Musings on the Bottom Half of the Internet

“Never read the bottom half of the internet, that’s where the bad things live.”

It’s mantra repeated by many.

I’m referring of course to the comments, which as ‘bottom half’ indicates are situated a long old scroll down the page at the bottom of a post or article.

bad-things

If you write, comments are a double-edged sword. I remember writing my very first post on my personal blog and the joy I felt upon receiving the email notification that I had a comment awaiting approval. Sadly of course it was someone offering to sell me some little blue pills as opposed to someone keen to engage in intellectual discourse. Them’s the breaks.

 

Some time past, and in addition to my friends and family (and of course the spam bots) others too read my posts. At one point Rishi found a post quite amusing and so submitted it to Reddit. And so spewed forth a new wave of comments.

Different to the ones before.

No longer was debate the order of the day, instead dear reader, most were decidedly personal and entirely uncomplimentary.

People behave differently behind technological barriers like keyboards. I imagine some of the most violent haters online are likely very nice people in real life. They probably do things like help little old ladies across the road.

But I digress, let’s get to the point.

 

It troubles me when I see journalists deride ‘the bottom half of the internet’.

Yes, some of those people commenting have been mean to you. Lots of those comments are ill-informed and make little or no sense. Worse,  some of those people commenting have posted hateful bile. However, much the same criticism could be levelled at the top half of the internet too:

 

I have a rule which I try to observe while browsing news sites online: to try and keep my sanity intact.

I rarely succeed, it must be said. The temptation to peek is just too strong.

I know I will be annoyed, upset and occasionally disturbed by some of the ugly and stupid things written by ill-informed, ignorant, bigoted souls with an over-inflated sense of their own worth and importance.

I know I am sometimes suckered by provocative trolling, attention-seeking idiocy or corrupt promotion of vested interests, but next time it will be different.

But one day, I will manage to obey my own golden rule: never read the top half of the internet.

~ Ally Fogg

 

Eloquently put, I think.

Journalists are equally guilty of spewing forth ugly, stupid, ill-informed or ignorant crap. The major difference being that thanks to those hard working editors their content is (typically at least) mercifully free of spelling and grammatical errors.

They’re also guilty of writing deliberately provocatively in order to garner attention, shamelessly self-promote, push their own agenda – I could go on, but I’m assuming you understand where I’m coming from. The top of the internet is not that different to the bottom.

 

Hypocrisy aside, there’s something really rather distasteful about those journalists who write for major news outlets  decrying those who comment. It smacks of entitlement.

These journalists unlike many of us other mere mortals are actually paid to write. It’s something of a privileged position to be in. The size and reach of the sites that they write for mean that their content has the ability to reach far more eyeballs than your average blogger.

 

When they bemoan the ‘bottom half of the internet’ they are in fact bemoaning their readers.

And they aren’t just bemoaning *some* readers. They are bemoaning all of them. Without readers where would they be?

 

I find ‘the bottom half of the internet’ as a turn of phrase spectacularly offensive. This might be down to my over-active imagination, but bear with me. What does ‘the bottom half of the internet’ evoke for you?

To me it evokes an Orwellian dystopia…

There’s a new kind of class divide. At the top are those who ‘count’, and beneath the proles squabble pettily about things which are of no consequence to those whose content lives above the fold.

Have I gone too far? Probably.

 

I wonder what some of these journalists would prefer. Perhaps they’d advocate turning comments off?

But if the news outlets did that readers’ comments would once again be relegated to ‘readers letters’ sections. Hand-picked and often heavily edited. It would be cleaner, more sanitised for sure, but I can’t help but feel like it’s a step backwards.

 

I feel strongly that whilst on the ‘bottom half of the internet’ there may well be ‘bad things’ living; there’s also an awful lot of good things too.

Today I tweeted this:

 

There’s gold down here.

Enjoy.

 

 

 

Image credits:

Bad Things

 

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17 Responses to “Musings on the Bottom Half of the Internet”

  1. I enjoy commenting, for social and professional purposes. It makes me feel like this interwebz thingz is more human than a half-hearted attempt to create marketing ‘stuff’ and ‘noise.’

    I think authors have a responsibility to cultivate interest in their comments, always, not just on some posts. this is strictly personal opinion, but, if one wants to express themselves, allowing comments, it would seem more apropos to this platform to respond.

    Otherwise, one could just post anonymously. Or, if one prefers not to comment at all, which again is odd considering the chosen platform, turn off comments completely.

    i sometimes peruse the webz like shopping at a thrift store. you can find fly duds no.one.else.haz. , but you have to put in the effort. #hipsteranalogy #notreally :)

  2. Hannah Smith says:

    I’m with you – if you’re publishing online, you ought to embrace all that the medium has to offer.

    And the key difference online? A reader’s ability to comment.

    Sure there’s a lower barrier to entry when it comes to commenting online – it’s instant, and requires far less effort than writing a letter to the editor (as you’d have to do if you wished to comment on an article in an offline print publication).

    But it’s what makes online media different.

    To my mind, if you switch off comments, or ignore them, you probably don’t understand the medium, and perhaps you shouldn’t play there.

    Thanks for commenting Anthony :)

  3. The bottom half is there to balance out the top…like how the majority of the comments on the Daily Mail are made by lefties, and lots of comments on Guardian.co.uk are from people who are decidedly more right wing. Comments help the internet to reduce the slant and bias inherent in traditional media.

    Also they’re full of awesome content ideas that don’t currently have foundation in post format, which means you can get there first with a follow-up (sortof)!

  4. Hannah Smith says:

    Thanks for your comment Stephen, agree on both counts :)

  5. Mike Essex says:

    I have to agree Hannah. One of the disappointing things about the Pocket app is that it doesn’t pull off comments. If I read an article without reading the comments I feel like I’ve only got half the story.

    As you suggest the top half is run by the dictators, the people who state their opinion. The bottom half is run by everyone else, who debate the policy of those at the top. If writers never read the bottom half they never learn what the public thinks and that’s a dangerous thing, firstly because future content they create could be continually annoying the very people who fund the site and secondly because they could be missing out on content ideas suggested by other people.

    A good recent example is to look at the comments on Matt Cutts’ blog post about Penguin 2.0 (http://www.mattcutts.com/blog/penguin-2-0-rolled-out-today/). Matt may have ignored 99% of the comments but if he wants to truly know what went right and wrong with the update he won’t find a better source than the comments feed in his own site.

  6. Hannah Smith says:

    Hey Mike,

    Thanks for commenting.

    Like you I think there’s often value in the comments.

    You raise an interesting point re Matt’s blog – I’ve always found it fascinating to note which comments he responds to and which he doesn’t – sometimes that in and of itself is quite telling :)

    That said, I’m not surprised that he doesn’t respond to them all – more often than not there’s weird, off-topic squabbling going on; I think I’d elect probably not to get involved in that too.

  7. Amy Fowler says:

    I *love* comment sections and @Mike – all mobile versions of sites seem to omit comments. It really annoys me but thank god for the ability to revert to the much better desktop version.

    But even then, the Daily Mail comment section doesn’t work properly on my mobile. Which is sad because the comments on there are hilarious.

    To me, most blog posts and news pieces are simply the opening to a discussion. If I can’t read other people’s thoughts on the topic, I’m not bothered about reading the original article.

  8. [...] Musings on the Bottom Half of the Internet by Hannah Smith (@hannah_bo_banna) [...]

  9. Dustin Verburg says:

    Hannah, thanks for writing this. I also love comment sections.

    Let’s look at an obvious example– Reddit. Whenever I click a link and am puzzled by it or want to find another angle, I can check the comments. There’s always something valuable in there among the jokes and memes. There are actual conversations, and sometimes the commenters do more research than the initial author did– just because they’re really, really passionate about it.

    There are trolls and assholes everywhere because it’s really easy to make people mad in comment sections. I hear authors and journalists being interviewed on NPR all the time who say “I never look at the comments” and it strikes me as odd. Do you not care about your audience? Can you not weed out the trolls?

    One of the first things I ever got published on the internet was at Street Carnage, and all of the comments were mean and terrible. That’s the nature of that site. I was still glad someone was reading it.

    This also makes me think of the Feminist Frequency thing that happened the other day… comments were disabled on the video (which was about the ‘damsel in distress’ trope in video games) so the men’s rights crowd couldn’t troll the comments. Did it disable the conversation? Absolutely, but that’s the creator’s right too. Those would-be commenters abused YouTube’s ‘flag this video’ feature and got it taken down pretty quickly. I guess that epitomizes the inherent top vs. bottom class war in some warped way, though they were in the wrong.

    Sorry for writing you a novel, but this came along right when I’ve been thinking about this a lot.

  10. Robert Black says:

    On news sites, especially on more shall we say “controversial” topics, the comments are far more interesting than the original article. I must confess to spending far too much time on the Daily Telegraph site but I don’t even bother to read articles that are marked “comments are closed”.

    On my own blogs I welcome comments. Really do not understand those blogs that don’t want any comments. Akismet does a really good job of picking up the obvious spam and I can filter out the rest myself. I usually make a point of replying to comments, which people appreciate.

    From a marketing perspective there’s an opportunity within the comments section to build up a two way relationship with your readers. I’ve been in involved with 2 profitable JV deals simply through people leaving comments, and my engaging with them.

  11. [...] Finally he also shared his thoughts on making reader comments and social interactions become editorial – I particularly appreciated this sentiment given some jounalists’ somewhat disdainful view of the ‘bottom half of the internet’. [...]

  12. I’ve not seen the derision you refer to, but well done for starting the debate – those who turn off comments are losing something valuable, I agree wholeheartedly. But I suspect they have their own reasons and will have considered carefully.

    I feel a little sad at the criticism of journalists as distinct from bloggers. There are good and bad in both camps, just as there are good and bad comments to be had.

    There is some excellent journalism out there, and without paid journalism we wouldn’t have some of the insights that we get into the State of our nation, World affairs and the great feats of hope that individuals achieve.

    Neither can I wholly critise those who choose to turn off their comments – it’s major task on a small blog to clear down the thousands of obviously spam comments, so a high profile consumer one must really struggle. And I imagine that the legal team has had their say in many cases!

  13. Hannah Smith says:

    Hey – sorry for the delay in responding – the incongruence of bemoaning journalists’ attitude to the bottom half of the internet and then failing to respond to comments here hasn’t escaped me.

    I’m a bad person.

    @Amy – I too am irritated by mobile versions of sites which don’t show comments. As you say it’s only half the story.

    @Dustin – I think you raise an excellent point re weeding out trolls. It strikes me that some sites struggle to stay on top of the comments. I’m not in favour of out and out censorship, however I do think sites should have policies around editing (or in extreme circumstances removing) highly inappropriate or off-topic comments – and indeed should do so, where appropriate. It’s your house, keep it clean.

    @Robert – Sounds like we’re on the same page – thanks for commenting :)

    @Claire – Actually I have more sympathy for the lone blogger who elects to turn of comments – they don’t have an army of support staff around them. Also just to be clear, I don’t begrudge journalists a living – I agree that what they do is important, and some do it very well. However what I struggle with is the idea that once their article is published, their job is done. That was indeed the case when all we had was print journalism, but times have changed :)

  14. [...] Finally he also shared his thoughts on making reader comments and social interactions become editorial – I particularly appreciated this sentiment given some jounalists’ somewhat disdainful view of the ‘bottom half of the internet’. [...]

  15. Kris Dietz says:

    If you commit to running a blog i think you commit to moderating the comments, just my opinion. After all i think shared perspectives are part of blogging.

    As most have said I’ve gathered just as much useful info from comments on occasion.

  16. Thomas Smith says:

    I personally feel as though without comments there is no post. With blogs and articles where the comments are disabled, there just “is”. “This is how it is, deal with it, take your opinions elsewhere.” is the general impression portrayed by posts where comments are disabled.

    It might just be me, but any posts or YouTube videos where comments are disabled don’t hold my attention any more than the average jet flying overhead. There’s no room for thought, alternate opinions or even just kind, thoughtful discussion. The bluntness of something just being there with no opinions being expressed actually really insults our intelligence.

  17. Doug S. says:

    Sometimes comment sections are good, and other times they tend to collect garbage. The more popular a page, the more likely its comment section is to become useless; if you, as a reader, go to an Associated Press article hosted by a popular site and find like 2000 comments there, you’re never going to read them all, and anything you might want to say would get lost among everyone else’s comments, so why bother? On the other hand, a site that’s small enough to have a group of people who talk to each other tends to have better discussions.

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