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Think Twice Before Commenting on this Blog

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There are two kinds of people who will read this column: The first will read it and move on, the second will read it and then comment on it. I'd like to address the latter group directly.

There are a number of you who insult and sideswipe, all the while hiding behind less-clever-than-you-think pseudonyms. And for what? To prove your intellectual superiority? I've got news for you: You're not impressing anyone outside your little circle of cranks -- which, by the way, does not include the vast majority of normal human beings.

It's not as though you've stumbled upon some original protest concept in your unrelenting naggery -- you're nothing more than the modern incarnation of the cantankerous letter writer. In the olden days, people also used to write crazy treatises on why writer X was boring, idiotic, uninformed and a government pawn of a writer to letters' editors at newspapers and magazines. You want to know where those bits of crazy-man commentary went? Straight into the garbage can, or if they were "really good," pinned to the newsroom bulletin board, so everyone could have a laugh.

What and who am I talking about? Let's take a look at some sample comments that came in response to my column last week about the CBC, paying particular attention to the various genres of idiot commentary: (all comments are sic'd ... obviously)

1. The intelligent comment bookmarked by gratuitous insult, courtesy of Peter Keleghan: "The CBC public financing is almost the lowest in the world, and has now got lower. Canadian television has produced as much or perhaps even more critical and financially viable hits than almost any country when you consider per capita investment and our industry size. Without his proper research on our industry I suggest the Canadian content we really don't need is Yoni Goldstein."

2. The non-sequitur comment, courtesy of "heywriterboy": "'Canadian' HuffPo, time to stop your revisionist B.S. You could, and should, DREAM of pageviews that approach the audience of homegrown tv. Goldstein reveals nothing other than bitterness, and joins a fine tradition of Canadian "hating" that has attempted to fling calumnies at those who make music, literature, or ar--a cultural attitude best glimpsed in the rearview mirror."

3. The crazy conspiracy theory comment, courtesy of "pinkibus": "The real crime of the CBC is telling the truth which is something Harperites won't tolerate and bring informative programming to the public."

4. The gratuitous insult, sans intelligent commentary comment, courtesy of Kristopher Leang: "yoni. writing poorly written stupid articles as usual. how did he even get a job?"

Impressive stuff.

But here's the thing: perversely, you commenters are the new power brokers in journalism -- your comments equal page views and Facebook shares and retweets, which equal an expanded audience. And in the online age, this matters more than the quality of the writing itself. Writers need you, and as the print industry continues to bleed, we're going to need you more and more.

At this point, a clarification is in order: I am not speaking here about the many intelligent commenters who offer valid counterpoints and contribute pertinent information or anecdotes to conversations begun by writers. No argument is bulletproof, and writers don't mind dissension -- indeed, many relish it.

Moreover, writers often leave out bits of information, either because there's no space or because they didn't think of it. The discerning commenter elevates the writer in a way that a print letter writer never could, by extending and expanding the conversation. Please, smart commenters, keep commenting.

Regretfully, most of the time commenters of this species are overpowered in sheer volume by their more crabby cousins, the Internet's aptly named trolls. It's an appropriate monicker: trolls are ugly and cartoonish, and nobody takes them seriously.

The postmodern philosopher Roland Barthes famously predicted the death of the author and the empowerment of the reader, but I don't think even he would have envisioned it happening quite like this. His theory relied, at least in theory, on smart, informed readers -- power would sway from one informed but small group to a larger, but just as informed, one. This is not what has happened in online comment forums.

Quite the opposite, in fact. The dominion has been co-opted by an army of bleating sociopaths just waiting at their laptops for the next thing that will piss them off to pop up onscreen. There is no nuance and certainly no attempt to engage. Oftentimes, there doesn't even seem to be an attempt to offer a coherent argument.

You know the old saying, "if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all"? That's not what I am proposing. Feel free, commenters, to be mean and vindictive -- what's important is that you be smart (proper prose wouldn't hurt, either).

The internet is a boon for writers and readers equally -- there is more to read than ever before and more places to write, too. Commenters are the life-blood of the endeavour, the reason this whole thing works so well. Think about how much better it could be if you started acting as important as you actually are.