29 May 2007

Have Your Say

My new favorite pastime is truly demented: I scan controversial news items just to read the other readers' comments. Trust me, this is a perverted wasted of time.

That said, it's also utterly fascinating. You can learn more than you want to know about the state of human consciousness by seeing what gets people really riled up. For example, David Aaronovitch has written a fairly unsympathetic account of the media circus surrounding the abduction of Madeleine McCann, a four-year old British girl who was taken from her bed in a holiday resort in Portugal, while her parents ate dinner in a nearby restaurant. In his article, Aaronovitch explores both the outpouring of grief and the intense media interest the case has generated. Given that the website set up for Madeleine has already experienced over 60 million hits, it's safe to say that there are a lot of people out there who feel very strongly about this little girl. And quite a few of them didn't appreciate having their motives questioned by some pesky journalist.

On the other hand, there is apparently another group which has apparently been suffering in silence. Pissed off because at least 40 other children have gone missing in the UK since Madeleine's disappearance without a call to arms for their safe return from David Beckham or Gordon Brown, these folks were more than happy to hear Aaronovitch hint at the fact that Madeleine is a big deal because she's pretty and white.

So, these two groups squared off in the Have Your Say section at the end of the article. Fascinating. The really cool part isn't when they diss Aaronovitch, but when they start dissing each other. To be fair, they also give positive feedback to the commenters that they agree with. But still, I go there for the dirt, not the props. As this was an article in the Times Online, it was all pretty civilized. If you want real nastiness, however, check out the Reader Comments at TMZ.com

Given that TMZ is a gossip site, let's just say that the readers posting comments there aren't quite as reserved as the readers at Times Online. Far from it. At TMZ the abuse comes fast and furious. Even the N-word gets tossed around with abandon. In fact, the comments become racial fairly quickly. I'm not sure why, but having read my fair share of them, I'd say that there's a lot of not-too-pent-up racism flourishing out here in Web 2.0...

In fact, it is pretty bad out here in cyberspace. CBSNews.com had to do away with reader comments in stories dealing with Barack Obama because of the racist content. If you want to get a mild idea of what I'm talking about here, here is a link to a blog posting from the Chicago Tribune discussing CBS' decision, followed by readers' comments.

I'm sure all of this means something. As for why I bother to read this stuff, I have a pretty good idea, but I'll have to get back to you about it later.