Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Comment Crew

Somehow it seems weirdly appropriate to read, in the online New York Times that the group of sophisticated hackers in China who have successfully invaded dozens of corporate and military sites in the US is known as the "Comment Crew" -- they have a habit of embedding their viral links in comments, and when users click on these, their entire system can be compromised.

And who doesn't love a comment? Comments tell us that someone, somewhere, is reading our words; they enable us to seemingly tap the shoulder of well-known writers, journalists, and columnists, and say "Hey pal -- I beg to differ." Comments make even the most static content seem instantly "interactive," and seem to promise the extension of democratic input into this vast and lumpy agglomeration of texts and images and videos we call the Internet.

Except of course they don't -- at least not always.  Comments are also the native territory of people who, in a non-commenting world, we would be blessed rarely to encounter, if if ever.  There's the Skeptic (Doesn't look like 1962 to me! I'm sure this footage is fake!), the Know-it-all (I'm surprised that the writer is apparently unfamiliar with my recent article in the Journal of Obscure Ramblings), the Blowhard (This is exactly the kind of crap that the liberal media wants us to believe!) and the dreaded Troll (I won't dignify them by imitating them -- we all know them). It's not at all clear that any of these Internet-librated voices has much of real value to add to the "conversation," and even if they did, with comments soaring into the hundreds in the space of a few hours, whatever has been said, valuable or not, has slid away into a vast river of verbiage that's slow and painful to scroll through, so why bother?

On the other hand, I'd hate to have a world without any comments.  On my main blog, Visions of the North, I have the advantage that only people who already care or know about the topics I blog are likely to visit it, and likely to comment on it.  I've rarely gotten a rude comment, and only now and then gotten a Blowhard or a Skeptic; the only spam I've encountered is from a certain Chinese concrete company who shall remain nameless; Blogger's spam filter usually catches them.  Sometimes, when a well-known figure or fellow Arctic expert leaves a comment, I feel distinctly honored! And seeing the comments makes the site stats feel a bit more 'real' to be sure.

Facebook and other social media have picked up on these positive vibes to enable one to 'like' or comment on almost anything one sees.  And, since, most of those who can see it are one's presumptive friends, the comments are, as they should be, mostly friendly.  Occasionally, a lively chat, a bit off-topic but fun, evolves in the comment stream.  But there are awkward times, times of TMI, where a friend one knows only distantly posts disturbing personal news.  If a friend you can't remember posts news that his father-in-law has been diagnosed with cancer, what should you do? Should you 'like' such bad news -- if you comment, will that make you a hypocrite? Should you ignore it?  Or what if a friend you know slightly suddenly reveals political views that you detest?  Time to unfriend?

This is your life. This is your life with comments. What do we make of them? How often have you commented on an online article? Do you read the comments of others? And how much value do you feel comments have contributed to the online experience -- or taken away. Leave your comments below!


  1. I have to agree. I do enjoy a world that uses comment space effectively. If I think about my life I am the first to admit that I go on google and type in a question expecting to find comments that could help answer my question. Common sites are Wiki How or Ask. I do find that some people cannot seem to act appropriately online anymore and too frequently I see people being rude inconsiderate and inappropriate on different cites. I need to dedicate some more time to actually commenting on different things. My favorite place to make comments is on social media cites such as facebook because it helps keep in touch with people no matter how busy I am.

  2. Sometimes when I am surfing the YouTube-verse I notice some videos have enabled commenting from users and others have not. Do we really live in a world where one has to cut off the very option of commenting to prevent trolling? Sometimes, I'll just be watching a video of kittens that will have inappropriate comments written underneath. For what cause? More internet-hype– when the negative attention is more thirst-quenching than not saying anything at all? The internet has caused folks to do some really sick things for views, comments, and overall immersion of the public eye.