The In­ter­net, com­ments and me

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - OPINION - Rus­sell Wanger­sky Rus­sell Wanger­sky is TC Me­dia’s At­lantic re­gional colum­nist. You can reach him at rus­sell.wanger­sky@tc.tc — Twit­ter: @Wanger­sky.

“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.”

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 sim­ply 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.

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