Thursday, March 07, 2019

my problem with Gab's Dissenter app

The new Dissenter app for users is supposed to allow Gabbers to leave comments on just about any webpage: if the page has a URL (and all pages do), then you can comment on it. The raison d'être for Dissenter is that it's a response to a massive campaign of de-platforming people, especially those on the right, who want to leave comments that rebut various points made by leftists in their little comment-thread bubbles. What normally happens is that lefties gather in these comment threads, say their leftie things, then freak out when a rightie appears with either an inarticulate dissent or an actual, logical, point-by-point argument. The rightie gets accused of purveying "hate speech," gets banned or otherwise purged from the comment thread, and the lefties then go back to cooing and purring contentedly, blissfully self-isolated from any actual exchange of ideas.

The problem is this: Gab's Dissenter app might allow Gabbers to comment on sites where they've been banned (as well as on sites that have no comments features), but the people—non-Gabbers—who visit those sites have no clue that Gabbers are commenting. This is itself a rightie version of a comment bubble, in my opinion, and there's no actual engagement happening, unless I've completely misunderstood how Dissenter works.

Case in point: I've already used Dissenter to leave several comments on my buddy Mike's blog, Naked Villainy.* Has Mike even noticed this? He's actually a Gabber (the one who got me on Gab via invitation, truth be told), so in theory, he can see my comments if he chooses to look for them (and also assuming he's installed Dissenter). But thus far—nada. No reaction. I don't think he's actually seen anything I've written.

And, really, why would he be bothered to look? It's understandable that he isn't. Dissenter is essentially its own separate universe: it can't force its way onto a website to make itself visible. Instead, what Dissenter does is allow my comments to exist in a separate web space that is associated with the URL to which I'm appending my comment. The people managing the website I'm targeting have no idea I'm there. I'm a ghost, a being from a parallel universe who has no influence at all on the goings-on of a given website.

So what's the point of "Dissenting" if Dissenter doesn't allow for actual engagement?

I think the point is that, for websites that are sure to attract a large leftie community of commenters, Dissenter can create a parallel community of differently minded people, and if there's any overlap between the two groups (e.g., if a leftie also somehow happens to be a Gabber, and also somehow happens to be interested in rightie opinions, however unlikely that confluence of factors might be), engagement happens that way.

Am I missing something, or have I interpreted all this rightly?

Here's how Wikipedia describes Dissenter:

Users with registered Gab accounts may submit content to Dissenter in the form of a URL to a page on which they want to comment. This creates a discussion page where users can post a comment (or "Dissent"), and the comments can be up- or down-voted by other users of the site. By using the Dissenter browser extension, users may read and post comments in an overlay while viewing page content. The Dissenter website also features a news ticker on which users can follow current events.

Expressions like "This creates a discussion page" and "an overlay" aren't reassuring: they seem to indicate that the "Dissents" exist in a parallel universe and aren't visible to regular visitors of the targeted site. So my buddy Mike has no idea that I've been posting comments to his recent blog entries because Dissenter doesn't flag him to alert him that there's activity associated with Naked Villainy. So I question the utility of Dissenter.

Maybe the service should be called The Venter since all Dissenter seems to do is allow an impotent parallel community to vent its spleen, but without letting its hoped-for interlocutors know that any noise is being made. This all seems utterly useless.

*It's a bit rankling, but the reason I chose Mike's blog was that I've been unable to leave comments there for years. I suspect poor web design (which is also why I can't put Naked Villainy on my RSS feed), and/or it could be that the blog's coding is derived from a WordPress or TypePad template, which would explain much: I've had a devil of a time leaving comments on many WordPress- and TypePad-based blogs, which tend to swallow my comments up and either trash them (which means they're salvageable) or disintegrate them entirely (which is how things seem to be going at John Pepple's TypePad blog, I Want a New Left, where I tried leaving a long comment last year, only for Dr. Pepple to tell me he didn't see it in any of his trash or spam folders).

I've brought the no-commenting issue up with Mike before, but it hasn't led to any concrete results, so using Dissenter was an act of desperation on my part. And of course... Dissenter doesn't make my existence known to Mike, so here we are.


John Mac said...

Interesting. But as you say, since Dissenter is easily ignored or innocently overlooked it doesn't seem to have much value to facilitate discussion with those who choose willful ignorance over an actual exchange of ideas.

Honestly, I've given up on trying to open closed minds. Nearly all my liberal friends blocked me on Facebook for the crime of arguing an opposing viewpoint. Now I don't even bother.

LordTriax said...

I do see your point, I had the same thoughts myself about it being something of an echo-chamber... but what else can we do?

The left are generally just not receptive to rational debate - they invariably throw a hissy fit, and then label everyone as nazis, it’s just insane... at least this gives us a voice - it’s reasurring to know that we conservatives are not alone.

Maybe one day, the left will grow up and enter the debate... maybe the left will engage with the Dissenter app. Maybe new outlets will re-enable comments. Maybe hell will freeze over... who knows? But until then, this is the best we can do.

Kevin Kim said...


Yes, and my sympathies. It does feel hopeless.


Thanks for the comment. I skimmed a couple random news articles today and saw, via Dissenter, that they had already received Gabber comments. So I guess there's some utility to the app, even if it's not really promoting an across-the-aisle exchange of ideas.

Saw the same for Rotten Tomatoes—the "Captain Marvel" page, which no longer allows fans to click the "want to see" button. The Gabber reactions on that page are hilarious.

Pascalean said...

I listened to the Sam Harris interview with Jack Dorsey (I think they mentioned the same issue on the Rogan podcast) in which he described the situation in the 2016 election campaign.

Their data showed that left wing or 'liberal' accounts only followed other like minded accounts, whereas right wing accounts tended to follow a broad range of people from all areas of the so called political spectrum.

Kevin Kim said...

Thanks, Pascalean.

Another thing I've noticed is that this very post is actually getting Dissenter comments. There are three as of this writing. I wonder why the commenters don't simply comment directly on the blog. It's not as if I'll ban them... unless they decide to be assholes (see my comments policy). So far, no assholery.

Too bad Dissenter doesn't have a feature that would allow me to see which of my blog posts are receiving Dissenter comments.