I Read the Comments on Breitbart So You Don’t Have To
When the executive chairman of a far-right “news” website becomes chief strategist to a new American president, the nation’s eyes justifiably turn toward that website to see what it’s all about. What we found there has been in turns hilarious and terrifying.
That anybody mistakes Breitbart.com for a news outlet is bad enough, but things get even worse when you discover that otherwise sapient human beings feel inspired enough by its content to positively comment after reading it. And they’re not all mostly harmless comments like this one:
The Church was deliberately infiltrated by Marxists and homosexuals … to sow doubt among the faithful. Obama et al. were involved in the coup against Benedict XVI, who was attempting to take down the ‘Gay Mafia’ inside the Vatican.
…or merely ridiculous, like this one:
Dude no one likes homos anywhere around them ever, as soon as it leaves the jokes start. Even with all your gay pride bs your just as much freaks now as ever.
No, some of these comments aren’t just casually ignorant or silly — some of them are truly poisonous.
The Vilification of Liberalism
For years, poll after poll has revealed that the American electorate is far more liberal than our “representative” government would have you believe. That may be stoking the frustration of some of those Breitbart commenters:
Eight years of monumental failures, worldwide ridicule of POTUS, the doubling or our national debt and the moral decay of our society is lauded by democrats as a success. I guess liberalism really is a mental disorder.
A fellow commenter helpfully followed-up: “Democrats hate God, America, Freedom, Babies, White Males, and Puppies in that order.”
Where do you even start? Obama was often better-liked overseas than he was back in the U.S. As for national debt, it’s complicated, but Obama demonstrably didn’t “double” the debt and in fact caused it to rise by far less than some of our more “celebrated” Republican presidents.
Finally, to suggest liberalism is a “mental disorder” and an existential threat to America’s “puppies” is to ignore the fact that liberalism delivered the end of slavery and the beginning of suffrage for women, ended child labor, achieved workplace dignity in general for millions and built a host of other public programs and institutions — Social Security, Medicare, the post office, public roads and parks, fire departments and ambulance services — that help people who can’t help themselves.
Compassion, then, according to this proud Breitbart sage, is probably also a “mental disorder.”
The Straw-Man Argument
Of course, once in a while, something appears on Breitbart that at first glance appears to be a reasoned argument but then dissolves into inconsequential hate-filled confetti upon a closer reading. Case in point:
Understanding that no one has a right to another’s labor must be where the solution starts. This is a philosophical and ideological issue directly tied to immigration with proponents similarly split. Failing to minimize government’s role in healthcare as the global community has increasingly looked to the U.S. for its welfare will undo our sovereign republic and eliminate those incentives to professional commitment…
This comment was left behind underneath a story about the Republican Party’s never-ending travails to repeal the ACA. The commenter suggests that dispensing needed medical care to somebody whose life would end or be worse off without it is “labor” to which nobody is “entitled.” There is no way this comment was written by any of the 600,000-plus Americans who are forced to declare bankruptcy each year because they can’t pay their medical bills.
It was also likely not written by somebody who understands dozens of other countries whose governments have “gotten involved with” healthcare enjoy far lower prices and far better outcomes. That’s the problem with commenting anonymously. You can hide behind that anonymity to present untruths, unworried that you’ll be unmasked. You can push whatever idea of reality appeals to you.
This comment isn’t profane or overtly racist — instead, it’s “merely” quietly and catastrophically misinformed. It reveals a person who’s content with riding into battle against straw-men arguments — somebody for whom politics is a means to a selfish end, but who can’t quite be bothered to figure out what voting in their own self-interest actually looks like.
When the Headlines Are Even Worse
Let’s just say birds of a feather tend to comment on the same far-right websites. In our case today, that means the quality of a given Breitbart headline can generally tip you off about the content and general quality of the comments. Don’t ever let it be said — the way it’s said about Trump — that the ignorant, hate-filled wretches caught up in the site’s wake are merely a coincidence.
The gospel of Breitbart, like the gospel of Trump, is nearly universally hateful toward anybody who’s not white, American and Christian. Where it’s not being purposefully cruel, it’s being disingenuous. And when it’s not doing that, it’s just being gross.
Lest you start believing Breitbart’s comments section is a weird outlier, consider some of the headlines to which they were appended:
There’s No Hiring Bias Against Women In Tech, They Just Suck At Interviews
Gabby Giffords: The Gun Control Movement’s Human Shield
Planned Parenthood’s Body Count Under Cecile Richards Is Up To Half A Holocaust
Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive And Crazy
Half a holocaust.
Are you still laboring under the delusion this is a news outlet? Is anybody? Sadly, it doesn’t matter — Breitbart wasn’t designed to complement the national discourse on politics and culture — it was meant to replace it entirely. “Alternative facts” are for people who can’t win elections in ordinary reality and can’t handle the fact that their entire political ethos is rejected in full by an increasingly compassionate, informed, equality-minded electorate.
A Dangerous Game
Dark comments like the ones on Breitbart have always helped lead our discourse — and in many cases our actions — down very dark roads. This isn’t just pathetic — it’s amazingly dangerous.
History is littered with great mistakes, including the wholesale slaughter of Native Americans, the holocaust, U.S. internment of Japanese-Americans, you name it. All of these tragedies were possible because people either didn’t have or did not want the information that would change their minds. As a result, only the loudest and most outrageous voices held sway.
The “Wisdom” of Crowds
There is no wisdom in a crowd — only pure, blind feeling. And feelings are vulnerable to a very wide range of influences, including hatred. Hatred behaves like a contagious disease, which is why blowhards can manipulate it so lazily and still win elections.
Since we’ve been divided and pushed into neat little boxes bearing the names of our political parties and our movements, we don’t share information with one another anymore. We believe what we want to, because we want to.
Cultural awareness suffers. Empathy suffers. Hateful and ignorant comments flourish in the dark corners of the internet and especially behind veils of anonymity. The internet is, for the moment — and should always remain — a place where people can discuss issues of extreme importance peaceably, candidly, and without fear of retribution from the state, private citizens or anyplace else.
But as for how we get through to people who only expose themselves to “facts” that justify their beliefs, I have no idea. If Breitbart disappeared tomorrow, it’s likely the site’s most faithful readers would merely find a new bubble where they can feel comfortable and vindicated.
It’s Not a One-Sided Issue
Guess what, Democrats? You’re just as guilty — there is true lunacy on both sides.
Unfortunately, liberals are just as susceptible to ignorantly partisan saber-rattling as conservatives — a fact evidenced most recently by the almost fanatical attention paid to Trump’s Russia problem. The situation has erupted into several full-blown, ongoing, increasingly hysterical accounts of purported “conspiracies,” none of which are helpful.
Do you see it? Partisanship is a wheel that never stops turning. It’s why, every four years, young people in America ask their parents: “Hey, what about a new way of thinking? How about a new political party?” and they’re met with a blast of condescension from the older generations about “lesser evils” and how things have “always been done.”
When provided with facts, folks usually reject hatred and embrace cooperation. We need to smash every piece of the apparatus that has bastardized the English language if the truth is to break through the din and get something done for a change.
Image by CJS*64