Ethics Dunces: Blindly Partisan and Hateful Website Commenters


I just learned that CNN closed its online message boards. I understand why, and no, it was not a move designed to stifle the increasing volume of anti-Obama comments, as some have suggetsed. I have been thinking about writing about this for a while, and the CNN move is an ideal opportunity.

The discourse on most news aggregator websites and news sites is beyond abysmal and uncivil: it’s an embarrassment to the nation. On such sites as CNN, Mediaite, The Daily Beast, The Daily Caller, Politico and others, virtually every thread follows the same, sad, pointless, idiotic path. Maybe there are a few substantive comments, then someone makes a cheap partisan crack, followed by an exchange of increasingly nasty comments based on familiar talking points from the right or the left, then, finally, name-calling, often with a racist, sexist or homophobic tone.  If you have the patience to wade through the crap, a thoughtful comment may sneak in, but who has the time or patience, or utter emptiness of life to do the wading? Here is a section from the middle of the comments on this Mediaite story…this one was about Bill O’Reilly being critical of Obama’s handling of ISIS, but honestly, the subject doesn’t matter much,. All the threads read the same way. Eventually every one gets around to someone insulting Obama, and immediately an Obama defender will mention Bush, who was, I should note, President six years ago, but I digress:

Right-wingers like Bill allow the terrorists to win by being so damn afraid of them!! They’re doing exactly what ISIS hopes they’ll do!! Idiots.

Are you arguing that if we do nothing when they behead innocent Americans, they will stop.

Just like Bush did what Bin Ladin wanted him to do. We never learn.

Shaking like an epileptic under a disco ball.

I’m sure Bill would prefer he have a really great strategy like Bush did when he invaded Iraq! How’s that workin’ out for ya Bill? Idiot.

Bush’s strategy in Iraq worked so well, Obama and Biden tried to take credit for it. But you knew that.

The worst foreign policy blunder in the history of our nation and you thought it worked well.? Are you retarded?

Look up operation Gulf of Tonkin, then ask yourself who the real retard is..

Are you on drugs or something else…………? Worked so well that 4500+ of our boys got killed doing his strategy…………yeah it work alright….

Remember when he said if there was no WMD he would never trust W ever again? Then…there were none. And he still shilled for W. 

Okay Bill, if you sign up, so will I. Idiot.

…you’re dreaming, Billo had a opportunity to serve his country during the Vietnam war and he took a pass!

Dont talk about Bill Clinton like that

If memory serve me correctly, Bill Clinton was a vocal opponent of that war, whereas, Billo supported it, but, didn’t want to serve, or was too scared to serve,

Romney was such a fan of the Viet Nam War that he spent those years in France on a bicycle.
“Living dangerously”

i believe he was a religious mission and at least he did something to help someone else, who has obama helped other than himself. if you want to go back in time name a 1 accomplishment of his during his days as a community organizer since we all know he is a total failure as a president. because of religious grounds, while simultaneously protesting the war to continue so that other people would die in his cowardly place.

I’ve yet to see anything you write that would indicate you’re a thinking man.

why do you think insulting me says anything about me as compared to you, you have anything to contribute on topic

Mittens was a religious mission ?

correct, this is the part where you slam him for being a mormon..

And on, and on. Then on to the next post.

I delete dozens of comments like this every day, because if you don’t weed them out, this absolutely useless, uninformative, brain-on-pause, hate-filled junk takes over. Interestingly, the one-note partisan sites and blogs largely avoid this infestation, because everyone agrees with each other, so the discourse is more respectful.

But for the rest, like Mediaite, hosting these exchanges just indulges close-minded, vulgar, red-faces, sneering, reflex partisan combat. Who needs that? What good is it? These fools don’t want to listen, or think, or hear new ideas or perspectives. they just want to be wise-asses, abuse people who don’t agree with them, repeat what they just heard Rush or someone on MSNBC say, and do  imitations of Mark Levin’s or Cenk Uygur’s insults.

If a website or blog can’t or won’t take the time or make the effort to moderate comments and stop this, then it should eliminate comments, like CNN eliminated its message board. It isn’t free speech;it is an insult to free speech.

UPDATE (9/24): Just so you know its not just Mediaite, check out this comment thread on Politico.


Graphic: Kevin Pezzi


20 thoughts on “Ethics Dunces: Blindly Partisan and Hateful Website Commenters

      • It’s the same old thing on most of these discussion groups. Few have any real concept of what honest discussion and debate even mean. If it’s an open group founded by conservatives, it is soon invaded by nasty mouthed trollers who stir up the younger conservatives and, resultingly, each thread soon devolves into a name calling session, complete with prepackaged liberal “memes” that they’ve picked up from the usual liberal sources. If a conservative visits a liberal site, it doesn’t matter for a moment if he tries to be civil from the onset or not. Liberals have zero tolerance for anyone who doesn’t toe their line to the letter (I’ve only met several rare exceptions to that… and friended them!) and will immediately attack any dissenter in the vilest terms and most flagrant lies possible. There’s no civil debate. That’s a symptom of a society on the brink of violent dissolution, BTW.

  1. Thank you Jack for keeping this blog focused and devoid of the vulgar attacks that just parrot the talking points.

    I need this to stay sane in an increasingly insane world.

  2. The way you moderate the tone of this board, and the value it provides is why I read it, and post from time to time. I choose not to engage when disagreements turn personal, and try very hard not to engage in such behavior. I’m glad you made mention of this topic. And in your shoes, to do otherwise, would surely be unethical. Thank you….

  3. You’re commenting on partisan stupidity, but stupidity takes many forms. Try reading the comments in the Washington Post on pure social or community topics. It’s terrifying. I actually think that we need to keep all comment sections on all sites OPEN, otherwise we’ll fool ourselves into thinking that people are smart and well-informed.

    • Yes, its a good point, and you are right about the Post comments, although they are slightly less moronic, on the whole, than the political site comments. Then again, I gave up on them quite a while ago. Are they worse than they were?

    • “I actually think that we need to keep all comment sections on all sites OPEN, otherwise we’ll fool ourselves into thinking that people are smart and well-informed.”

      Not me. It’s necessary to plug the drain, to save some who are worth saving who may be circling it. Many who are circling it are doing so because they are sucked into it by those who have already descended irretrievably down it. The greater danger in continuing the status quo is of too many readers fooling themselves, and being fooled, into thinking that those who are commenting – including the authors of the material being commented on – ARE smart (as in ethical) and well-informed (which can also be a euphemism for “educated derelicts”).

  4. I too am glad to see this. Some of the comments on the topics I follow are so filled with blind, ignorant hate and viciousness that I don’t see how they get in print in the semi-decent publications.

  5. To some degree the publishing community is also at fault for allowing folks like Ann Coulter, Mark Levin, and Michael Savage on the right and Cenk Uygur, Dan Savage, and a certain cartoonist named Ted on the left to pass as printable analysis and commentary. Folks on both sides of the aisle see this stuff in print, realize how thin and dependent on venom it is, and think they can do the same or better. Recite a few righty talking points, dress them up with a generous portion of snark, and you’re Ann II. Add some blunt anger and you’re Mike. Recite a few lefty talking points, dress them up with snark and you’re Cenk, self-righteous anger and you’re Ted, add a generous helping of F-words and you’re Dan.

    All comparisons aside, this nation is headed for some real problems if it keeps mistaking snark for wisdom and anger for ethics. I left the schoolyard behind a long time ago, I didn’t think it would actually follow me to the adult world, and that’s what this culture translates to – the whole nation being one big schoolyard WITHOUT the ability to beat the bully up and shut him up.

  6. With nearly every news article you have ever linked to, the comments there on the other side are atrocious. Thank you for the time spent policing comments here.

      • Thank you, Jack, for the “tight ship,” such as the blog is, such as you run it . If I were you, I might have banned me long ago – or at least, made me the pioneer example of why you tightened your policy even tighter about “quality” of comments and deviation from ETHICS discussion.

  7. 1) Thank you Jack for curating the site as you have. I’ll never fully grasp what actions you take “behind the scenes” but I suspect it is a job by itself.

    2) Thank you for the many commentators that read and participate in Ethics Alarms. There are many many many valuable comments that are written and discussed that never become “comment of the day” but hold just as much value. Regardless if someone makes a mistake or has a lapse of judgement in their response, it gives other readers a chance to align with a comment (any comment) somewhere and take a journey through the natural progression of thought. Not always to we end up where we should, but it helps us understand counter-points and focus our attention on what is genuinely important.

    3) Thank you CNN for removing comments entirely. Having an open ended system without accountability such as they had was probably counter-productive. The internet is big enough that if someone has a worthwhile point, it can be curated from other sources. Indeed, there’s not a single time that I can recall where CNN drove value or a news story from their own comment section. If CNN wants to return to the comment system to gain feedback, they should do it in limited amounts with specific articles for a limited time, each article having a dedicated curator.

    4) Thank you to myself for starting many comments and then realizing that it was pointless and then abandoning them midstream….

  8. Its not just politics, its the nature of the internet. A lot of people are pulling comments all together; like the most popular gamer on youtube:

    But, for a little dash of hope to go with your daily serving of internet cynicism, heres a link and quote about the research on and treatment of hostile communities:

    ” ‘If we remove all toxic players from the game, do we solve the player behavior problem? We don’t.’ That is, if you think most online abuse is hurled by a small group of maladapted trolls, you’re wrong. Riot found that persistently negative players were only responsible for roughly 13 percent of the game’s bad behavior. The other 87 percent was coming from players whose presence, most of the time, seemed to be generally inoffensive or even positive. These gamers were lashing out only occasionally, in isolated incidents—but their outbursts often snowballed through the community.”

    Its mostly about video game cultures (which are known for toxic levels of incivility) but the cross over between them and the larger internet – and society – is almost perfect. It covers a lot of the same ethical/cultural mechanisms weve discussed here. Like how government shapes culture or how its completely appropriate (and necessary) for open groups to internally punish legal but otherwise undesirable behavior.

  9. I’ve often wondered how many of these crazed commenters are seemingly normal and ordinary people when not making comments…and end up using the comments sections of websites as some type of “rage therapy”. I guess I’m trying to convince myself that these people are not voting and if they are then this is not really how their minds work.

  10. A lot of people say that, Sharon, but after 10+ years I don’t think I buy it, that the person who is attacking someone with say, unbelievable levels of profanity, is a nice mild-mannered guy off the net. People who justify a huge personality change and a complete lack of boundaries, ethics or even basic empathy ‘because it’s the internet’ have psychological problems, in my opinion. Either your manners, ethics and ways of treating people are deep-rooted, or they’re a put-on.If they are deep-seated and internalized, it doesn’t make any sense that you can treat RL people well and rain death threats and abuse on others, on the internet. I’ve never bought ‘but I’m a nice person in real life’ schtick. I don’t believe it for a minute.


    I really should put this in all my posts, right after the little signature.
    (…along with the assertion that I’m writing it as a Black Woman.)


  12. Hey, all this gratitude is unfounded: I have quite selfish reasons for not letting the discussions here reach Mediaite depths. 1) I want to look forward to reading your responses, not dread it. 2) I can’t learn anything from a string of snark, parroted talking points, insults and zingers, 3) The nasty repartee appeals to my own worst instincts, which you still see break out (unfortunately) on occasion, and 4) I really, really hate that stuff, and don’t want my name associated with it.

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