The Shapiro Files

Friday, June 04, 2010

Acting Cuckoo on Yahoo!

What is it about the Web that turns decent people into disrespectful schmucks angrily bickering with strangers? No matter what the topic, if there's a "Comments" section to a page, you can almost guarantee that a virtual fight will break out before long.

One of the types of debate that invariably breaks out it of a political nature. This seems especially true of just about every news story posted by way of Yahoo!'s homepage. Whether the story is about healthy eating, car reviews, or entertainment industry news, it's almost impossible to find a single comments thread that doesn't quickly turn into petty partisan debate.

With this in mind, I thought I'd do an incredibly unscientific experiment to see how long it takes on average for most Yahoo! article comments to devolve into angry political rhetoric.

My first choice was a topic that I knew would very likely generate lots of political debate:

'Furious' Obama heading to Gulf for spill update

Not surprising, the comments turned angry from the very first posting

"Obama heading to Louisiana for oil spill update..... to see how BP is handling his responsibility."

The second comment took this a little further:

"Oilgate Obamas Katrina. No, this is what he wanted a reason to shut down and take over the oil industry. (NEVER LET A GOOD CRISIS GO TO WASTE).

And things just got worse from there.

Next, I thought I'd try something that neither involves the president nor any specific political party:

In DC, even the Spelling Bee draws protesters

Though not about politics, the story does take place in Washington D.C. So I thought the comments might still get partisan pretty quickly. And yes, only three comments in, someone posted this:

"Next we'll need to teach all us english speaking idiots how to translate ebonomics into spanish,so the minorities in this country can understand us ! I'm writing this comment and I'm a liberal, but I approve this message !"

But things didn't get truly ugly until comment #11:

"If your HEART is filled with HATE, if you Hate all people of color, if you hate immigrants, if you hate a Democratically elected President, if you hate the spelling bee, YOU MUST BE A TEA PARTY, I MEAN GOP SUPPORTER!!!"

Moving away from the president and/or Washington D.C., I thought I'd try an article that I thought might be even more politically agnostic:

4-day school weeks gain popularity across US

This story is about school districts trying out a new cost-cutting measure that happens to also improve test scores. Now here's an interesting topic, whether you're on the left or right--or so I thought. It only took until comment #4 for this to get political:

"The four-day school week must be a favorite idea of the conservatives. Save money, the poor rich boys are starving and cannot pay their taxes. We have enough dumb Americans, Palin, Limbaugh and Beck are good examples."

Okay, I admit that education is still a pretty hot political topic, even though that particular story wasn't really of any particular political ideology. But, I figured I better move off of news and get to something more frivolous:

Take a tour of Cher’s gorgeous new Buddhist-inspired home

The comments began with plenty of negative remarks about Cher's taste and it only took a few postings before people starting digging into matters of religion. But even in this extremely fluffy topic, at comment 35, it turned partisan:

"Poor Cher. Living under President G W Bush "almost killed her", or so she said. Glad she's doing better now. (Too bad the rest of us aren't!)"

Fine, so maybe Cher is a divisive figure. Who knew? I next tried to find something really innocuous:

Cleaning tricks to make appliances last

Left or right, everyone would like their appliances to last longer, don't they? When it comes to home maintenance, we can all get along, right? Well, apparently not. It only took until comment #9 to see this:

"How long before some ignorant lib cries racism because they're showing a black women, suggesting that blacks are maids or servants to white folks? Don't laugh, you know some jack a z z will do it."

I'm guessing this comment refers to an accompanying photo that I'm not seeing when I load the page. All I see is a photo of a dishwashing machine; but maybe it's a replacement for a previous image. Either way, whether or not a previous image was problematic, the tone of this comment is practically begging to turn the comments into yet another petty debate full of knee-jerk pronouncements and recriminations.

Finally, just when I was about to lose hope that there couldn't be at least one Yahoo! posting that doesn't turn political, I came across this:

New 'Transformers 3' Star: Rosie Huntington-Whiteley

I've never seen either of the Michael Bay Transformers movies (or any Transformers movies/cartoons for that matter), but still expected this story to only attract the attention of 12 year old boys and thus avoid the murky waters of political discourse. Turns out I was right. At last, my faith in humanity has been restored . The comments stick to the fully nonpartisan topic of the relative attractiveness of a young starlet. Take this insightful little quip from "Arnoldo" (comment #6):

"this %@!*# is UGLY to %@!*#ing sick and looks like she suffering from hunger"

Or this clever commentary from "tatu" (comment #10):

"aaaaaaaaagggggggggrrrrrrrrrr she looks like she got in a fight her face is all swollen! megan y! dam u couldnt just shut ur mouth! But nnnooo miss diva thinks shes all that and a bag of chips! stupid! o well fhuket it is wht it is huh! dum ass!"

I guess all is well with the world after all. That much said, as of this writing, there are 3,133 comments on this article. After reading 20, I had to put my fingers in my ears out of fear that my brain would try to make an escape. So it's always possible that the comments get combatively political further down the line. But given the intelligent and thoughtful commentary thus far, I'd like to believe human nature is better than that.