It is said that opinions are like assholes: everybody has one. The litmus test for this theorem is the phenomenon known as the internet message board.
Accompanying almost every picture, article, video, etc. on the internet is an empty text box. Human beings, discontent with anything left unfilled, are drawn to place something inside this gaping hole to fulfill their primal urges and achieve satisfaction. There is an undeniable need to put something in that box. In other words, people get off placing an internet comment (what did you think we meant?).
Before the internet, to make one's opinion heard by a large section of the population a person would have to either:
But today, through the marvel of modern technology, anyone can post exactly what they are thinking on the internet at any time. The downside to this? Anyone can post exactly what they are thinking on the internet. Thanks to services such as Twitter, Facebook, BeBo, and so on, you don't even need a jumping off point such as an article or picture for your rant. This is a classic example of style without substance. Or, giving the inmates the keys to the prison, if you will
Due to the internet's inherent anonymity, normally average, well-adjusted individuals who would never even dream of drawing attention to themselves don't hesitate to spew angry, pointless, insulting rants to the world in general when commenting on the internet. As such inflammatory words posit an opinion, this leads other people with differing opinions with a desire to make their own comments (see the aforementioned "empty hole" analogy). The term "flame war" makes reference to a long, protracted text battle between two or more internet commentators.
One common joke goes "Arguing on the internet is like running in the Special Olympics; even if you win, you're still a retard". This is not only offensive but inaccurate, as 99% of retards know to stop running eventually.
The phenomenon of internet commenting has lead to the evolution of certain types of people. First, there's the Troll. This is a person who posts rude, offensive, and controversial on a message board or comments section, usually off-topic and almost definitely with the intention of getting a response. The Troll often chooses words bound to infuriate the average viewer, whether it be racist dogma, an extreme political viewpoint, a personal attack on someone famous, a personal attack on another commenter, or an opinion held by absolutely nobody (i.e. "C'mon, say what you want about the guy, but Hitler sure had style!"). Since the Troll's main objective is getting attention, responding to his drivel will only egg him on further, leading many to post "Do not feed the trolls". This, technically, is ALSO a response to said Troll, once again proving that most people abandon common sense when typing in small fonts.
Second, you have the Sock Puppet. A Sock Puppet is a second account created by a single user, under a different name, utilized simply to add credibility to one's opinion by agreeing with oneself. This is a perfect example of digital masturbation. Actually, most of the internet is digital masturbation. As is the case with other labels, this one is thrown around often without proof. Once an opponent in a message board suddenly garners the support of another faceless individual, the average poster cries "Foul", claiming the passenger on the angry rant bandwagon is a Sock Puppet. If every person accused of being a Sock Puppet actually were one, that would mean that the entire internet contains only seven people.
Third, their are the Spammers. People have found their e-mails stuffed with advertisements since the creation of the internet:
Source: Al Gore
These ads are often for illicit goods and services, from penis enlargement pills to pornographic websites, penis enlargement lotions, insurance scams, to penis enlargement. Did we mention the penis enlargement? Eventually, this kind of guerrilla marketing (read: douchebaggery) made its way into the message board. The modern spammer makes an account on a popular website, then comments on whatever content is available, pretending to be a fan of the subject, then deftly sliding in the URL of the website he's hawking, usually dating websites. Because the best place to meet women is on the faceless internet.
Well, not really.
In response to the Trolls, Flame Wars, Spammers and so on, the administrators of the various websites have done little to regulate the content of their comments section. Granted, weeding out the douchebags on the internet is akin to holding back a hurricane with a spoon. Most sites post an arbitrary set of "rules", most of which are ignored by, well, everyone. Anyone who complains about offensive content are labelled "internet police" and roundly ignored.
Often, the penalty for violating a comment/message board's rules is deletion of the offensive comment (the horror!), or outright banning from the site. Once again, considering that 99.99% of the internet's denizens operate anonymously, these threats are meaningless. It's simply a matter of creating another account, if one doesn't already have a Sock, and reappearing on the same website, like that zit you thought was gone but decides to pop back up again right before prom.
Considering the number of users on each site, and that many of them post multiple times in a short period of time, there aren't enough administrators to check every comment. What this usually means is, the only way a comment or user is removed from a site is if another poster complains. Of course, the loudest complaints often comes from those willing to take the time to do the squawking, namely the Trolls, Flamers, Sock Puppets, et. al. Remember that point about giving the keys to the inmates?
Granted, not everyone on the internet is a troublemaker or spammer. Just like the real world, most of the people you meet online are ordinary folks like you. (This is making the assumption that you ARE normal.) But, let's face it, you don't remember the regular people around you. The guy standing next to you in line at the bank isn't going to make much of a wrinkle in your memory. The 380 lb. guy in the pink tutu and hiking boots, humming "I Will Survive" and holding a purple polka-dotted parasol? Most likely he'll make an impression.
Most people simply post comments to share an opinion, or maybe some helpful advice. These are the anonymous drones you bump into throughout your day, on the bus, in the grocery store, at the adult bookstore, Only these people are even more faceless, represented by icons, pictures of famous people or cartoon characters.
Granted, there are those in the .01% range who seem driven to not only choose a screen name that matches their real name, but also give out personal information about themselves, their family, where they live, where they keep the good jewelry, what time little Timmy gets out of school, and the code to the alarm system. These are the same people who refuse to use a grocery store discount card, because they "don't like some corporation knowing what I buy,". Makes sense.
While virtually every website has a section for comments, a few stand out as recognizable to the general public. Such as:
Twitter: By allowing people to post their thoughts and feelings from pretty much anywhere, including Short Message Service (i.e. cell phone text messaging), or through the Twitter website itself. Posts are limited to 140 characters, and are viewable only by subscribers to the poster's profile. Twitter is used by government officials, including those in Senate and Congress when they're supposed to be paying attention to their job. You know, the one where they run the country? Protesters all over the world, including those involved in the recent Iranian elections, often use Twitter to keep the world informed.Twitter has even been used by astronauts on the <a href="http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/30078050/" rel="nofollow" >space shuttle</a>. Bear in mind that, at one point, the most-followed person on Twitter was Ashton Kutcher. God help us.
4chan: What can be said about 4chan? Just about anything, you just won't understand what the hell they're talking about. 4chan was launched in 2003, originally as a discussion and image sharing board for all things manga and anime. You know, the comic books and cartoons with the giant eyeballs and underage schoolgirls being raped by tentacles? Apparently, this is "art", and deserving of its own discussion board, not a Congressional investigation. Since its inception, 4chan has grown into a huge social networking site of sorts, used mainly for the trading of images, cartoons, videos, pictures and
child pornography art pictures. Bordering on the isolationist, 4chan users have come to speak their own language, filled with in-jokes and innuendoes that have meaning only to the initiated. It has become the breeding ground for the majority of the internet's memes <a href="http://www.cracked.com/article_16248_9-most-obnoxious-memes-ever-escape-web.html" rel="nofollow" >Cracked article: The 9 Most Obnoxiou Memes to Ever Escape the Web</a>, including lolcats, motivational posters, and "Rick Rolling".
Internet Movie Database (IMDb): The purpose of IMDb is to offer a wealth of information about every movie, television show, actor, producer and director ever. Since every movie and episode of every TV show has its own page, and each cast and crew member also has a page dedicated to them, IMDb offers the internet commenter ample opportunity to post their opinion. Granted, these opinions boil down to:
Also available on IMDb are message boards dedicating to pointing out errors in films (Goofs), the art of directing, acting, and writing (Shop Talk), and by genre (Comedy, Horror, Documentary). To make room for the ranters, IMDB added the Soapbox, a place to "post your heated discussions that might irk the members of more tame boards,". Instead, the Soapbox has become a dumping ground for every political, social, religious and moral opinion in existence, with a hearty sprinkling of racism, sexism and insane conspiracy theories. Imagine Ann Coulter and Janeane Garofalo locked in a room, both armed with bullhorns. This is Nirvana compared to the Soapbox.