Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Evolution and Devolution of Facebook Comments

I love doing Facebook experiments. 

The feeling of getting people fired up after posting a hot-button topic is second to none! For me, its like election day sitting at home when the polls close. I just sit and watch the results, or in this case comments, come pouring in.

Why do I do this? I guess its the sarcastic, chaotic side of me merging with the scientific side which loves witnessing the human condition in action.

Social Networking represents a cultural paradigm shift that's very strange if you're not used to it. The vale of anonymity the internet provides creates an environment where the degradation of responsibility becomes the norm.  Behavior becomes more primal; comment threats are driven by impulse and emotion.  Best of all, its totally predictable.

Before I start a FB experiment, I chose a topic or subject. It doesn't have to be specific as long as it has the staying power of more than a few hours. These days, my post usually points to an article or less frequently, a blanket question. I try to avoid asking a question because its like shaking hornets nest. You know what you'll get and its not good.  So my tried and tested approach of posting neutral statements with an attached article as a reference usually presumptively extinguishes the fire of some of the hot headed commentors.

Remember that this is an experiment so the aim is to create a post that by itself is neutral but can spawn comments both pro and con yet objective. Except in many instances, it doesn't work out this way. Most Facebook comment threads usually degrade into either one and/or several thought patterns.

Enter into the ring:  Human Nature.

Comment 1 through 9 are by in large objective and directly related to the post. Unbiased, thought provoking responses that are worth reading. I find myself responding to these the most. Very engaging, rational people for the most part.

By comment 10, somehow the topic gets spun from its original subject matter into a rant about religion or race or both. One person will relate the topic or another comment to a greater religious ideal. This fuels more theologically based comments.  Since this an election year, comment 11 through 20 take on a political tone which begins with taxes, debt, government and rich people. 

By comment 30, most comments either have a blend of religion, politics and a few expletives for reinforcement. Can you get more incendiary? Someone will try the rational approach in quieting the sharp comments of the others but will have little effect. The toxic blend of religion and politics is too hard to overcome.

If you comments reach the magic number of 40, the comments continue their rapid downward spiral into the world of comments about the commentor or what I like to call "commenter vs commenter crime". Instead of comments relating to the topic or the unrelated topics mentioned in comment 10 through 39, the comments now attack one or many of the various people commenting. These can be flat out assaults of the person's manliness or intelligence. 

After a while, most people have lost interest as the comment threat now 50 plus deep permanently resides in an abyss where the laws of rational thinking no longer apply.

Many scientists believe that the universe trillions of years from now will be filled with random particles fighting for existence in a cosmos void of anything substantive. The Facebook comment thread past 50 resembles this theoretical late stage universe in that only a few stubborn commentors will be left.  While the original post has run its course these few commentors continue to fight for Facebook post supremacy by themselves while everyone else has moved on.

Facebook comments are akin to a clockwork machine. At first, the components move real smooth. After a time, the machine needs to be cleaned and lubricated. If not, it runs rough, gets a bit squeaky and might begin to rust and possibly seize up. Most Facebook comment threads are no different. Not all Facebook comments follow this path but many do. Beautiful photos of your family or pet, sunrises or sunsets are the notable exceptions.  

Watch my posts on my Facebook Fanpage. Sometimes I will "conduct" an experiment to see where the comments go. Check out this phenomena for yourself. How many times has the Facebook comment machine seized up? 

More often than not I'm afraid.