Salah: Online comments can’t claim to meet dialogue objective

Hend Salah

Hend SalahAs a writer who posts her work publicly, feedback is very important to me. It helps me improve my writing and catch mistakes that I hadn’t seen before. I enjoy seeing those comments. Sometimes, it’s pretty interesting what people have to say. However, when someone uses the comment section to be condescending and rude, it’s questionable whether this section is useful.

I have often wondered if it’s even a good idea to actually have a comment section. What good can come of it? The article has been posted. Whether the reader agrees or disagrees will neither contribute to its existence nor make it disappear. No matter what the comment is, it becomes a gateway for a fight, which sometimes turns extremely hostile. This is particularly true when the subject being commented on is controversial. Yes, controversy is made to spark conversation, but this only applies when people can be respectful about their opinions.

For an example on a large scale, look no further than the fallout of Philadelphia magazine’s “Being White in Philly.” When this article was first published, it caused a huge uproar. I was fortunate – or perhaps unfortunate – enough to find it online. After I finished, I scrolled down to see what people had to say. I have never seen anything more vicious in my life.

Obviously, there were a lot of people who were charged with fury after reading something so provocative. The entire argument turned into a battle of races, and the most disgusting accusations and racial slurs I have ever read were thrown back and forth. Did any good come of having a section for opinions on this website? No. Nothing that was written there had any real value or substance.

This is especially true on humor websites. Why is it necessary to have a section for comments on a picture that is only meant to make you laugh and move on? It’s just a photo, not a serious subject that is important for everyone to weigh in on.

At this point, you might want to yell at me about freedom of speech and how everyone has a right to express his or her point of view. You would be correct. Everyone does have that right. However, you can’t allow such abuse and label it as OK because it’s “freedom of speech.” It becomes an opening for a vicious display of homophobia, religious persecution, racism and sexism. There has to be a limit because – let’s face it – people are mean.

Actually, mean is an understatement. People are malicious. And cruel. And obnoxious. No one word can stress enough just how much evil exists inside the little blood-pumping organs that live inside some members of the human race.

I also want to point out just how cowardly people are. Most of the comments made on these websites are posted either anonymously or via Facebook, the former being the easiest way to display just how rotten a person is without being outed as the complete jerk they actually are.

But aside from all that, my No. 1 description of the general public is that they are extremely creepy, especially those who are actively using social networks. The comment section is the perfect place for such creepers to have a field day, especially because many comments link back to the commenter’s profile. The section creates a new, easy method for cyber stalking.

I once posted a comment on a picture of Lindsay Lohan, because I was annoyed at how many people were personally attacking someone they don’t even know. One guy actually replied to me by saying, “Why do you care? You’re Muslim.”

What freaked me out was that neither my picture nor my name showed up with my comment. Ignoring the fact that what he said made absolutely no sense, I’m still trying to figure out how on Earth this man figured out my religious affiliation.

I’m not saying websites should do away with the comment section completely. Using the humor sites as an example, it’s the people who visit those websites that submit content, which is screened before it’s displayed. If it’s possible to be selective about those posts, the same should be done for the comments. In regards to websites like Philly mag that do have a screening process, then whoever judges what is acceptable and what is not should learn to be more selective of what is posted.

Hend Salah can be reached at hsalah@temple.edu.

1 Comment

  1. This is America and freedom of speech is guaranteed under our constitution. This is not Saudi Arabia.

    It’s interesting to note that even in “moderate” Turkey there are more journalists imprisoned than in any other country in the world. In countries like Qatar, Iran, Somalia, Egypt and even in the Palestinian territories journalists are often tortured.

    I’ll repeat this is America not Saudi Arabia and freedom of speech is an invaluable part of our countries core values even if often used thoughtlessly.

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