Waging Against the Machine

Your computer is infected. Facebook is a carrier of the virus commonly known as the ‘Comment War’.

Symptoms include: a politically-charged status, followed by a multitude of angry and paragraphed replies, culminating in a sprawled online skirmish. Soon to be endemic, I maintain that very little good can come out of protracted debate on Facebook timeline. I talk here about Facebook timeline specifically; not Facebook events, nor Facebook groups, nor Facebook private chats – all three of which can play host to many a spectacular and necessary wars of words. Facebook timeline is where the problem lies, and it is the online space with the most outreach, which makes it tempting hunting ground for veterans of comment campaigns.

Timeline Comment Wars lack depth. They rarely provide hyperlinks (and even if they do most people won’t read them), they are written seemingly without effort (you can tell by the poor grammar), and they tend to be provoked from or inspired by an online comment article (it’s a discussion about someone else’s discussion). I submit that this makes Facebook timeline one of the worst forums for productive debate.

On Facebook there is no dislike button. While Facebook’s most recent face-lift does allow for various disproving emotive options, so far these seem superficial and the ‘like’ will remain the predominant fashion. The problem with the ‘like’ is that it disproportionately favours whoever posts the initial status. Volume equates to victory on Facebook. This maxim is also revealed to be true by the way in which whoever has the last comment can be said to have ‘won’ – whatever that means – as if having the last word validates your argument by default. The reality is that this last comment often won’t follow logically on from the preceding jab or will even tangent away from its own prior comments. When this happens there is a tendency for the conversation to devolve into ad hominem. None of this is ever conducive to debate.

Unlike the sharing of an article, or the reposting of a meme, Comment Wars tell everyone you know something about yourself. In the setting of your close friends and distanced school acquaintances, your posts become less about the truth and more about projecting what it is that you expect people expect of you. This is not to say that it’s egotistical – but that niche statement, that slightly risqué position, even that mainstream remark, these are all compromised by the intimacy of your friends list. Writing a Facebook status is very different from writing an article, and posting an anonymous comment ‘below-the-line’ of an article is very different from firing the first shot of a Comment War.

The EU referendum is almost upon us. Brace yourself for the online assault. It’s good to have an opinion, and far better to hold one then to settle for the easy option of remaining on the fence, but should we really be spouting-off as if we were authority figures? Comment Wars on Facebook timeline will uncover no deeper truths about the complications of the EU. Watch on as people, whose understanding of economics might even be worse then mine, shout different but equally valid statistics at each other across the interweb of no-mans land. Is this how we want the biggest decision of our generation’s lifetime to be decided – with us getting trenchfoot in stagnant mud-slinging warfare?

Take my prophylactic advice and inoculate yourself against this disease. The vaccination? Dabble briefly by letting a small dose into your system, then get it out of your system and don’t waste any more of your time. Come the referendum, anything more then correcting blatant factual inaccuracies will likely end up doing more harm then good. It might be that your last comment was particularly witty, but in fact all you’ve done is to add to the fifty other comments that are directing traffic not to the discussion, but to the original status. Concerning the Comment War, abstinence is the surest form of protection, but lapses are understandable in cases of pure online idiocy.


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