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4 minute read
Joel Stein

I love reading comments at the bottom of my articles. That’s because I love reading anything about me. An online comment board is like a new, signed high school yearbook that comes out every week, only now some of the people who like me are female. When I first read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and got to the part where Tom overhears people eulogizing him at his fake funeral, I knew I had to devote all my energy to making that happen for me. It turned out that all I had to do was wait for the Internet.

Then I read a study in the new issue of the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, which I always read when I’m writing a column about computer-mediated communication and Google computer-mediated communication. The study shows that comments with enough vitriol will actually cause people to change the opinion they had after reading a nuanced, balanced article. Or one of my columns. The experiment proved this despite using a boring article about nanotechnology and comments no harsher than “You’re an idiot.” That’s the Internet equivalent of “I said, ‘Good day, sir.'” The Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication’s website, by the way, doesn’t allow comments, possibly for fear of reigniting the 1990s East Coast–vs.–West Coast computer-mediated-communication beef.

After thinking about this study for several minutes, I had to comment on it. So I called one of its co-authors, University of Wisconsin professor Dominique Brossard, and told her that after many seconds of thought, I agreed, sadly, that publications should eliminate online comments. After all, nearly all the comments I’ve ever read immediately devolve into arguments among extremists who’ve read only the headline and want to write about something unrelated, which is always whether the President is a horrible communist or a terrific communist.

But Brossard, to my surprise, thinks comment boards should stay. “I’m a professor. I like discussion. It helps with learning. I believe the Internet can be a wonderful place for discussion,” she said. That’s when I realized Brossard is an idiot.

Despite her dumb, dumb opinion, Brossard’s research is right. It is no surprise that comments change people’s minds, since they’re presented on the same page as articles as if they’re equal. Which is insane. After a movie, you talk to your friends about how much you hated it, but you don’t get to have your discussion shown to everyone who watches the movie after you. That’s because most discussions are inane. Not a lot of students are asked to memorize history’s classic panel discussions. Politicians may talk about town-hall meetings as the apogee of democracy, but I’ve been to the public-comment periods at L.A. city council meetings, and it’s the same four guys saying they should be allowed to sell shea butter on Venice Beach, sometimes in rap. I’m guessing those politicians were going to town-hall meetings in New England.

It’s wonderful that the Internet got rid of barriers to entry. But that doesn’t mean TIME should. And yet TIME allows comments on many articles. I’ve worked here 15 years, and my ideas are still constantly rejected by my editors, often with no better response than “Stop pitching me stories that are clearly just excuses to go to Las Vegas.” For to publish everyone’s unedited, un-fact-checked, unsmart thoughts makes me realize I should just be publishing my Vegas articles in the comments section. It also makes me worry about the future of TIME, which built a brand over 90 years and now gives over its hard-earned podium to people’s stupid personal thoughts. That was supposed to be my gig.

I understand that TIME wants to seem inclusive and that it doesn’t cost anything to put up comments. But asking for your customer’s opinion shows a lack of confidence; one sign that you’re not eating at a great restaurant is that you’re given a comment card. Besides, we’re merely giving a voice to a few obnoxious cranks. The Guardian found that fewer than 1% of readers post comments and that more than 20% of comments come from 0.0037% of readers. These people are such bad writers, they are the same 0.0037% of the population who don’t have a column in the Huffington Post.

So there is no comment section under this column online. If you have something to say about my column, write your own. Rail against me on Twitter. Discuss it with your therapist. But I’m not giving you the space to say it. Unless you just want to say you like it. I left the Facebook button on for you to do that.

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