The comments function on Comment is Free wasn’t working yesterday morning and for a while the world seemed a calm, serene place. Reading the site, without the subsequent reams of vitriolic abuse masquerading as opinion, it felt like some semblance of order had returned to the (virtual) universe, as if a thousand shrieking Banshees had been sealed in an airtight container and dropped into the sea. Unfortunately, they soon managed to get it up and running again, so once more the trolls are running amok.
I’m a long time reader of The Guardian, and still consider it to be the most innovative newspaper on the market, although I must confess I prefer The Times during the week – its size is more practical on a busy train, and its news coverage is excellent. One major advantage of reading The Times is that you won’t be troubled by any opinion pieces by Seamus Milne, whom I find particularly loathsome. Look at those eyes and tell me he isn’t infected with devils. He looks like a cross between a Cornish pixie and a sadistic dentist. Every article the man writes is hair-shirted, self-hating, left-wing bilge that gives the paper a bad name. I would go into more detail but I’m starting to feel irritated just thinking about him, so maybe another time.
But I digress. Yes, I have long been a fan of The Guardian, despite its obvious faults and despite the fact that my own politics seem to grow further apart from much of its editorial stance with every passing year. Comment is Free, on the other hand, is something else entirely. When it was launched in March 2006 I thought it was an interesting move for a newspaper to make – hitherto, the mainstream media had only been touching the blogging phenomenon with a bargepole; that is, when they weren’t commissioning disparaging pieces about it. But here was The Guardian effectively folding its comment section in with a mass blog, replete with the ability for anyone to respond in real-time. And there’s the problem.
Pick any article at random and the chances are that the comments will be packed with hate-filled ramblings, inarticulate rebuttals and bizarrely punctuated missives. You will read: whacko conspiracy theories, people claiming that the author is part of a Zionist conspiracy, people claiming that the author is a hate-filled ‘Islamophobe’, accusations of the author being a blood thirsty, warmongering, neo-conservative Nazi. Perhaps one comment in twenty (and I’m being very generous here) will be worthy of reading. I think Tafka PP summed it up nicely when she described CiF as an “online version of the Middle East Conflict.”
In theory, CiF is an illuminating forum for the intelligent exchange of ideas. In reality, it’s a dumping ground for the disenfranchised and discredited British Left, the very people so deftly taken apart in one of my favourite books from last year, Nick Cohen’s What’s Left?
Comment may indeed be free, but what The Guardian has actually created is an intellectual limbo: an auditorium packed with thousands of people screaming incomprehensibly at each other. Never in the field of public debate has so much heat been created and so little light. Here’s hoping the comments functionality breaks down again soon. Irreparably.