Fry on blogs

Written By: - Date published: 9:30 am, November 29th, 2009 - 14 comments
Categories: blogs, Deep stuff - Tags:

The delectable Mr Stephen Fry doesn’t like the people who comment on blogs, and says so in his usual forthright, erudite and whimsical way:

“I don’t know about you but whenever I read a blog I do not let my eye drop below half the screen in case I accidentally hit the bit where the comments reside. Of all the stinking, sliding, scuttling, weird, entomological creatures that inhabit the floor of the internet those comments on blogs are the most unbearable, almost beyond imagining,” … “Their resentment, their desire to be heard at the most vituperative level, at the most unpleasant and malevolent, genuinely ill-willed malevolent, level is terrifying and I am very often simply not able to cope with that,”

Ouch! Thing is, as a general rule he’s probably right (though of course I’d like to claim that some blogs do a lot better than others). Same with other media where we the people get to broadcast our views. Let’s hope that Stephen never accidentally tunes his dial to talk-back radio, or the resulting brain-antibrain explosion may devastate Southern England.

So what’s up with that? Why is it that it’s mostly the angry and aggressive who want to speak up? Are there simply more of them? Do they have too much time on their hands? Is it only anger that drives us to speak on anything? Do blogs do any good in the world, or are they just echo chambers that amplify anger? How could we improve the standard of debate on blogs without killing off the openness that is essential to the medium? I guess – it just goes to show you can’t be too careful!

14 comments on “Fry on blogs”

  1. Zorr 1

    I wonder if he has checked his comments lately?

    And as a general rule you will find that those that comment on the majority of blogs are those, somehow, wanting to share in the spotlight shone on those people who do run successful blogs or are blogs run by media personalities.

    Anyway, enough limelight stealing. On to the show!

  2. QoT 2

    I think it’s unfair to paint all commenters with the same brush – some blogs like Shapely Prose have a very high level of moderation in order to ensure the conversations remain pretty constructive and fun.

    Of course, there are those who would (and do) argue (much like trolls here who get banned) that the moderation is all about cancelling out any and all dissenting voices. But the “openness” which is so essential to blogging doesn’t have to be about letting every single person have their say in *your* space, because the whole point of blogging is that anyone with an internet connection can do it.

  3. I’ve done my share of commenting along the lines Fry describes, have considered the responses it elicited and learned any lessons I decided were due. As a result I like to think I am a better person.

    Surely the great strength of the Internet as opposed to other MSM (with the exception perhaps of the News of the World!) is that “All human life is there”, which includes the ugly, the stupid and the narrow-to-the-point-of-vanishingly-minded. Try to shut this out as Fry does and you lock yourself in an Ivory Tower of ‘the World as you want it to be rather than it is’. By exposing yourself to the ideas and thought processes of those who share this world with you – especially those you wouldn’t ordinarily mix with – you can at least be forced to refine your own ideas and thought processes, and at best might stumble over something you had not previously considered.

    • Zorr 3.1

      Just because there are excessively ignorant/stupid/arrogant/adjective people out there, doesn’t mean we have to like them. And I think that is what Fry is saying. That commenting on blogs tends to result in the worst of people and that, because of this, he doesn’t like them.

      As the old saying goes “Do not argue with an idiot. They will just pull you down to their level and beat you with experience.” It doesn’t matter how much you ‘refine’ your arguments by fighting with them, they still remain stupid and they and their ilk will still remain unmoved.

      This is bordering on being self-referential humor. x_x

  4. Kruk 4

    Why are posters so angry and hostile on blogs? (Not all posters and not on all blogs, I hasten to add.) I think it comes down to:
    a) Because there are very few consequences. You can act in ways that you never could in meatspace, and if won’t cost you your job or your relationships. Even if you get banned, there is always another blog to troll on.
    b) It’s tacitly encouraged. Most blogs have certain kinds of bad behaviour that are alllowed to fly under the radar by the moderators. Once posters realise those kinds of behavious are ‘safe’ from being challenged, they flock there, and reinforce each other.

  5. BLiP 5

    Guilty on all charges, your Honour.

    My sins – and they are legion – stem largely from a sense of frustration at what I perceive to be the semi-automaton nature of the population and how this state is manipulated by those who profess to be acting in our best interests. I used to believe that an outrageous comment might cause readers to pause for a moment and, as naive as it now sounds, actually consider a topic from another point of view. Silly, eh?

    Do blogs do any good? Yes, of course they do and the role they play in public discourse is going to become increasingly important as the MSM moves away from “news” to devote more and more resources to the subtle altering of reality in order to sell what ever preconceived narrative is most likely to maximise returns to shareholders. Individual blogs, of course, are equally in the business of shifting perceptions and some – who shall remain nameless – are little more than MSM sock puppets. Yet, the very business practise of the MSM to consolidate into fewer and fewer products is its greatest weakness.Within the blogosphere, no matter how off-the-wall a person’s belief, there exists an online community in which to gain succour, share information and begin the process of change in the real world. The “anonymous” crusade against the scientology cult is a good example but the one which I most admire is the example set during the Dubya presidency. Labelled as unpatriot, terrorist-funded surrender-monkeys, the Left in the US effected a regime change due in large part to the internet community. What I didn’t take into sufficient account was that the success was due largely to the bloggers’ calm, rational, and repeated expression of logic, facts and a genuinely positive intention.

    Why do trolls exist? Lots of reasons, some already mentioned here. My personal theory is that the bulk of trolls grew up (should that be “got older”?) in the era where a computer at home was for games and generally amusing oneself. As they became adults, they failed to develop at the same rate as the blogosphere and continue to use the internet to amuse themselves and, probably due to the lack of consequences and non-stop years of playing Resident Evil, have given reign to that inner bully which lies just skin deep in most of us. They seem unaware of the power they have to effect good, or even discuss it, using just their keyboard.

    Plus, there is an exponential number of us who are new to the blogosphere struggling with the steep learning curve of how to make best use of it. My sincere thanks to The Standard and its regulars for their help in this regard.

  6. Rex Widerstrom 6

    Has Stephen listened to himself whitter on as host of “Qi” I wonder?

    As a long-time admirer I embraced the ABC’s decision to screen the series with unalloyed delight, only to find myself disappointed by a handful of weak undergrad-level puns, mostly involving sodomy.

    I do hope one of the world’s most erudite and charming men hasn’t decided to take the well-worn path to “irascible curmudgeon”… it’s like seeing a great actor reduced to a “guest appearance” in a US “sitcom”.

    On the substantive topic, Kruk and BLiP (that sounds like a vaudeville act, or perhaps a troupe of Russian clowns) have it, methinks.

  7. Rob A 7

    I’ve been posting on various groups over usenet since the mid 90s and my theory is anominity brings out the worst in people. It also may have something to do with the sheer frustration of seeing the same old arguement brought up by some noob every few months, it gets a lot easier to simply go ad-hom then rehash a discussion you had years ago.

    FWIW I’ve met a couple of guys I’ve come to know over usenet, one was a true red neck southern man in Louisiana who I had crossed swords with many times. We met for a beer in his home town and I ended up staying with him and his family for 2 nights and in that time had probably one of the best discussions of my life, all very reasonable it was too.

  8. NickS 8

    …And I’ll just leave this (aka GIFT) here:
    http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2004/3/19/

    And admit that I’m quite snarky when stupidity-about-science is posted, or more general reality denial.

  9. ben 9

    Off topic, but Fry and Christopher Hitchens recently demolished a couple of Cathlolics in a debate titled “Is the world a better place with the Catholic Church in it?” Its on Youtube here. It really is a demolition, as the before and after poll of the audience at the end of the show demonstrates. Well worth a watch.

  10. Emma L 10

    At least people who post things on blogs give a damn about something. And it’s not like all blogs are the usual what happened on grey’s anatomy last night crap. Blogs like this one here allow people to express opinions on issues that affect them. Are we not allowed to be concerned (and some what argumentative) citizens? Of course, a standard should be maintained. For example, while others may disagree, I don’t think using swear words should be needed to get a point across. You should be able to justify your opinion with evidence rather than saying this is f****** bullshit. However, I say again, at least bloggers give a damn. I find people who can’t be bothered voicing their opinions and debating issues with others more depressing honestly.

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