Whenever I glance at the comments section of The Journal, it feels like I am engaging in some sort of self-harm.
At times, it feels as though you are peering in through the windows of a secret club house for cynical moany-holes. That little voice in the back of your head is telling you to turn around and walk away, but you can’t help but stare on in amazement as this group of nutcases sit around in a circle and yell utter shite at each other for 12 hours straight.
Who are these people? Where did they come from? And how do they manage to complain for hours and hours without feeling emotionally drained?
It’s as if every Joe Duffy listener in the country treats the comment section of TheJournal.ie like it is their own personal blog. An article about kittens being rescued from a fire will somehow attract comments about how the government is a shower of bastards. Long-winded tirades about the homelessness crisis will appear out of absolutely nowhere. And to top it off, you get those weird ultra right-wing pro-life whackos that seem to love Trump and hate the EU.
It is amazing and depressing all at the same time.
A great example would be the Abortion Referendum.
In the run up to the Abortion Referendum in 2018, TheJournal.ie became a war zone. An army of pro-life accounts descended upon the comment section, decrying what they saw as an attempt to legalise the murder of millions of innocent babies.
It felt strange. However, I put it down to the fact that it was a controversial issue. “People are pretty divided on this”, I thought to myself. “It’s to be expected, I suppose.”
Then, the actual results came and it became clear that the YES side had secured a landslide victory. It was when I saw that Ireland had voted 66.40% in favour of legalising abortion that I became suspicious of the pro-life force that had previously swamped the comments section of The Journal.
I took a look at some of the accounts and saw that a lot of them led back to disabled Twitter and Facebook accounts. Some of the profiles that did exist were completely bare and devoid of any content. No friends, no likes, no interactions with their profile pictures. No followed pages. Nothing.
So who were these people? And how did this force of vehemently pro-life posters manage to gather such a presence on The Journal when 2/3rds of the country were voting YES?
I don’t know. But what I do know is that the comments section of The Journal is like the Wild West of online discussion in Ireland. If somebody or something wants to try and influence public opinion in Ireland, using The Journal as a platform would be a piece of cake.
And I say that as a web developer who understands the technology behind comments and online voting mechanisms.