Is the GOP Becoming a Dysfunctional Chatroom?
In economics, Gresham’s law on currency markets holds that “bad money drives out good.” That same principle also applies to the comment sections on online sites.
In comments sections—including such mega-versions like Twitter—the nastiest commenters post more, and more obnoxiously, than the decent ones until, eventually, the decent folk just decide not to hang out anymore. The only remedy for this is comment moderation, where grown-ups in charge try to thwart the trolls lest they lose their more valuable customers.
In Tim Miller’s book, Why We Did It, the former Republican operative has a chapter titled “Centering the Comments Section.” In it, he explains how as the communications director of Jeb Bush’s 2016 presidential campaign, he courted Breitbart News, then run by self-described “Leninist” Steve Bannon. The courtship didn’t work out. But Miller describes how Bannon and other right-wing outlets embraced a strategy of pandering to the comment section warriors to boost traffic and “engagement.”
“It was the commenters,” Miller writes, “the hobbits who had taken charge. And they were the ones dragging us along, no matter how we assured ourselves that we were in control.” And they dragged the right into Trump’s arms.