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.