14 Aug

Just How Dumb Are We? An Investigation into the Idiocy and Vitriol of Web Comments

It’s a favorite past time of many Americans and, indeed, the world at large, to make fun of how dumb the citizens of this nation are. On any number of late night talk shows, you can see in interviews on the streets how many people don’t know who Hillary Clinton is or can’t tell you how many states are in the United States. Jay Leno does it with his “Jaywalking”segment, and you can bet there are plenty of these sorts of displays of Amercian stupidity abroad, like Australia’s “Chaser Non-stop News Network” (CNNNN), which came to American cities a few years back and seemed to edit out anyone with a high school education or higher. Of course, stupid people are funny; I’m not saying we shouldn’t laugh (“The children are right to laugh at you, Ralph.”). But are people really that dumb?

I admit to writing off the general public as pretty idiotic, citing evidence in the success of Reality TV and the fact that Dubya is our president, just to name a few things. And of course, the internet only furthers my theory. Specifically, those facets of the internet which contain lots of comments. Take one look at a popular YouTube video and you’ll see some top-rate idgets. A typical exchange involves calling someone gay; scolding that person with impassioned, misspelled words; critiquing previous posters’ spelling; some unsolicited preaching about the evils of the Chinese government; a follow-up berating how little Americans know about China and how they should STFU; and finally a mass write-off of all previous commenters as complete and total dumb-asses or maybe fags. All this might be in response to a video of Pokemon.

This cycle of stupidity is so ubiquitous that it provoked a series of skits by collegehumor.com about how ridiculous such a dialogue would be in real life: one, two, three.

What do real life debates have that the internet doesn’t? Moderation.

Two definitions of moderation apply, actually — the first being the avoidance of extremes and the second being an additional party that guides the contributions of those engaged in the debates.

In an organized debate, for instance, a moderator keeps the discussion focused and civil, makes sure that all parties involved have equal opportunity to voice their opinions, decides on and filters questions for the debaters, and can often see with clarity the stalemates that arise in a debate and decide when it’s best to move on to the next topic.
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