Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Comment Bait

Resist the Urge!

I don't have comments enabled on this blog for very obvious reasons.  If you have comments enabled, you will get SPAM messages.  For example, I post about payday loans and a typical comment will be, "You're right, most of these payday loan places are crooks!  But I found one that is honest!  [link]"  It is just an advertisement that I am not getting paid to host.

Others are just argumentative trolls.  They don't have an interesting angle or valid argument, they just want to derail discussion - or they are just plain crazy.  Yet others want to start flame wars with other commenters.  So you have to "moderate" the comments and I'm not getting paid enough ($0) to do that.

I have tried to refrain from commenting on other sites as well.   Tried, but not always successful.   Sometimes I write a comment and then find out someone else said the same thing, only better than I did.  Often I end up deleting comments I leave. There is no profit in it.

I realized that many sites are just comment bait.  They say something so obviously wrong or stupid or just incomplete that you itch to respond with a comment.  And I realize, now, that they may have done this by design.   When you leave out one fact from a YouTube video or make an obvious mistake, commenters will pile on to let you know.  So if you want to increase your internet visibility,  you want to have more "engagement" and to do this, it helps to have people "mash that like button, subscribe, and comment!" So many YouTubers encourage comments, saying "I read 'em all!" but in fact, this may be impossible with a channel with hundreds of videos and tens of thousands of comments.

I am not alone in this observation - the term "Comment Bait" appears in the urban dictionary.  Apparently, Facebook is so aware of it, they will suppress postings that contain "engagement bait."  The top postings on Reddit are little more than comment bait - "What is one movie that you think is great but never caught on with audiences?"   Such postings contain no content in themselves, but entice the reader to chime in with his opinions.  This drives up engagement and may in fact by posted by employees of the site to keep people interested.  Or it may be a user who is trying to raise their profile, so they can sell their "influence" to advertisers.

They want comments because in online algorithms, comments mean engagement.  If you click on a video by mistake and then click right back, that still counts as a click (although they may be able to figure out how long you loitered on the video).  But if you "like and subscribe!" you are clearly engaged, watching the video, and spending time on the page (that is, unless you are a bot).  A comment takes this even further - although again, bots can comment and it isn't too hard to spot their generic comments ("Great video!  I love your channel!").

But if you can entice people to comment, so much the better.  So you leave out one salient fact or make some tiny mistake in your posting or video - which people will want to "fix" by commenting.  I noted before that I fell into the trap of buying cars, boats, motorcycles, and even houses that had something that needed fixing - that was a rather obvious repair need.  Like an abandoned kitten crying out for a saucer of milk, I wanted to make things right and rescue that poor abused car.  It is a bad way to go about buying anything.  And I almost wonder if some sellers realize that leaving one unfixed "thing" on a car or boat or house, makes it more attractive to the handyman than not.   Just a crazy idea I have.

Similarly, you can make a posting, video, or article more attractive to commenters by leaving it with one minor "broken" thing for your audience to "fix".

And this is where I get sucked in.  Someone posts something about a famous author, and I want to respond with, "Did you know he was also famous as a stage actor?" or something to that effect.  The original poster left that out, and it was kind of key.  But then I post that and scroll down and see ten other comments to the same effect.  So I delete my comment.

What I should do is never read the comments, particularly on YouTube, where within ten comments, the discussion has devolved from "kittens are cute!" to "Hitler was misunderstood."    People make a big deal about "Social Media" as if it were some recent invention, but discussion groups and comments sections are, in fact, the prototype of social media.  And discussion groups go back to the 1980s.  I recounted before how "Computer Science" majors (considered part of the "Liberal Arts" curriculum back then, not Engineering or Science) would sit online all day, typing messages on old LA-36 DECwriters (a printer terminal that used wide computer paper and a 9-pin dot matrix).

I looked over the shoulder of one such student, and they were engaged in a flame war with someone at another University over which Star Trek character was the best.  "What's this?" I asked one of my Engineering friends.  "Oh, they're on the Inter-Net!" he replied, "It's just a big waste of time!"

That was 1985.  Not much has changed since then - trolls, flame wars, toxic content, vast amounts of time wasted, compulsive-addictive behavior.  I'm so glad I avoided all that and just blog.  /s

So, what't the point?  Perhaps nothing.  But perhaps if you read an online posting or watch a video or read an article and you have this itch to comment, step back a bit and think.  Someone probably already has said what you want to say, perhaps better than you would have.  No one will likely read your comment anyway, or if they do, they will want to argue with you, take offense, or start a flame war or personally attack you.

I am not sure what the solution is, other than back in the day, when we read something in the newspaper or saw something on television, most of us didn't feel the need to respond.  Sure, there were "Letters to the Editor" but only the better ones were printed, or maybe the editor printed the crackpot ones to show people they were right in the first place.  Television used to have an "equal time" provision, but that is gone now - and most of the people appearing in those equal time slots were wearing tinfoil hats.

Today, we can all wear the tinfoil hat with just the click of a mouse!  Resist.... The...... Urge!  (Ug!)