A Comment on Comments

22 Sep

(Photo by Rick Hanz)

Last week, the Globe and Mail’s online business section published an article I wrote (an assigned article, I might add) that looked at why women in the business world tend to be more cautious in applying for promotions. It is a complex issue and took a lot of work, not all of which would, of course, fit into the customary assigned length of 900 words.

The article garnered 48 comments, and perhaps only one or two of their writers seemed to have actually read the article — I’m not kidding — much less understood it.  (Many thought it was a poll and were disgruntled at the lack of choice!)

Most of the comments, however, were downright misogynist and pretty nasty. “I’m sick of hearing that “more needs to be done for women,”” wrote Cut the Crap, while another commenter suggested that, “Most women are not as capable. Hence, their smaller numbers. It’s not rocket science. Or maybe it is, which is why women don’t understand.” A third said, “I try to hire nothing but women, 25% less pay and approx 30% more work out put! Arrogate gain of 55% over the average male. Capitalism 101, love it!”

(Not sure what his line of business is but knowing how to spell doesn’t seem to form any part of it.)

While the comments section is prefaced with a reminder that “Personal attacks, offensive language and unsubstantiated allegations are not allowed,” who is going to pay attention if they can make, and get away with, the kinds of comments like those sampled?

What’s more, apparently stupid comments that don’t follow the rules are left alone, because it looks as if the article’s premise was a well-chosen one that excited lots of “reader feedback.”

I have to say they made me yearn for the days when a journalist simply wrote an article, it was printed, and that was that — unless someone felt irked or appreciative enough — to sit down and write a letter to the editor, put it in an envelope, put a stamp on the envelope and mail it.

The experience only served to augment the feeling I often have that it makes little sense, really, when you think about it, for a writer to do research, marshal either facts or interviewees’ opinions and views into readable form — and then have anonymous people say what they think about your work. An opinion piece is one thing but a straightforward article?  Why should that turn into a kind of strange chat room exchange of ranting about something that has nothing to do with the information it contains? As if the research a journalist has carried out is nothing more than just one other view, no more or less valid that those of the reader, and that everything is relative.

Are the comments sections really more democratic? People used to say of the free press that the press is only free for the corporations that own it. Nowadays with the millions of blogs and self-published work out there in cyberspace, that is increasingly no longer the case.

So, I can’t help but ask myself, just what is the point?

Then I read a blog post by a doctor friend of mine who often works in Haiti, talking about the country’s National Palace, crumpled into what looked like a pile of broken meringue and now being carted away by Sean Penn’s JP/HRO organization.

My friend felt that this was good riddance, that the palace had long been little more than a den of corruption and represented “Haitian politics, ruthless dictators, and failed presidents.” Money for a new palace, he suggested, would be better spent on the people, ensuring them at least a modicum of decent, free medical care.

But then someone commented on this, in terms both genuine and politely critical. Whatever the actions of the people who had lived there and run his nation, he said, the palace had been a source of pride for its beautiful contours, and a symbol of culture in a place where people often have little access to either. And he referred to the World trade Centre destroyed on September 11th: had it not been an important psychological decision to rebuild?

My friend acknowledged this point of view but still felt that saving the lives of the sick and injured was equally if not more salient. And a final comment in turn acknowledged the blogger’s viewpoint and his work in volunteering his medical knowledge to help the poor.

A civilized and heartening exchange between two people who respect each others’ opinions. Both of their viewpoints might be seen as valid and merit an open discussion, rather than vociferous attempts to see who is the bigger blowhard.

If only more readers who felt the urge to publish their thoughts were half as thoughtful — and sane.

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