The Political Impact of Online Commenting

Flame: “to insult someone electronically, or otherwise…” –Urbandictionary.com

As Leets’ 2001 article on hate sites discusses, the Internet is an unprecedented mode of communication. It has the potential to give a platform of communication to those traditionally denied one, to disseminate information and opinions immediately to thousands of people, and to provide endless forums for any opinions about any subjects to be heard.

Problems:

However, this promising discursive arena comes with several challenges, including issues of free speech. As our most recent reading explains, the Internet’s recent political involvement, especially in elections, has both benefits and challenges. One challenge is that user-driven content means campaigns have less control over candidates’ image and message. Although Gueorguieva’s article discusses specifically the problems that can arise when users create social networking profiles or video content on behalf of candidates, comments sections, especially on comment-driven websites like YouTube and news/blog websites, may also distort candidates’ images and political messages. Jesse Singal’s article, “Most Comments are Horrible—Sites Look for Ways to Make Them Better,” discusses the unfortunate prevalence of vitriolic comments online (i.e., flaming, defined above), and notes their presence on news websites like the Huffington Post.

Solutions: 

Singal suggests several methods websites can use to keep inappropriate comments under control. Although the Internet is hailed as a forum of free speech, comments are still subject to moderation policies by website owners, and so Singal proposes comment moderation as a costly, but effective, method. He notes that some major news providers, like NPR and The New York Times, already engage in comment moderation. Singal also suggests eliminating comments completely, and using a private form of communication like email in its place, or using a “tl;dr” (too long; didn’t read) comment structure like that on Reddit to allow users easy access to substantive comments even in the midst of dozens of inappropriate ones.

In considering whether or not online commenting, especially on YouTube and news websites, should be moderated at the cost of free speech and with the potential risk of moderator bias in what content is displayed, it may be useful to ask the question, “Can online commenting serve as a substantial source of misinformation, slander, or distorted political messages?”

If so, is moderation the appropriate response? And should campaigns have some say in whether or not clearly slanderous and false comments about candidates are displayed?

*It’s interesting to note that on YouTube, most Obama-related videos contain strictly supportive comments, whereas most Romney-related videos contain very mixed (esp., negative), and often inappropriate comments. This may be due to the fact that most of the Obama-related videos were posted by the official Obama page (and are therefore probably censored), whereas Romney seems to lack an official presence on YouTube. This puts Romney at a clear disadvantage on YouTube, a perhaps significant news source for people who do not take the time to follow campaigns, but still cast votes based upon a few video clips and hearsay.

Are you an Internet-aholic?

Americans are addicted.  We are addicted to all kinds of things.  Some to eating, some to drinking, drugs, shopping, technology… the list of addictive behaviors goes on and on.  We are in denial, and turn to these things as a way to mask too many difficult and unpleasant events in our lives.  When we’re stressed, we may eat to mask the stress and make ourselves feel better temporarily, but the effects don’t last, so we keep eating, but all we’re really done is make ourselves fatter, adding a new stress to our lives of being fat, and become addicted to eating.  We may turn to drinking or drugs as a way to lift the weight of the world away for a while, but these too, are temporary escapes that almost always turn into addictions; this addiction will eventually cause permanent organ damage or even death of the addicted of an innocent bystander.  Oddly enough, many people are turning to the internet for the same sort of relief.

With social media technologies, many people create personas that bear no resemblance to their true identities and struggles as a way to escape the woes of reality.  They spend hours and hours wasting away on online games, social media, and other internet offerings.  Depression, loneliness, stress, boredom, and anxiety can be washed away through imaginary online gaming spaces and chat features, which take the place of actual face-to-face conversations.  For some, the internet can produce feelings of euphoria.   In fact, the excessive use of the internet, online gaming, and social media has become a serious problem, and psychologists have now classified Internet addiction as the newest mental health disorder.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, a person who suffers from an internet addiction, or Internet Use Disorder, will experience many common symptoms associated with other addictive behaviors. The American Psychiatric Association’s list of symptoms of Internet Use Disorder include, but are not limited to a an preoccupation with internet use and/or internet gaming, symptoms of withdrawal if removed from the internet, the need to spend increasingly more time on the internet, loss of previous interests and hobbies, a significant relationship, educational or career opportunity, or a job due to excessive Internet and/or internet gaming use, deception of family, or other significant people in their life about internet use, and trading time for sleep and/or interaction with family and friends to be online, and the use of the internet as an escape or to achieve a euphoric mood.

So, Internet Use Disorder is now joining the family of other addictions and psychological disorders. What do you think? Is Internet Use Disorder actually a addiction or psychological disorder? And more importantly, are you an internet-aholic?  Take this quiz, and find out!