Hump Day: Media should ban anonymous comments on their websites

Hump Day 2 cropped

(Editor’s note: This is a slightly edited version of what appeared in the newspaper, so I’ve removed reference to the newspaper in this post since it’s not exactly how it was published.)

I heard a great saying recently which I’ve found myself repeating over and over: ‘Not my circus. Not my monkeys.’ Whenever I get the urge to ride in on my trusty white steed and get involved in an argument (usually online) which I find to be unfair to someone, I usually regret it. No; correction. I always regret it. Always.

Through the years, I’ve had to learn to mind my own business. Unless the so-called victim is in a position of weakness (physically or mentally), they can usually take care of themselves. They don’t need me showing up like some blowhard willing to take over the battle for them. I hate it when people do that to me because they usually make things 10 times worse. After being reminded a number of times over the years, I’ve come to realize that most people don’t need me meddling. I usually make things 10 times worse, too. Actually, being the perfectionist that I am, I usually make them 20 times worse.

Online battles are the worst because of the frequent anonymity of those taking part. I’ve been sorely tempted a number of times to start acting like a meddlesome old aunt in a soap opera in trying to defend people, protect them or help them win an argument. Over the years, I’ve sometimes given in to temptation and butted in, but it has always been to my profound and astronomical regret.

What usually happens is that this meddlesome old aunt here gets yelled at and thrown in a nursing home called Shady Acres Home for the Incurably Nosey and Frequently Confused. We pretty much just spend our days with our hands tied down to the arms of our rocking chairs so that we’re not tempted to go online, and with extra-sticky duct tape over our mouths so that we’re not even able to talk.

People can get into heated debates anywhere, but online battles tend to be the most volatile. Websites which still allow anonymous comments are sad places, indeed. If a news story is about a tragedy, someone is bound to chime in that the victims deserved it. If someone young dies in an accident, someone is bound to comment that they were probably drunk and should have known better.

trollAnd God help any good news from government. I swear that the government (of any political stripe) could announce the happiest news on the planet – people could be cheering in the streets, editorials could be universally positive, Jesus himself could high-five every politician on shore after a leisurely stroll on the water – yet some anonymous twit will rain on everyone’s parade and criticize, insult, attack and demean. I’ve kind of grown immune to it, but it still gets to me sometimes.

Earlier this week, an agreement was reached between a local municipality and a citizen to remove a roundabout at an intersection due to a human rights complaint. The individual, who is visually impaired, stated that she found it difficult to cross the intersection because the way it was designed meant that she could not determine from which direction traffic was coming. Fair enough. I’m certain there was no malice on the part of the municipality or those who designed the intersection. They simply wanted to alter traffic flow for a number of legitimate reasons, probably to slow down traffic in a busy area of town.

I should not be surprised anymore, but online discussion among the anonymous twits swiftly went anti-government, anti-French, anti-this and anti-that. Some wondered whether the majority should have to pander to one person. Compassion and understanding are certainly not alive and well in online comments sections.

Are we that pathetic as a society that a visually impaired person who wins a human rights complaint is attacked for their disability and for the language they speak? Municipalities can’t just alter infrastructure on the whim of one person unless there’s very good reason. In this case, it was determined that the reason was indeed very good. Live and learn. Move on. It won’t be the first time and it certainly won’t be the last time.

‍Trolls can be the stereotypical knuckle-dragging Neanderthals who live in their parents’ basement and wear sweatpants all day, or they can look like harmless average Joe Blows just going about their daily business. That’s the scary part.

Either way, we must declare war on ‍trolls. The grasslands on which they feed – the comments sections of media websites which still allow anonymity – must be torched. Media that change or completely close their anonymous online comments sections will have my eternal admiration. It’s an idea whose time has come.

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