It is an unbelievable but empirically proven and mega scientific fact that since the internet was invented in 1983, not a single person has left a single decent comment in an online comment section.
YouTube comments are notoriously the most toxic, and multiple publications – including Vice and NPR – have removed the comment sections from their websites in recent years. “We had to ban countless commenters over the years for threatening our writers and subjects, doxxing private citizens, and engaging in hate speech against pretty much every group imaginable,” read Vice’s statement upon closing its comment section in 2016. Hate speech, trolling, people who are aroused by the opportunity to correct someone’s grammar – these are the things we all know (and hate) about comment sections.
Yet recently I’ve noticed a new phenomenon. While the Facebook comment section hosts a variety of all the expected –isms (plus a healthy dose of anger at the abominations created by bird’s-eye view cooking channels), the social network’s comment section is also home to an overwhelming number of immortals. Vampires? No. I’m talking about regular people, named Shirley and Jim, who are absolutely adamant that they will never die.
Underneath any news story about a death – whether the article has been posted by the Guardian, the Daily Mail, the New Yorker, the Sun, or even the esteemed New Statesman itself – you will inevitably find someone blaming the aforementioned dead guy for being dead. While comments rarely explicitly say “That would never happen to me”, the subtext is there – and we have the comments to prove it.
Below, try your hand at matching the unsympathetic Facebook comment to the tragic accident, and see if you can spot the reals from the fakes.
So why do people leave such terrible, inexcusable comments? Dr Aaron Balick, a clinical psychotherapist and author of The Psychodynamics of Social Networking, explains why these unsympathetic comments might be so common.
“The online disinhibition effect enables more anti-social things to be posted than would be said in real life,” he says. “The question is, however, what is the motivation behind [these comments] whether or not the disinhibition is there?”
Balick’s theory is simple: it’s a basic ego defence. “By saying someone ‘deserves it’ they are according some kind of logic – religious, righteous, karmic – that can help make sense of the unpredictability of the world,” he says of the commenters.
“By saying it happened to them because they deserved it, the implication is, ‘it won’t happen to me’.”