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.
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: http://bit.ly/1mQJn9U)
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 firstname.lastname@example.org — Twitter: @Wangersky.