Zachry Wheeler, Science Fiction Novelist

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Trolls, Bots, and Spam, Oh My: Why I Ditched Comments
Posted on March 22, 2017
Category: Zeedub Musings
Zachry Wheeler, Science Fiction Novelist

I am willing to bet that most of us view comment sections as toxic pits of vomit and despair. If you ever want to destroy your faith in humanity, just visit the comments section of any divisive article. The stench of rotting feces is enough to drop an elephant.

It wasn’t always like this. Before the Internet, we all shared a social humility. If someone were to take the venom of an online forum out into the public square, they would be immediately shunned as a vulgar lunatic. When you are at a restaurant, there is a social contract that binds you to a reasonable conduct. You may think some less-than-wholesome thoughts, but you never vocalize them to the people around you. Only assholes and idiots do that.

This is why I often say that the Internet is simultaneously the best and worst thing to ever happen to humanity. It opened the floodgates of information, allowing people to self-educate beyond their tiny worlds and connect with others across the globe. But on the flip side, it also gave megaphones to nutter butters who yell at the walls of filthy basements. Over the course of a few short years, these psychos polluted a powerful index of information.

And so, the toxic combination of anonymity, armchair bravery, and unchecked ignorance turned comment sections into hate-spewing platforms where the core topic is irrelevant. These days, it doesn’t even matter what the article is about. It could be a recipe for chicken soup and the comments section will be loaded with racism, sexism, and the latest conspiracy theories. The entire point was lost and the conversation died. The loons took over the asylum and turned commentary into an all-caps pissing contest.

And that’s just the crazies. I haven’t even mentioned the trolls and spammers yet. These professional griefers plague the online world and are the bane of content providers. As one such provider, I spent way too much time trying to keep these assholes in check. For every one comment I approved as relevant to the content, I denied 100 trolls, bots, and spammers (and I wish that was an exaggeration). It was a laborious time sink that bottomed out the cost-benefit ratio. Thus, I decided to disabled comments across my entire network.

From a selfish standpoint, I just wanted to mitigate headaches and stop rolling my eyes every five minutes. From a practical standpoint, I realized that commentary as a whole has shifted towards social media. Serious readers prefer sharing articles with friends, which in turn spark lively discussions on their platforms of choice. And should those discussions warrant my input, then they can reach out to me directly. I think it’s a much better way to engage an audience (as well as maintain sanity).

Thus, I have abandoned comments, both as a reader and a writer. They are not worth the time, effort, and bottles of aspirin. As the old adage goes, don’t feed the trolls.


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