By Jason Menard
It’s too bad that so many people use the term free speech when it’s clear that they have absolutely no understanding that it isn’t, in fact, free — it’s paid for through responsibility.
Not to vilify the Internet, but the anonymity it provides gives people a sense of invincibility — emboldening them to say things they would never, ever say in public, with their faces and names attached to their commentary.
Instead, from behind the safety provided by masks like e-mail addresses and aliases, they have no problem spewing forth whatever venom comes to mind. And perhaps it’s time for a greater day of reckoning. Just as bloggers should be beholden to the basic principles of responsible journalism (rule #1 — don’t libel people), so too should those who leave comments be held accountable for their words.
Unfortunately, it appears that some of these ‘commenters’ don’t have the intelligence required to form a coherent thought, much less present a thoughtful and respectful argument.
I was sickened by comments left in a recent London Free Press on-line article about a white supremacist running for the mayor of London. Things only got worse when a person of Muslim faith entered the fray — then it was a free for all. Things that would merit you a punch in the face in public are shouted from the safety of these virtual rooftops. Here’s the article. Feel free to look in the comments, if you dare.
Fortunately, there was a voice of reason. One woman, a self-identified convert to Islam, said the most sensible thing of all — essentially that regardless of race, religion, sex, that there are good and bad in all demographics. It’s unfair to tar and feather every one of a certain group because of a few fringe lunatics.
It’s truly scary that there are that many morons out there — on all sides. But as we’ve seen over and over, the squeaky wheel does get the grease. What I want to believe is that what you hear are the fringe elements. Rare are the posts from the silent majority of sensible, open-minded people. And those that do make a foray into the world of commentary end up getting shouted down.
On a personal level, I almost forgot what dealing with comments was like until I relaunched this site. Generally, I’m open to posting everything — after all, you have to take the good with bad. And in the past, I used to enjoy posting the inane ramblings of those who unknowingly self-incriminate through their stupidity. I’m beyond that now.
I’ve already had to reject one comment simply because I’m no longer interested in holding up morons for mockery. The argument was puerile, contained insinuated name-calling, and was rife with flawed rationale. Worst of all, the comment just showed that the reader completely and utterly missed the point of the post. If you agree with me, fine. But don’t argue a false point derived from your illiteracy.
In the end, I’m of two minds with public comments. I do believe that I’d rather have the nutbars like those in the white supremacy debate out themselves so I can see where they are. But on the flip side, I don’t see where it’s a right etched in stone that newspapers, columnists, and bloggers have to publish each and every piece of inane drivel that comes through the servers.
If I lose a few readers because I refuse to engage in WWE/Jerry-Springer-Show-esque commentary and flame wars, then so be it. It’s their loss — not mine. Each and every person that I know who works for a newspaper, posts a blog, and writes in any way does so with the utmost respect of their readership in mind. We feel we have something to say — and the responsible ones back it up with fact, not bluster.
You may not always agree with what I have to say. You may think I’m wrong — and that’s great. Open, honest, and respectful debate is what we should strive for so that we can all learn from each other.
These bottom-feeding, educated-with-an-inner-tube-and-a-banana commenters know their arguments don’t hold water. That’s why they use insults, shouting, and bravado in the hope that bombast will drown out common sense, intelligence, and well-thought-out commentary.
You can call me a moron. That’s fine. Any 12-year-old can do that. But if you want the privilege of having your comment posted for all to see (and it is a privilege, not a right as these people so richly believe), then comport yourself with class, be respectful of other readers, and — most importantly — explain why I’m a moron with a clearly defined, supported-by-fact argument.
Newspapers, columnists, bloggers all need to hold themselves up to a higher standard. The Internet’s a big place — if racists and morons want to post their inane ramblings, they can carve out their own piece of the Internet.
This isn’t about censorship. This is about respect. We can all agree to disagree without resorting to grade-school tactics.
In this case, it’s safe to say that class is dismissed.