Nasty online comments continue, unabated and emboldened by Election 2016

By | November 10, 2016

The darkness and abuse of online comments continues, emboldened. Photo by Brandon Morgan/Unsplash.com

Don’t expect the dark and ugly tone of online comments to brighten anytime soon. Photo by Brandon Morgan/Unsplash.com

Around 8:30 a.m. on Thursday, Nov. 10, I discovered through my Twitter feed a thoughtful column about the potential makeup of the United States Supreme Court when Donald J. Trump becomes president.

The commentary piece, “Don’t Expect the Supreme Court To Change Much,” was written by Cass R. Sunstein, an academic I admire, and published 16 hours earlier by Bloomberg View.

There were 25 comments posted at the bottom of the article when I read it. Bloomberg’s comment platform is powered by Disqus. Readers have the choice to click on a button below the story to display the comments.

Here’s what I saw when I clicked:

The first comment is critical of the judges, but it is a civil comment. The response immediately below it refers to Democrats as “stupid.”

Next in line is a misogynistic and vulgar comment that refers to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg as an “old c@nt.” 

That missive is answered by a racist and obscene posting: “Nobody called her that in a coonsage – must be all wet now.” 

A racist, Islamophobic swipe at President Barack Obama can be found slightly further down in the comment stream: “Screw that dumb muslim halfbreed.” 

And finally, as of 9:30 a.m., the comment thread wraps up with a racist description of Justice Clarence Thomas, calling him a “bumbling house slave.” 

So let’s recap.

Below this well-written article by a regarded scholar about the future of the Supreme Court, Bloomberg News has hosted a discussion with a group of about 15 Disqus commenters. The commenters have convened in this public space to A) insult all members of a political party, B) belittle a woman in power by describing her as a female body part and crudely sexualizing it, and C) ridicule two highly accomplished men because of their race.

Comment moderation? None.

Bloomberg's comment policy, posted on top of its story-level discussion forums.

Bloomberg’s comment policy, posted on top of its story-level discussion forums.

How does this hateful “discussion” add value to anyone’s understanding of this topic?

It doesn’t. Rather, it colors the perception of the news, and undermines people’s understanding of the information.

Sadly, if you’ve ever read online comments, you know the tone of this comment stream is typical in unmoderated spaces at the bottom of news sites and social media posts. And it’s been this way well before Election 2016 and President-Elect Trump’s exemplary history of Twitter tirades.

Online comments are only going to get worse if the post-election “exuberant escalation of offense-giving” is any indication, and if news publishers and media organizations don’t step up and show some leadership and responsibility for elevating our public digital discourse.


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