05/16/2016 03:16 EDT | Updated 05/17/2017 05:12 EDT

The Raging Inferno Of Online Comments

Yifei Fang via Getty Images
Two hands typing on a keyboard of a laptop computer.

If God exists they would probably cringe at some of the more thoughtless statements to come out of the Fort McMurray forest fire tragedy -- "it's Justin's fault, it proves climate change doesn't exist, this is retribution for drilling oil" -- and all this from page one of the comments section on any, and possibly every, CBC article regarding the Fort McMurray wildfires.

Reading the comments section of any news site is akin to opening oneself up to every manner of thought patterns and ideas in existence, all miraculously distilled into two to three poorly written sentences. Two to three sentences is all that far too many of us believe we have time for and this falsely validates new forms of groupthink that find value mainly though their simplicity. Reducing any situation to a compelling soundbite is easy, whereas thinking critically is, well, exactly that.

The very act of holding an opposing view has worth in its rebellious nature for many who feel disenfranchised by a dominant (and perhaps dominating) mainstream narrative. The undying and ridiculous Ezra Levant and associated Rebel Media have perfected the art of producing easily digestible, readily parroted positions founded on overly simplistic logic. What's problematic is that it's all too easy for readers and listeners to kinda understand and then re-broadcast these fabricated half-truths mixed with wishful thinking and a decided absence of critical reflection.

Times of tragic loss understandably affect large amounts of people and it is dangerous to trivialize their losses by making sweeping and grandiose "gotcha" statements, as though the fires in Fort McMurray are the linchpin for or against climate change, the present government, or whichever other dots may find themselves ripe for loose connection. During any tribulation affecting a community of any size it is important to be understanding and sensitive to the harsh realities imposed upon people and families.

Any opinion can be validated when presented to enough people, and the Internet has allowed serial validators to find each other and effectively suppress any critical dissent leading to the "echo-chamber effect" of ill-repute.

Perhaps paradoxically, it is simultaneously the worst time to bury our heads in the sand and declare a safe space. Real debates never end and they shouldn't during a tragedy when we are forced into our most vulnerable and most honest state -- vulnerability and honesty allow for the best type of human discourse and suppressing it grants more power to slimeball media icons looking to sell their salacious self-propagating soundbites.

In the case of Fort McMurray, there is little that could be done to control the damage of a raging forest fire but even less recourse to quell the endless inferno of reprobate behaviour of Internet news commentators and bloggers offering poorly constructed premises leading to further commentary of equally unfortunate quality.

Any opinion can be validated when presented to enough people, and the Internet has allowed serial validators to find each other and effectively suppress any critical dissent leading to the "echo-chamber effect" of ill-repute. If the opinion of a commenter is unanimously shot down in one forum it rarely changes the mind of that commenter but emboldens him to believe all the more strongly in his "alternative view" which has met such egregious push-back. In this scenario, our erroneous thinker would merely proceed to spread the same misguided logic into innumerable other forums across the vast "intellectual" terrain of the Internet.

Respectful discourse ought to be the hallmark of modern-era thinking...

For these reasons it is important to never stop dialogue and ensure that discourse is respectful; and most of all that we not reduce ourselves to sloganeering and pushing solutions far too simplistic to effectively solve complex societal problems, including such policy panaceas as building a wall between two countries, arming all teachers or stopping the consumption of all fossil fuels immediately. There is rarely ever a successful implementation of large scale policy change without nudging toward it for decades prior.

Over the last two decades the immediacy and volume of our communication has all but destroyed the ability of individuals to look at events critically before the ever-accelerating news cycle moves them on to the next tragedy or spectacle.

A tragedy does not mean the conversation stops, it shouldn't ever, but what tragedy can offer us is an opportunity for personal reflection on our deeply held social values and a broader understanding of positions on all sides of any debate. Respectful discourse ought to be the hallmark of modern-era thinking but global armies of opposing ideologues in their intellectual narcissism have subverted truth in favour of self-righteousness. Ideals have become more important than ideas, it's time to flip that back.

Additional edits by Nicholas Tsergas

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Fort McMurray Wildfire (May 2016)