THE BLOG

Comment Is Free, Anger Is Optional

20/09/2013 12:53 BST | Updated 19/11/2013 10:12 GMT

Why do people get so worked up on online forums? Posting your views on the comment space at the foot of web articles is a recent phenomenon, something which has only emerged in the last few years as the mainstream media has responded to the influence of social media and encouraged people to share their views at every opportunity.

There is a precedent of course. In the pre-internet age, readers still often wanted to put their views to the editor. If they felt strongly enough about something they read in the newspaper, heard on the radio or watched on the TV, a carefully worded letter would be sent in - which may or may not get published. That all seems rather dignified by modern standards.

Giving the author some quick feedback, or venting your opinion, has become so much more straightforward and, crucially, offers instant gratification. However, that still doesn't explain why it is that most of the people who are motivated to post a view usually do so when they want to be derisory about the content.

Maybe it's the freedom of being able to speak your mind to large audience anonymously that prompts the kind of vitriolic statement that so many seem to be compelled to write. Twitter is certainly awash with people being far more aggressive with their opinions than they would be in a face to face environment. I wasn't surprised to read this week, that the Met Police has reported a marked increase in Twitter 'trolling'. Around 1,500 crimes relating to online bullying and abuse are being reported to the London police every year.

This kind of hostility is certainly evident on the comment trails across the web too - so why are they doing it? Perhaps it's simply because they see others chipping in and feel compelled to get involved, the mob mentality at play in its digital form. Whatever the reason, it never fails to amaze me how much of this 'angry posting' goes on.

There are a few hugely successful news sites, which shall remain nameless, that seem to encourage a particularly vitriolic flow of comment from readers. And the great irony is that so many of the comments seem to be hell bent on questioning the validity of the article they're commenting on.

"How is this news"..."Who cares?" ... "This is not news, why are we being force to read it" ..."This article is typical of the kind of nonsense you write on here [insert unnamed news provider]... "When will we get some proper journalism?"

Of course, nobody is being forced to read anything, so it begs the question why are these people so angry about it that they feel compelled to take time out of their (presumably busy - maybe not) lives to post a comment?

By giving these so called 'non-news' articles a huge stream of comment, the angry posting masses are actually justifying the existence of this content in the process.

As the media owner, if you're getting this kind of traffic on your site then you are on to a winner. Regardless of what you've got up there, it's all about the amount of page views and unique visitors you're getting. So if a supposedly vacuous article is getting 3,000 comments and 30,000 impressions then why on earth wouldn't they create similar pages and hope for similar results - it doesn't make sense to stop.

I think there are parallels to be drawn here with the way so many people love to attack tabloid journalism, questioning its existence and turning their nose up at the content, whilst at the same continuing to be drawn to it, like moths to a flame. You love it, but you don't want to admit it, so the only defence you have is to get all snooty about it... after you've read it, that is. The readership numbers tell their own story.

If you really feel strongly that an article isn't worth the news-space it's afforded, then my advice to you is don't read it, and definitely don't post a comment on it. But, be honest with yourself, maybe you do actually love this kind of 'vacuous content' because it gives you an excuse to let off some steam and get your view heard - In which case you're part of your own problem. It's a 21st century paradox.