}

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Canadian common sense

Scott Brison, a Nova Scotia MP, sent his constituents a holiday card with a family photo on the cover, as many MPs—and many politicians in Western countries—do. However, Brison is gay and the photo was of him, his husband and their dog. You can imagine how incensed the perpetually outraged brigade became.

The situation became so bad that the Globe and Mail had to shut down its comments section for their article, saying:

“Editor's Note: Comments have been closed due to an overwhelming number of hateful and homophobic remarks. We appreciate that readers want to discuss this issue, but we can't allow our site to become a platform for intolerance.”

Over the years I’ve seen the comments sections of newspapers in the US—and throughout the English-speaking world, including, sadly, here in New Zealand—become “a platform for intolerance” when the perpetually outraged brigade hijacks them. Whether they’re attacking GLBT people, people of other races/cultures or just anyone even slightly left of centre, their need to attack is seemingly never satisfied.

While I’ve seen attacking comments frequently, especially against GLBT people, I’ve seldom seen a newspaper do anything about it. Sometimes they disable their comments without explanation. I certainly can’t recall ever seeing a newspaper take the sensible, positive approach that the Globe and Mail did, and I’ve definitely never seen a paper take such a strong stand against homophobia and anti-gay hatred.

Some may decry cutting off all debate and discussion because of the hatred spewed by some commenters, but it’s a clear and easy solution. Other papers take a different approach: Moderation of comments and removal of offensive ones. However, that requires that someone make a judgment on what’s permissible. It’s true that most forums—including comments sections—have rules for behaviour for participants, but many folks don’t bother to read them and many in the perpetually outraged brigade deliberately ignore them.

Part of the coarsening of civil discourse can, I believe, be blamed on the unrestricted anonymous vitriol posted on the Internet. If commenting rules—and civility—were strictly enforced, if it was made abundantly clear that coarse, crude and irrational attacks won’t be tolerated, then we may yet be able to restore some civility to discussions of politics and public policy.

What it all boils down to is that people can have strongly differing opinions without being jerks about it.

A tip o’ the chapeau to Slap Upside the Head.

5 comments:

Roger Owen Green said...

Most newspapers online have a policy, though not always published, to rein in that sort of behavior. Still, I think they hate to enforce it because they want to appear to be "fair".

liminalD said...

"Part of the coarsening of civil discourse can, I believe, be blamed on the unrestricted anonymous vitriol posted on the Internet. If commenting rules—and civility—were strictly enforced, if it was made abundantly clear that coarse, crude and irrational attacks won’t be tolerated, then we may yet be able to restore some civility to discussions of politics and public policy.

What it all boils down to is that people can have strongly differing opinions without being jerks about it."

Amen to that. And I'd like to point out that there are those on the Left who do this as well - sometimes to hilarious effect (George Carlin, Coughlin666 etc) - but it's not going to encourage mutual respect, it only alienates those who we most need to hear what we have to say. Granted, some of our opponents will simply refuse to listen, but isn't civility worth it, just in case? Even if only to be the "bigger man" (or woman)?

Arthur (AmeriNZ) said...

Roger: You're absolutely right, but most papers simply post "comments closed" or the equivalent, rather than saying WHY those comments got our of hand, and that;d what makes the Globe & Mail approach unique for me.

As for "fairness", that's a subject in itself!!

liminalD: The left and the right have been, at various times and places, equally guilty of what I'm talking about. But the right has raised it to a high art form.

I completely agree with you that civility is worth it. In fact, there have been plenty of times that I've "pulled my punches" or even censored myself in the hope that a bow to civility might make someone listen just a bit.

But I'm also human, and sometimes I lose my patience, as our cousins on the right also do. I guess you could say, to flame is human, to restrain oneself is divine. Not many of us are divine.

liminalD said...

"... to flame is human, to restrain oneself is divine..."

Ha! Brilliant, I think I'll say that next time someone comes on all hater :)

migratingfishswim said...

What? He's gay? Good Lord, that's awful. I'd much rather he was torturing kittens or Agent-Orange-ing rainforest.