The Internet, comments and me

Russell Wangersky
Send to a friend

Send this article to a friend.

Last February, I wrote a short piece about Internet comments, and about the trials and travails of moderating comments for a newspaper like the St. John’s Telegram.

Russell Wangersky

It wasn’t only about the comments you see, but about all of them, the ones that commenters know will never make it online, but that they appear to love delivering anyway, no matter how sexist, racist, violent and offensive they might be. (You can see the piece, which ran in The Walrus magazine in December, here:

The main offshoot? That, after reading comments for over a decade, I was pretty sure they had soured me. Why write about beautiful things when commenters will simple spit on anything you find wondrous? Why write about important issues when the prevailing view you get back is that everyone — including you — is an idiot?

In other words, why write at all?

It’s an issue with some traction: the Toronto Sun dropped anonymous commenting in the fall, and the Toronto Star followed suit this month. CBC pulled comments on stories about indigenous issues, because they just couldn’t handle the constant racism. I predict that, before too long, remaining media sites with anonymous comments will see that feature wink out as well.

The piece had some personal traction with me, too. For the last few weeks, I’ve been spared the comments pit. Instead of coming into work and handling all of the overnight hate (and the occasional piece of insight), other people at The Telegram have been moderating the kiddie pool. (See? Belittlement is catching. It still adds nothing to the debate.)

So, here we are in a new year, that time when we make resolutions and do our best to keep them.

For years, I’ve been advising people who we write stories about to avoid reading the comments section — that all they’ll learn is that there are people who love nothing better than to hurt others.

Now, I’m going to start taking my own advice.

I write what I write — I’m not sure I can do anything else. If you don’t like it, that’s absolutely fine. If you disagree, please get in touch with me at my email address — it’s on every single column — and make your argument straight to me.

If I just make you irate all the time, do us both a favour — stop reading. Really. You’re only messing with your own blood pressure — and I’ve decided I’m not going to let you mess with mine, at least, not as an anonymous commenter.

Right now, TC Media’s comment system delivers your comments about my work straight to my email. From now on — actually, I’ve been doing it for two weeks — I’m deleting them all unread. Which is a shame, because there have been some that have been extremely intelligent and well thought out, and have changed my views on issues in the past. The only problem is that they have been surrounded by such a huge load of bilious dreck that it’s like panning for gold in a septic tank.

Now, I don’t mean to rob anyone of their fun — for as long as the comments experiment continues, by all means, troll away. I’m sure some will be posted, others rightfully trashed.

I just don’t have to play anymore. And to tell the truth, I feel better already.

Russell Wangersky is TC Media’s Atlantic regional columnist. You can reach him at — Twitter: @Wangersky.

Organizations: The Walrus magazine, Toronto Sun, Toronto Star CBC The Telegram

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

Thanks for voting!

Top of page



Recent comments

  • what's the message here?
    January 07, 2016 - 11:38

    I totally protest not being able to criticize without being criticized for it? I should be allowed to say what I like, but never held accountable for it?

  • frank
    January 04, 2016 - 08:03 are really beating the proverbial dead horse on this issue ---how many media outlets have you `peddled` this story to---get over it.....

  • Frank Holden
    January 03, 2016 - 23:46

    Anonymity only protects the partisans, bullies, slanderers and the plainly stupid. Besides, hiding is lying. Let's require everyone to fully identify, including editorial writers.( I'm the only Frank Holden in the phone book.) Published letters were once anonymous, but no more. It hasn't stopped the partisans/morons, etc in the opeds or the letters but openness is always better. It both levels and raises everyone's responsibility, accountability and ultimately the quality of the consequences.. What's good for everybody is good for everybody, as Yogi would say. The Greatest Premier We Ever Had wasn't accountable and still isn't. for all those lost billions. No accountability, no consequences. The better the glasnost, the better the perestroika will be. We could use all we can get of it here in Noofydom.

  • W
    January 03, 2016 - 17:16

    We are beginning to see a great deal of "thin skin" showing in the mainstream media now that the Liberals are in power. It was OK for many in the media , you and the Toronto Star included, to criticize (sometimes irrationally) the Conservatives in print and on the airwaves but now there seems to be a great reluctance to criticize your "baby" - JT and the Libs. I always believed one of the most important roles of the media was to be non partisan and to criticize the government in power and its policies. Pravda in Russia excluded. Looks like the Liberal media partisan cheerleaders are running scared for surely their Liberal government will make mistakes, fail to fulfill election promises, and commit other unknown follies. Who will criticize the Liberals? Not the Star, not the CBC, not you in the Telegram. Much of the Canadian media has become a disgrace. Where are the Ray Guys when they are needed.

    • roy206
      January 04, 2016 - 08:36

      the solution,.. those who criticize the holy liberals, don't get to print.....there fore the liberals never see the heaped on negative commentary from the staff at the telegram...It's their reason for being for years now.

    • Dolf
      January 04, 2016 - 11:02

      You shot yourself in the foot when you said: "the Liberal government WILL make mistakes". So wait and see what happens.

  • Mike
    January 03, 2016 - 11:36

    I agree. I've been amazed by the negativity and hate-filled comments of some people - even on stories that are nothing but good news. It's mind-boggling that someone can turn a man-saves-puppy story into a rant about politics and pet-are-savages story. What sad lives these people live. I loved your line... "The only problem is that they have been surrounded by such a huge load of bilious dreck that it’s like panning for gold in a septic tank.". Good one!

  • Fred Pike
    January 02, 2016 - 11:16

    Dear Mr.Wangerski:Your column of Dec,2 2016 indicates a certain amount of discouragement with comments to the Telegram of late,so much so that you indicate why write at all.Let me answer sir,if you and the other excellent writers at the Telegram do not do it who will ?TV is not doing any serious stuff and radio appears to go the talk show and entertainment rout.You owe your best to not only this but furure generations.

  • Coin
    January 02, 2016 - 09:25

    In all fairness you and your paper contribute your share of criticisms onto others. Why even have a comments section? And why expose other readers to the rants of others? Mine included. How about giving readers the option of not seeing the comments? Eliminating anonymity is a good idea as long as the editorials are no longer anonymous.

    • Chris
      January 02, 2016 - 13:47

      Well said, Colin. They dished it out against the federal and provincial conservatives. Can't take it themselves. Saw this in real life too--especially among comedians.

  • The Cove Man
    January 02, 2016 - 08:31

    You make a valid point, but also keep in mind that if you are going to allow the comment section, you have to have people who monitor and vet them. Some of us pay for the online telegram and other newspapers so that we can respond to comments made by people who work for the paper. To some they are off the wall comments by the Telegram that need to be challenged. We have some of the small papers around the province, who are biased, and some of the editors are politically connected. The Coaster for example, the Packet, etc; If we are going to have a chance of getting things set straight in these areas, then the ability to respond to the article will mean the difference between the truth and falsely, slanted stories. I too will watch what I say this year and as Russell is doing, but once we cannot have our response printed, which to some is very important, then maybe we to will have to stop reading and of course stop paying. Russell these papers are your papers, but the articles you write about are about us. Keep it one sided and you make all your papers, not just a few of them abusive and one sided.

  • geoffchaulk
    January 02, 2016 - 05:52

    Right on, Russ. But imagine how the trolls must feel; the shame they have of their own real names and what people would think of them if they used their own real names...who would they be then? According to recent research on trolls many will still be the bitter, unhappy and the likely socio-paths they are now...who like to poke at and hurt others and cause chaos in cyber-space. Over now, to you, the poor trolls....

    • geoffcheese
      January 04, 2016 - 09:07

      Please stop bullying them (us?) collectively or we (they) will be influenced to form a union.

  • Ken Collis
    January 02, 2016 - 05:39

    I generally enjoy reading your writing and particularly enjoy reading the comments section. Can you truthfully say you never learned something from online comments? I don't mean stats like 56.25% of NL'ers approve or mostly approve of Muskrat Falls. I've learned the other point of view from an online comment, a pov that I didn't even consider when reading the article. Removing the comments section at this point in time would be like having a radio call in show but you must agree with Paddy. It seems to me that you are just tired of using up time vetting the comments. I prefer berry picking when every berry is ripe too, but that seldom happens. Yet I still go picking berrys and make fine jam from the good ones. Maybe The Telegram should charge a little more for the online version and hire someone to vet the comments for you.