This post originally appeared in byoolin's trebuchet, another blog in which I write, in January 2010.
Adapted from a letter I sent to the editor of The Globe And Mail earlier this week.
It's time for news organizations' websites to discontinue the practice of offering their readers the opportunity to comment on the stories they publish.
Billed as a way for a site's readers to share their thoughts, in reality the commenters rarely contribute anything thoughtful or worthwhile. Rather, the comments are frequently puerile, juvenile, inane and banal, and all too often they are simply hateful, vulgar, and offensive. Today's exemplar: theglobeandmail.com, the website of The Globe And Mail newspaper, "a blue-chip brand whose credibility is unchallenged... [and] universally recognized as Canada's newspaper of record."
Last Tuesday in Ottawa, a police constable named Eric Czapnik was stabbed to death as he did paperwork in his cruiser. A few hours later, a Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer on leave because of mental health issues was charged with his homicide. The comments section of the Globe And Mail's story provided a disturbing insight into how the feature has devolved. By 10pm that night, 28 of the 218 comments posted were deleted by The Globe's editors for content "not consistent with [The Globe's] guidelines." Many of those that remained were little more than malice-filled expressions of the commenters' personal biases.
Two commenters agree - before an arrest is announced - that the suspect "was either on probation, parole, or bail... AND he was unemployed and contributing nothing to society." Another speculates later that the suspect "wanted to die 'death by cop' style" but "didn't have guts" to kill himself. Yet another seems to imply that Const. Czapnik's murder and the death of Robert Dziekanski in 2007 is part of some kind of RCMP-organized attack on Poles; that writer might be on the same page as the one who believes that RCMP officers have "been given a blank cheque to cover up all their past murders." And there's no shortage of commenters calling one another "idiot" or "mental midget."
This sort of thing isn't isolated. Pick an online story at random and you're almost guaranteed to find something: airport delays? Let's call Muslims terrorists. Fired at age 42 for being too old? Let's make a crack about global warming. Unemployed at 59? Let's mock you because you were in a union. Gym memberships? "This is the most insipid drivel I have ever had the misfortune to read."
The Globe And Mail invites its readers to "Join The Discussion," but these people are uninterested in discussing anything. They just want another forum for their bilious, vitriolic, racist hatemongering. And websites like The Globe And Mail seem to be happy to give them one.