Back in the days (2009-2013) when Prairie Dog’s editorial staff (me) and core freelancers (including Beatty, Dechene, and LaRose for a long time there) had endless energy for a volunteer blog with three-plus posts a day, we used to talk a lot about reader comments. Yes, Prairie Dog comment threads sometimes choked-up with snark, condescension and trolling*, but they also showcased the intelligence, insight and public engagement of many Prairie Dog readers.
Somehow our comments sections avoided the worst Internet pitfalls: rampant racism, sexism, homophobia and gargantuan idiocy (see: CBC comment threads). Kudos to PD readers for that.
Even though our blog is relatively quiet these days (regular readers will have noticed it’s not even on the home page now), we still think about it, and about blogs in general, and comments.
Which is why I found this post on The Stranger’s website interesting:
Which is to say that the culture of unrestrained bigotry, hate speech, harassment, and sub-mental diarrhea graffiti that has characterized comment threads since the day they were born has succeeded in eating itself. Trolls have driven humans away, and more and more publishers are beginning to side with the writers whose work is routinely defamed and diminished by a tiny fraction of the people who read it […] I know not everyone agrees about comment threads. The Stranger made comments optional to writers last year. News folks rely on them for tips, and Dan Savage is a huge proponent of them as well. For my part, I think they are a bad idea and a worse precedent[.]
Over the years The Stranger has been a major inspiration for Prairie Dog’s editorial approach**. So when The Stranger, an unbending, long-time champion of anything-goes comment sections, makes their inclusion optional for its writers, it’s a big deal.
My professional interest aside, Sean Nelson’s post is an interesting read for anybody interested in comment culture, and how trolls ruined the Internet.
I’m all for criticism and discourse, but it’s nice to see reporters and columnists push back against the excessive ignorance, disrespect, hostility and armchair amateurism they sometimes face just for doing their jobs.
Power to ’em.
*Prairie Dog has certainly never published any blog posts containing snark or condescension, and no one who writes for this paper or its blog would EVER troll readers. Ahem.
**Other major influences: Now magazine, CBC’s The Current, plus The Guardian, The Onion, The Believer and the beloved Jon Stewart/Stephen Colbert/John Oliver chimera.