I want to invent something that administers a small electric shock every time someone comments on an article without reading it. It wouldn’t be an optional app or plugin either, it would be a mandatory feature that came with all new computers and phones.
I’d call it the Shut-Upper and I’d get a Nobel Prize for inventing it. Hell, they’d probably give me the Peace Prize too.
It’s hard to think of anything that so magnificently combines laziness and ignorance better than commenting on an article before you’ve read it. All one has to do to enlighten themselves about a subject is move a single finger, just enough to click on something, before they sit still and read it. But instead they’re like, “Nah, that takes way too much effort. I’m just gonna share this opinion that I’ve formulated based solely on a headline and a photo, and then I’m gonna defend it vehemently.”
Don’t act like you’ve never done this. We all have, even me, the future inventor of the Nobel Prize winning Shut-Upper. That said, I’ve made a conscious effort not to comment on things I haven’t read, no matter how enticing or inflammatory the headline and image might be. That’s because at best, doing so makes us look stupid, and at worst, it helps spread disinformation.
The entire point of a headline is to get you to read something. It’s supposed to make you emote enough to say, “I’d like to learn more about that” and then do so. Back when newspapers and magazines were the primary mediums through which we got our information, there was a finite amount of publications to read. Now that we get so much of our news online, and there are infinite sources to read, publications have to go to far greater lengths to create headlines that make you click.
Accompanying this has been the disintegration of the business model that funds good journalism. This has made publications so desperate for clicks that some will even use trickery and misleading headlines to get you to engage. Nobody has the time to read all the articles they come across so, despite what the article actually says, a person will leave a comment based on what they imagine the article might have said. And that’s a pretty incredible way to create misunderstandings and make yourself look dumb.
On top of that, it’s actually quite dangerous and leads to the spread of disinformation. Facebook is one of the main distributors of news, and since their algorithm serves you up articles based on how you and your friends interact with things, commenting on something without reading it becomes extra problematic. The more comments an article gets, the more Facebook is going to show it to people.
As people continue to argue their points in the commenting section, the article will surface in more feeds. The more times a person sees a headline, even if they don’t read or comment on the article, the more they believe it’s real. Suddenly a brash, click-baity headline can get passed around enough times that lots of people think it’s real and eventually people stop vaccinating their kids and start believing that the Sandy Hook Massacre in Connecticut was a hoax.
Commenting on something you haven’t read not only makes you look stupid, it also helps dumb down everyone. So, let’s all try something. Until I’m finally able to invent the Shut-Upper let’s all commit to not commenting on something or sharing it until we’ve read it.
It’s the easiest way to make the world a slightly better place because all you have to do is nothing.
Stuart Schuffman, aka Broke-Ass Stuart, is a travel writer, TV host and poet. Follow him atBrokeAssStuart.com and join his mailing list to stay up on the work he’s doing:http://bit.ly/BrokeAssList. His guest column, Broke-Ass City, runs Thursdays in the Examiner.