“The only winning move is not to play.”

[I’m guessing you’ve already seen WarGames–the 1983 film with Matthew Broderick and a computer called Joshua. If you haven’t, this post will spoil the ending for you. If you don’t want that, you shouldn’t read this. Sorry.]

In an ideal world, this post wouldn’t be necessary. But hey, this is reality, so let’s get to it.

So there’s a battle going on in the comment sections of nearly every web site that has a comment section.

It’s a battle between three armies:

  1. Regular Commenters
  2. Social Justice Warriors
  3. Trolls

It can be difficult to tell them apart, at times, and there is often overflow from one army to another. Regular Commenters might actually be Social Justice Warriors; they just don’t realise it until something triggers them. You could read a post and assume it’s a troll, when in reality it’s a Social Justice Warrior with stronger-than-expected levels of aggression. (We’re going to ignore the unmentioned fourth category, the genuinely naive commenters. Genuinely naive people can often be reasoned with, be taught, and actually, it’s quite rewarding when you can have a positive impact on them.)

I’m going to assume that you’re category one. (If I’m wrong in my assumptions, you’re probably not going to enjoy the rest of this post. Just saying.)

You don’t have an agenda behind your comment, when you leave it. You just want to have a healthy debate about an article/video. But then you leave your innocent little comment, and a someone from category two or three replies to it with either aggressive vitriol or provocation, and you find yourself–normally a considerate, rational human being–overflowing with rage.

Some people thrive on conflict. They want to argue. They have their (possibly unpopular) opinion, and damn it, you’re going to read about it. You can’t stop them from putting their opinions online, whether on their own Tumblrs or blogs or whatevers, or in comment sections of any and every article they can find. You don’t have to follow them online, but you do have to read their comments, if they’re on an article you’re interested in reading.

And there’s nothing you can do about it.

“The only winning move is not to play.”

At the end of WarGames, Broderick’s character–along with the guy who designed the computer’s AI–tries to stop Joshua from launching nuclear missiles (he thinks it’s a retaliation, there’s a whole story behind it, don’t worry about that now). Through a game of noughts & crosses (or tic-tac-toe), Joshua learns about an un-winnable game (and “Mutually Assured Destruction”), and relinquishes control of the missiles.

[after playing out all possible outcomes for Global Thermonuclear War]
Joshua: Greetings, Professor Falken.
Stephen Falken: Hello, Joshua.
Joshua: A strange game. The only winning move is not to play. How about a nice game of chess?

I realise that comparing online commenting to nuclear war is probably a bit of a stretch, but the lesson is the same.

Difference between WarGames’ lesson and the lesson here is, the game is winnable, but it’s never won by you.

XKCD: Duty CallsYou try to convince a Social Justice Warrior that their opinion is wrong/flawed. They will ignore you.You get frustrated/angry. You lose.

You reply to someone, arguing your case. They (and anyone else who latches onto the fact that you’re affected by the things that are being said) either laugh at you or ignore you. You get frustrated/angry. You lose.

You call a troll out on being a troll. They ask you if you’re mad (bro). You get frustrated/angry. You lose.

Someone jumps to your defense. Whoever’s attention was on you is now on both of you (and they probably bring some anonymous friends to the party). Now there’s two of you entangled in the web. You both lose.

The only way you can win an argument online is not to get involved in one.

And the best way not to get involved in an argument? Don’t be aware of it.

So I was driving to work this morning, when it hit me: someone should really build a browser extension that stops a site visitor from viewing any comment sections.

Of course, within around thirty seconds of Googling, I’d already trialed 3 different extensions that did that very thing.

Late to the party, as usual.

The Software

The extension I settled on is a neat little thing called, quite aptly, “Shut Up“.

I haven’t tested it thoroughly yet, but so far I can confirm the following:

  1. It works with BBC News.
  2. It works with the Daily Mail.
  3. It works with YouTube(!)
  4. It works with any site that has a Disqus installation.
  5. It works with some (not all) site-embedded Facebook comments, but it doesn’t work with comments on Facebook’s own site.
  6. It also works with Reddit, which is a site based entirely on comments, so that’s kind of counter-intuitive…but anyway.

If you want to read comments on a particular site, you can click the icon in the browser, and all the comments come flooding back.

You also have the option (the only option) for the extension to remember which sites you’ve allowed comments on.

first!
Shut Up’s Option (Singular)

“Shut Up” is a browser extension available for Chrome, Firefox (using the “Stylish” plugin), and Safari, and can be added manually added to any browser.

Details and download links for the extensions and files can be found here.

The extension isn’t without flaws, and it doesn’t catch 100% of comment areas on web sites. If you want to take it a step further, you can add the Stylebot extension and add extra CSS to hide more comment areas as you find them.

The Conclusion

“Shut Up” obviously doesn’t stop people from posting hurtful, sexist, racist, or just generally hate-filled comments on web sites that haven’t deleted their comment sections entirely.

What it does is stop you–the visitor–from ever seeing those comments, so you can’t be affected by them.

Yes, it means the trolls are winning, for now, but bear with me here.

They can say whatever they want on any platform that allows them access, but you don’t have to inadvertently read their comments. You don’t see the comments, therefore you’re not automatically annoyed by them.

If everyone took this route, all the decent human beings will eventually be ignoring comment systems entirely and interacting on a more personal level, meanwhile the trolls will be left to argue with themselves.

Bonus

Here’s Fingathing’s Criminal Robots (great song; great band), which contains audio clips from WarGames. Please to enjoy.