108 People Like This

Everyone has a fucking opinion. Ideally, they are entitled to it. In reality, eight out of ten people don’t have a goddamn clue what it is they’re talking about either due to lack of research or broader stupidity. The ninth guy did his homework, but he’s a flaming lunatic (or a violent retard). The tenth guy is, nine out of ten times, just kind of an asshole. The tenth time, he’s the one guy who knows what he’s saying, sees a shrink, and happens to be a decent human being. He is entitled to his opinion. For those of you doing the math at home, that’s one out of a hundred people who has an opinion that could actually be considered valid.

Social media/networking has been constructed upon the idea that everyone is entitled to his own opinion, and that his peers shall judge it as valid or invalid. This is an admirably idealistic piece of capitalistic ideology. It is also horrifyingly naïve and tragically exploitable. See, the architects of the social network either could not divine (or, more likely, callously ignored) the difference between ‘a person’ and ‘people.’ A person has goals, motives, complications, experience, and perhaps some wisdom. He (optimistically) makes fairly rational decisions after considering all of the, at the very least, obvious factors. All of this, unfortunately, goes out the window when he becomes part of ‘people.’

People have one goal: singularity. Though they may not realize it, all they want is for everyone to be exactly the same as them. People have one motive: insecurity. Variation scares them. People have one complication: variation. You can begin to see the problem. Social media was not built for a person. It was built for people. And people, frankly, suck.

It is, therefore, practically impossible for an opinion or piece of content on the Internet to be judged based on its own merit. It is instead judged upon the whimsy of the user base of whatever network said content is published on. As I explained in my last article, this is a sucker’s game.

The facilitator of this proverbial kangaroo court is the “like” function. Just about every social media site has one, but they all seem to work a little bit differently. I’ll be going into the mechanics behind three of the bigger ones: Facebook, Reddit, and Youtube.

Facebook has the seemingly friendliest version of this feature as it only includes a like button, not a dislike one. In this way, one can simply ignore asshats who post stupid shit by depriving them of attention. There is one key difference: all the things you have “liked” are tracked and, quite often, displayed. Ideally, this is how Facebook uses your actions to customize your experience and suggest to you content you may enjoy. That’s a fancy way of saying that it sells your preferences to advertisers, but that’s not what I’m talking about today. The system itself, at least in the context of peer-to-peer networking, is probably one of the better-designed ones out there, but as Bioshock has taught us, even a perfect system cannot survive contact with human flaws.

Over the past few years, patterns have emerged. The layout of Facebook has facilitated new and exciting methods of ego stroking. We will start with the ‘like’ function with regards to individual comments and the creation and sharing of content. Now, liking an entire page is something I can understand and appreciate. It tunes you into news regarding, say, the latest episode of Game of Thrones or the Black Keys’ tour dates. On a level as small as status updates and such, the ‘like’ function really only serves as a way to comment without commenting. Having been an antisocial misanthrope for most of my life, I can appreciate such a noble sentiment. The problem is human, as it always is. Just as we assign value to small pieces of green paper, so to does the more attention-starved element of Facebook begin to assign the same value to “likes” and “shares,” despite the fact that you can’t even use them for anything besides ego-stroking. And so, like a crack whore desperate for her next fix, the Facebook attention addict will begin to do horrible, degrading things for her next like. This could be something fairly harmless, like digging through one’s own baby pictures and sharing them with a group of people you normally wouldn’t just for the instant gratification of ten likes and seven comments. Inversely, this could also mean something far more pathetic like putting up a picture of a child with cancer that you’ve never met and pimping his misfortune by lying about some generous association that will donate however much money for however many likes. This, this is what Facebook has done to us. No. No, it’s not fair to blame Facebook for our own deficiencies as human beings. Facebook is merely a way we’ve managed to glimpse our own frailty just beneath the surface of the self-righteous ranting and jokes stolen from other places on the Internet.

There is a lot less to say about Youtube. I will stay away from talk about individual channels and whatnot, because this isn’t really about content. It’s about comments. The Youtube comment section is famous for its cesspool nature. Everyone has a story about how they went to watch Losing My Religion and arrived at the tail end of a flame war between annoyingly loud high school atheists, annoyingly loud Christians, and the even more annoyingly loud “sometimes atheists can be as bad as Christians because arrogance and smug and hypocrisy and look at me I’m elevating myself above both parties that means I’m right” types, or how all they wanted to find was a video of Shepard punching a reporter but found the comment section a mess of entitled Bioware fans whining about the ending to Mass Effect 3.

I’m finding it challenging to come up for a valid reason on why the Youtube comment section tends to bring out the loud asshole in people. There’s little that makes Youtube different from other sites in regards to conflict. The easy answer would be to blame everyone age 18 or below; it always seems to be their eagerness to remind everyone that they’re in eighth grade but they love Jimi Hendrix that starts the big “shut up/no you shut up” screaming matches that Youtube is so well-known for. I’m not going to, though; they seem far more like a symptom to me than the actual problem. I doubt very much that it has anything to do with the like/dislike system. It doesn’t seem like it’s going deep enough to just say that the site is a place where tempers just happen to burn hot. You could explain some of it away by saying that competition for the top comment slot causes friction, but how do you explain the fact that the place is almost always a pile of dry twigs? It always seems to take just one idiotic comment to send the whole place up in flames, but why? Are people just that afraid to lose an argument to someone they will never meet? No single explanation seems to cut it, which means, of course, that it has to be a mix of several reasons. If I had to guess, I’d say it has something to do with diversity and demographic overlap. Youtube isn’t quite as sectioned-off as, say, Reddit. Sure, there are channels, but you’re obviously going to have a ton of very different people watching the same video. The only thing these people have in common is the fact that they want to be heard. And let me tell you, that right there’s a recipe for disaster. You could debate all day about who’s more wrong; the 13 year-old girl screeching about how much better Bieber is than Kurt Cobain or the 24 year-old neckbeard whose avatar is a cartoon horse, but it hardly matters. What matters is what I said earlier: people seek singularity. Diversity is a disease to them. And Youtube is a free clinic in Compton.

Finally, we have Reddit. Oh, Reddit. What an amusing specimen you are. Now, I’ve talked at length about them before, but that was mostly about the proliferation of shitty content. Today, we talk comments and comment karma.

The conversation on Reddit is facilitated by upvotes and downvotes, just like the rest of the site. Ideally, the best arguments for either side (if there’s a dispute) are upvoted and the idiotic natter is downvoted so that anyone reading through the comments can very easily see all the useful things everyone had to say and not have to sift through shit like they would have to on Youtube. Sounds great, right? Wrong. Fuck you. You haven’t been paying attention. We destroy everything we come into contact with at some point or another. It could be the environment, it could be a new car, it could be another person, or it could be a system of social interaction. In this case, the Redditors have perverted the comment system such that only the most popular opinions are heard; the unpopular ones are buried.

See, you’re supposed to downvote a stupid, offensive, or unhelpful comment and upvote an intelligent, insightful, or clever one. That’s what the architects of Reddit intended, at least. The system was supposed to facilitate a thoughtful and intelligent discussion. In reality, people upvote comments they agree with and downvote comments they disagree with. In this way, whatever opinion is in the majority is the only opinion that’s heard; any opposition is downvoted into oblivion and hidden at the bottom of the page. You end up with fewer flame wars this way, but then again, Airstrip One was fairly peaceful. This whole problem is particularly pathetic; half the people in comment threads won’t even argue. They just want to see the things they disagree with go away. There’s no real solution to the problem, either, other than just saying, “Stop being such an asshole.” But I’m not so proud as to pretend that I’m going to change any minds.

The system isn’t broken. It works just fine. It’s you who’s broken. You’ve been using it the wrong way, and now would you look at the mess you and your friends have made? This here, this is why we can’t have nice things. You get a downvote. You all get a downvote.

2 thoughts on “108 People Like This

  1. It’s strangely fitting that you guys don’t have any rating or “thumbs up” option for your posts, only the ability to leave comments [and share on Facebook]. I’ve said this before, but the hive mind aspect of Reddit is by far the most odious thing about it for me. I try my best to ignore it.

    Great commentary on why YouTube is such a nest of blind, frenzied rattlesnakes at the best of times. There really is a huge diversity in its users, and it explains a lot.

  2. There may be more to say about YouTube than most would be comfortable hearing, and it seems the sources of their problems are endless. For every 50 compilation videos, there are only 25 clips of video. Such is the drive for popularity that videos have [Best Version] in the title, and you can watch the same things over and over and over without ever watching the same video, the only difference being one is set to Welcome To The Jungle, another to dubstep and another to classical. As a fan of some of the People Are Awesome compilations, I’ve seen it far too many times. As the popularity of something rises, so does the propensity of the masses to ingest and regurgitate that thing, so their names can be attached to it in such an insignificant sense that the only notable change is an undue inflation of the uploader’s ego.

    I fear the dystopia that awaits us as we plod down this road, where the proliferation of internet bickering has reduced us to the point of only the people who are the loudest are heard. Jump on the bandwagon kids, it’s the only way you’ll win.

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