Provoked by this tweet, in which Daily Mail readers downvoted the comment “Say no to racism!” 2114 times (and upvoted it only 271 times), I was sceptical. This has to be a doctored screen-grab, I thought: who would deliberately downvote the uncontroversial idea of saying no to racism?
So I ran my own experiment: I registered a DailyMail.co.uk account as MichaelPTaylor (my real name) and started leaving the most uncontroversial compassionate comments I could think of on various articles. Here is one of the results:
If you’re struggling with the small font: my comment on the forthcoming demolition of the refugee camp in Calais was “This is a tragedy. Whoever is to blame, I wish the UK would do more to help the most vulnerable.” That comment has been downvoted 99 times, and upvoted zero times.
And the first response was from someone calling himself “Brooklyn the waster”, who comments “Michael, i’m guessing you’re overweight and smell badly. Ill put money on it.” That comment has been upvoted 24 times and down voted once.
So far, so disappointing. My charitable response to the initial tweet — I know there is a tendency towards racism in Mail readers. But not an 8:1 oppoisiton to “Say no to racism”. — was looking over-optimistic.
And that’s been the pattern, more or less, with nearly all the comments Iv’e posted, as you can verify at my profile page:
But here is the interesting thing: on the story “Home Office claims Calais ‘child’ migrants have been aged by conflict“, I commented “Isn’t the main thing to help innocent people, regardless of their age?“. That comment has received a hundred times the attention of any of the others, and the great majority — by a ratio of nearly four to one — upvoted it:
Now admittedly, 2817 people feel that helping innocent people is not the main thing — but more than ten thousand people agree that it is.
I really don’t know what to make of this. I would love to think it shows that people are better than we assume they are — that even among the readership of the Daily Mail, for all the hard work it’s done to promote xenophobia and paranoia all these years, most people are decent and compassionate. (And I do like to think the best of people when I can: if Anne Frank could say “In spite of everything, I still believe people are really good at heart”, so can I.)
But that does leave me needing to explain why the responses to my other comments have been so horrible. Also, the comments in response to mine have been almost uniformly hideous. (Follow the links above for examples, if you want them. You won’t enjoy it)
So: why the huge discrepancy in the response to my one popular comment and all my unpopular ones?
Update (the next morning)
Interesting changes overnight. My much-loved comment has accumulated only 32 more likes overnight, but 204 dislikes: more than six times as many!
Does this mean that the more unpleasant Daily Mail readers only come out at night?