Editor’s Note: Comment Rants

This week, Gizmodo seem to have gone a bit mental. On Thursday night (UK time) their Editor-at-Large, Joel Johnson, posted a fourteen hundred word rant aimed squarely at their own community.

Within that rant he called his readers “half-witted thinkers”, “very stupid” and “dumb, cruel, entitled, tunnelled vision shit eaters”. It’s astonishing, really.

Let’s put it in context though. The comments on Gizmodo stories are often clogged up with outspoken, opinionated and yes, often barely informed and barely intelligible people. It’s a comments section on a website that reports on technology.

People have passionate views about their technology because it costs hundreds and thousands of pounds/dollars/euro. So they’re invested in it financially. That’s why console fanboys, tedious as they are, are so widespread – you spend $400 on a console, you don’t want to be told there’s a better one out there. The same thing goes for televisions, smartphones, mp3 players and pretty much any other expensive piece of equipment you can think of.

So some people, encouraged by their apparent anonymity and a freely offered platform, will express their views. Because there are hardly any barriers to entry into this forum for expressing views there are many that are uninformed, poorly expressed or just plain wrong. There are even some that are aggressive (or passive-aggressive, my own pet hate), hate-ridden and personally abusive. Welcome to the internet, Joel.

Now, there are elements underpinning what Joel says which are entirely true. For example, he points out that someone sitting in their bedroom with an RSS feed, and no prior experience or expertise in journalism, probably isn’t as well-informed as the Gizmodo team who live in and around the industry on a daily basis. Putting it bluntly, they know more than we do about their jobs. This is almost certainly true and it applies to any professionally-run website with a comments section. It even happens here very occasionally but luckily our community recognises ignorance, for the most part, and they eradicate it before it enrages us enough to rant. We’re extremely lucky.

Joel goes on to point out that people calling “Bias” are largely misunderstanding the term and the nature of humankind. He’s right again: we are all biased in some way. It’s the writer’s job to recognise that fact and do everything he can to limit that natural bias that comes with being human.

It’s true that in most cases when a reader screams bias it’s simply because they disagree (often based on much less information – see above) and don’t have the knowledge or expertise to argue their point. So they assume that the other person is just corrupt because it’s easier than self-examination and reasoning. In short, if you think they’re biased then it’s probably because you are, you could try to find a better way of expressing your own opinions.

The next point Joel raises is that getting personal will lose you the argument. This holds true in all areas of life, discuss two opposing views all you like but the instant someone turns to a personal attack, the argument is lost. Getting personal is shorthand for admitting your lack of intelligence, not only in being unable to deliver your point but also in being unable to recognise that you can’t deliver your point. But as he previously pointed out, he is supposed to know more about his subject matter than his readership does. That’s his job. It should hardly be surprising when his argument defeats one of theirs. That’s no excuse for personal insults but I would suggest that he should be prepared for them.

Finally, Joel makes a point which is harder to justify. He says that his readership has no rights. It’s factually accurate that Gizmodo owns the platform that those who comment are using to attack an article and the use of that platform is not a right, it’s a privilege which can be removed at any point at the discretion of the person who pays for that platform to be there. No arguments here.

To say that the people who take the time to comment should refrain from being “disrespectful or even impolite in the comments of an article or in an email to an editor” is, in my opinion, going too far. Of course you should always try to be respectful when you interact with another human being but what is “disrespectful or even impolite”? It’s subjective; I might be offended by something which was said with only kind enquiry. So you’re threatening your readers before you’ve even entered into a discussion with them.

What is a valid point, though, is that even if you have the right to voice your dissent in the comments or (usually far more constructively) in a well-considered email to the editor, you don’t have the right to expect to be listened to. Just because you think it’s a good idea, based on what you see of the website, that doesn’t mean they’ll agree with you. Bear in mind the first point raised: they know more about their jobs than we do.

Throughout the course of the article, Joel makes some valid points but he makes them in an overly aggressive and entitled manner. Exactly the style he argues is counter-productive for readers posting comments. So while some of his points are valid, he undermines his own argument by presenting them in such a vitriolic way. He’s also firing blind at a huge crowd and hoping to hit the targets of his ire.

Throughout the whole fourteen hundred words of railing against his readership there’s one important point Joel seems to have missed: only a tiny fraction of your readership are the people who are acting like fools in your comments. Your entire readership is now reading your ranting against them. You’re throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

For comparison, here at TheSixthAxis we have tens of thousands of people reading every day. A few thousand of them are signed-up members and only a few hundred are people who will regularly comment on articles. Of those few hundred, there might be half a dozen that make uninformed comments attacking a writer personally or calling bias without reasoning. That’s a miniscule percentage of your audience.

Of course, the problem gets worse on popular topics. For example, we will hopefully be reviewing Gran Turismo 5 very soon. We sincerely hope it’s fantastic but our review will be as objective and unbiased as it’s possible for us to be. If, for some reason, it doesn’t score as well as Forza Motorsport 3 did a year ago, we fully expect a tirade of abusive comments based on very little expertise or knowledge.

That doesn’t mean that we think you’ll be right, it just means that we know you’re passionate and we know that’s how things go on the internet. It’s our jobs to be sure we know what we’re saying and be confident that we’re being fair and getting it right. After that, we’ve earned the right to ignore the comments that are idiotic, as long as we still pay attention to the reasoned ones.

Will we ever have earned the right to criticise our whole readership because of the few that can’t express themselves properly? No, we won’t.

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57 Comments

  1. A sense of entitlement is what I really hate about the internet, gamers seem to have it more than most.

    • Some gamers, not all.

    • Sadly you’ve just summarised a large portion of modern society as a whole there, not just the internet and gamers.
      Hence the meteoric rise of no-win no-fee scumbags and the litigation culture where nowadays you can’t even shovel snow from your own sidewalk out of the goodness of your heart without running the risk of being sued because some chancer fell and hurt themselved on an area you cleared.

      Most people I meet nowadays seem to feel as if they’re entitled to everything, instead of actually having to work for things they should just be given them for the least amount of effort. Sad times.

      • ^^^ He’s right you know. I won’t name names, but I’ve seen certain family members act like this.

  2. hear, hear

  3. Sounds pretty serious about what joel said. He may have valids points, but that’s no excuse to insult people who probably never acted like knobheads on the site before. Oh yeah, and GT5, if it gets a lower score, so what? It’ll be the fanboys I’ll be criticising.

    • I’d love the irony of GT5 scoring lower than Forza considering the development time.

  4. Great read Peter and I agree with you and I am looking forward to read Gran Turismo 5 reveiw and I don’t care whether its bad or gets a low score then Forza 3. I love the game end of. Yes it is a job for you guys but I am willing to read it and do wish to comment if there is a mistake or a question if I’m unsure. Plus it is indeed a very hard job to review games.
    In the end I respect TSA and everything. I love you work, articles, reveiws and even funny/witty comments – brilliant.

    Keep up the good works guys *Thumbs up*

    And Joel get yourself a drink you need it ;)

    • even if it gets a full 10 and TSA gives it 1 con be it whatever you know the posts are going to come flooding in faster than a tsunami

  5. Entitlement is easier over the net, you can easily lash out and moan at the click of a button but would these people do these things in a face to face environment.

  6. Despite the occasional rude/ignorant/offensive comment on TSA (and there are far less than most sites I have to say) the staff are, for the most part, very calm and professional in dealing with it. Sure, readers might not be in a position to be flinging the particular flavour of shit they have chosen to today but they ARE your readers and that means they are your customers.
    The customer is not always right, I hate that tired old cliche, but they do need to be handled a little more carefully and there is no value in firing offhandedly at them and CERTAINLY don’t write a while article generalising about them! How does that make the majority of polite and well informed readers feel!

  7. “[O]nly a tiny fraction of your readership are the people who are acting like fools in your comments. Your entire readership is now reading your ranting against them. You’re throwing the baby out with the bathwater.”

    Well, yes, absolutely. It was an extraordinary rant, and, for my money, completely ill-judged. I imagine he’s won over nobody, and lost a fair few readers.

    • I think they lost all credibility over their antics with the found/’stolen’/whatever iPhone4, I haven’t been back since and use engadget & techcrunch for tech/gadget news & reviews.

  8. The great thing about the Forza/GT5 debate is that I have a PS3 and not a 360. If Forza turns out to be much better than GT5, I’ll be slightly disappointed at only having the inferior game available to me but no more so than I am about having had to wait so long for GT5 while other people have been enjoying Forza.
    GT5 is obviously not going to be a BAD game so I couldn’t give a rat’s arse how it compares to Forza really.

  9. I can’t wait for the GT5 review. I’m already sharpening my passive-aggressive knives as we speak. They’re rubber prop knives of course, I didn’t say full on aggressive.

    • Well, SOMEONE needs to calm down don’t they

      • lets take this fight to the Ball Pool

      • ‘ball pool’? What is that?

      • Kids play in them, plastic multicoloured balls in a small blow up pit/pool

      • It is rumoured they piss in them as well

      • Roadhouse.

    • What the hell just happened!?

  10. Bias!

    Someone had to ;-)

    • But you are being bias about being bias.:P

      • BIASED! The word is BIASED! It’s the past participle of the verb bias

      • 3Shirts, this is the first time in a very long time when I’ve wanted to reply to a comment and just write “this”.
        But I thought better of it given the content of this article…
        I agree though, lots.

      • It was an easy mistake to make.*gets chucked out by 3shirts*

      • No it wasn’t Steven…Just no.

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