Monday, March 02, 2009

Online comments harmful to discourse

Re:Online comments lose civility, Feb. 28

I appreciated this article. Online comments at the Star, as at other Canadian newspapers, are characterized by vulgarity, violence, ignorance and all manner of vested interest, all sustained and encouraged by anonymity.

Unlike journalists who must vet their sources, adhere to professional standards of objectivity and actually sign their work, online posters are free to write whatever inflammatory garbage they wish. Moderation of online posts – which must be psychically gruelling, Sisyphean work – only mitigates these problems, which are inherent in the medium.

The most serious problem is that online comments are not actually representative of the popular mindset – they only look that way. In practice they lend themselves to flooding by small groups or even individuals who can log on under multiple identities and in an afternoon render a site unreadable. It has been depressing to see vehicles of serious journalism hijacked in this way by campus conservatives, big oil, western separatists, pro-lifers and the like.

Online commentary is everywhere on the net; real journalism is a shrinking quality. A historian once observed that the function of the media is to lower the level of political discourse. I would add that the function of online commentary is to destroy its very possibility.

Ryan Whyte, Toronto

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