The Foolishness Section

A prudent man conceals knowledge,
But the heart of fools proclaims foolishness.

We hear it all the time: “Do not read the comments section! They are a mire of illogical nonsense!” For the most part, that is true. The craziness of the comments section on any sort of website, from news article to YouTube video, has gotten so bad a lot of sites have begun hiding them under a button or text the visitor must click to load the comments. Other sites re-brand comments or have separate “moderated” and “unapproved” comment threads, while a select few go as far as totally disabling comments. No matter the case, the comments section can be a cesspool of ignorance and confusion.

As I said earlier, for the most part, comment sections are bad. That means there are predominantly good comment sections somewhere. I have seen both types. While even in the good sections there are the “typical” comments we all hate, the majority are logically sound and sane. I was pondering why the comments section have become so repulsive to many people and how we could use the good sections to create a resolution.

One resolution is to cultivate good conversation and create a community. This could be done by the author cool-headedly engaging in the conversation and creating meaningful discussion and/or an editor or moderator removing the most severe comments. This has happened before. I wish I could find it again, but I was reading about an experiment on cultivating a a community of healthy comments that worked well until it fell apart after a few years. Yet these methods have drawbacks, as an author and editor have feelings too. They could read a comment that affects their deeply held beliefs on a matter and they may be tempted to engage in an regretful manner. This does not mean we should skip creating a good community in general, but due to the human emotion factor, we know it will never always work (not unless we all become Vulcans).

The way of a fool is right in his own eyes,
But he who heeds counsel is wise.

Some years ago I heard one opinion on how to combat the problems of comments: force everyone to use their real name. After all, the Web is largely built on anonymity. According to the opinion, by using a fake, untraceable name, people think they can get away with saying anything they want. After all, “ILuvCats602565465” does not always make it clear there is a “real person” (there are fake people?) on the “other side of the screen.” By forcing use of real names, the reasoning continued, people may be more inclined to not make such stupid and hurtful remarks because they know they are talking to a “real person.” After all, they would never say such a thing to someone’s face.

Yea… that will not work. What, are you going to make each person enter their personal info and run background checks to ensure they really are who they say they are while using a non-secure HTTP connection so their identity can be stolen? Good luck with that. We cannot even secure IoT light switches in hotel rooms.

Furthermore, even without background checks, there are plenty of “real/fake name” generators out there that would easily pass as a “real name”. Heck, someone could call themselves Lara Croft and only those who know about the Tomb Raider video games would know it is fake. A real name policy will not cut it.

A fool’s wrath is known at once,
But a prudent man covers shame.

In some form at some time in our lives, we knew or encountered somebody who fit into the horrible commenters group. Maybe it was a gossiping neighbor, an obnoxious co-worker, or a loud-mouth friend of a friend who wanted to be your friend but could not get the hint you did not want to be. Even if we tried to avoid them, they would continue to blab nonsense. Calling them down on their babel, either in private or public, might have made them stop for a short bit, but eventually they went back to their normal ways. It would not be fair or right to not allow them to talk. In the end, we had to accept this Fact of Life and move on, often by tuning out the idle chatter or limiting personal exposure to it. The Web is the same way. We cannot forcibly stop certain talk. That was the premise behind the Constitution’s First Amendment. Taking away the freedom to express oneself according to their perspective and frame of view on the Web is in direct opposition to a core principle of the modern world. No matter how different or seemingly wrong a person’s opinion is compared to your own, they are allowed to say it. The only reason such speech would be deleted (as a moderator would do) would be on clearly-defined grounds of threats, hate speech, or assault, which would be punishable in the non-digital realm too.

As I said earlier, a core part of the Web is anonymity. So is freedom of expression. Ease of access is another part. Just as I was easily able to register for Medium or WordPress.com and write a blog post for all to read, so it is just as easy for someone else to register to comment on my blog post. Taking away ease of access restricts the Web to only those who can afford access. This method definitely will not work.

While going over all the above, I remembered the proverbs positioned throughout this post. While thinking upon them, I found the answer to what could be done to make comments sections bad.

Nothing.

We really can do nothing to truly combat unruly commenters. We can attempt to prevent such behavior and speech, but we can never truly stop it. Those who are wise in their own eyes will continue to speak (as the proverbs put it) foolishly. A fool will persistently flaunt their foolishness for they lack the wisdom to not speak or act in that manner. They think themselves to be self-righteous and find no need to hear other opinions, for theirs is the best (and only) factual statement on the matter.

Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise;
when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.

Maybe, then, we should look at and react to the comments section differently. Maybe if we viewed it as a collection of foolishness or a meeting of the local chapter of fools, we could better ignore all that goes on. Maybe by not getting involved in the childish behavior, those who are being insulting and repulsive will become bored with not having as many opposing viewpoints to argue with. Maybe by not answering their cries for attention, they will get the hint and stop acting out (although that may never happen). It is the Foolishness Section, and therein lies foolishness.

Don’t answer the foolish arguments of fools,
Or you will become as foolish as they are.

Whatever the answer, whatever the resolve, whatever the resolution, the comments section is here to stay. We cannot silence, restrict, or easily combat unwholesome discussion. It must be present, anonymity and all. Enjoy the Foolishness Section, everyone. After all, it is a part of everyday life.

This post originally appeared on Medium!

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One thought on “The Foolishness Section

  1. Of course, I wouldn’t plan on BEING foolish deliberately. Not that I think you’re saying that 😛

    This is One of my pet peeves on Roblox. Super Foolish comments. . . UGH!

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