our kids learn real quick.

The biggest challenge in America is to live a simple life of virtue. Just about everything steers you to do otherwise.

So we end up, in some way or another, empty shells, commenting on people's pieces and ripping them a new one so we can feel like we've expressed our intellect enough for one day.

The problem isn't the comment. The problem is the pervasive, sad psyche behind it.

The potential for meta-commenting on this article isn't lost on me:

"It wouldn't QUITE be meta-commenting since people are commenting on the article" Thanks, but it's close enough.

"Well MY husband and I DON'T worry about what other people think." Marvelous.

"You have it all wrong..." Okay.

"I always taught my kids not to post these things to social media." Yep. Good for you.

"Don't write on the internet if you can't take criticism." Read it again. It isn't about criticism, or challenging someone's point. It's about bullying and unnecessary meanness.

"You're just insecure." Maybe. Every last one of us is, though.

All I want to see out of this world, before I die, is better critical thinking. Question what you do. Think about social media. See the implications. See that there is a corporate agenda that does better when we are low and competing with each other constantly. Also, for God's sake, don't be an asshole. American life is hard enough for all of us.

That's all.