Letter From The Editor: Commenters, Trolls and Sycophants


There was a part of me that cheered when IGN decided it was going to moderate its comment sections more thoroughly, citing that they wanted to create a better, safer community with less vitriol and hate. You can’t argue that it’s a bad thing, unless you want to appeal to a slippery slope fallacy in which case the question falls to trust: how much stock do you put in a website to maintain a fair level of discussion? In the case of the mega-giant that is IGN, I would like to think they know what their doing.

On a grassroots level, however, moreso on the social media side of thing, there is a trend occurring which I find particularly disturbing. See, for the most part, we’re able to choose who we associate with and deal with, and that means that we can, quite literally, only choose to talk and identify with those that share our opinions and will disagree sparingly. As much as I love to avoid conflict (who am I kidding, I relish it), there has to be something to be said for contention.

That’s not to say that the guy who once tweeted me declaring that he ‘hopes I get raped but you’d probably like that wouldn’t you faggot’ has a proper argument to make – but I don’t necessarily find him provocative enough for me to give a semblance of a shit. It’s just some anonymous turd from the bowels of the internet. Likewise, every hateful, stupid comment I get on this website I promptly ignore (unless I’m feeling playful and rip them a new one), because it brings nothing to my life. I haven’t thought more about the subject I’m addressing and I haven’t been challenged, so its existence is absolutely meaningless to me. On the scale of displeasure, it is a -1, just short of completely neutral.

Pretty much.

Pretty much.

But that doesn’t really help everyone – you’ll see it flooding the social consciousness of the internet every now and then, the whole ‘I weep for humanity’ kind of thing, ‘how do I deal with all the negativity?’ and so on and so forth. In an age where you can literally turn something off to no longer have to deal with it, you at least have that option. For those of you that think that you don’t deserve to deal with it, in the immortal words of my boss when I didn’t want to pull the wet ball of human hair out of the industrial vacuum cleaner, ‘Cry me a river, dickface’.

It would be nice to live in a world of respect and discourse, where everyone understood how to obtain truth, what a fallacy was, how to listen, and knew when to speak, but we are far, far from that utopia, and there are so few of us in the position to actually try to make it a reality. You ever tried to get a wild bear to ride a bike? That’s what this is like. For those of you who immediately dismissed that analogy, I want you to think of the closest person to you that you have one defining disagreement with. The closer the person the better. Hell, I hope you love this person so much that just thinking about them causes your nipples to harden. The disagreement can be small, but it has to be something that hasn’t budged or won’t change.

Do you have this situation in mind? Some of you do.

Now, you may love this person, but this one thing you cannot change their mind on. You might know them inside out, their deepest secrets and their darkest fears, but there is no chance in hell that you will ever be able to change their mind on this issue.

Tell me then how you, or anyone for that matter, could ever hope to change the mind, feelings or mannerisms of a legion of anonymous tools whose only virtues are the access to a keyboard and an internet connection, when you cannot change an opinion within someone that you love, trust, know and care for?

You can’t. Stupid and psychopathy will always win, because you can’t reason with either of them. It’s the nature of the beast, and the beast is very, very stupid.

Never ever feed the troll.

Never ever feed the troll.

But back to what disturbs me – I see too often that people use the term ‘troll’ for people who merely disagree with them, while readily accepting the mewling praises of those without the intellectual merit to bestow any such thing with good grace. The antonym of troll is ‘sycophant’ – someone who will agree with every fleck of spit that comes out of your mouth just because you spat it. Yet somehow, they have managed to avoid the scorn they so truly deserve. You could argue perhaps that their positive influence is definitely better than a destructive one, but if I really wanted to stroke my ego, it wouldn’t come from some sock puppet with googly eyes that mindlessly agrees with me, it’s going to come from someone I respect, who can and has disagreed with me, and has show that they will learn and teach as I enjoy learning and teaching.

As happy as I am for a free society with the internet as a space to which we can throw our thoughts, I also fail to see any kind of progress to be made with comments. For smaller sites like ours, there is definitely some merit – normally I know the commenters, we’ve established a dialogue and, I’d like to think, a friendship. But watching the endless threads on the giants is a cacophony of imbeciles simply throwing out words in hopes that it has meaning.

What are the value of comments – well, I’ll let you decide below.

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