John Seven: Civil discourse has withered under cloak of online anonymity


NORTH ADAMS >> Earlier this year, the Jewish online magazine Tablet made a bold move.

Many news sites wring their hands over online comments sections, which can promote actual conversation but all too often end up giving space to insults and attacks, particularly against women and minorities.

Tablet's solution was to charge for commenting — a daily rate of $2, a monthly rate of $18 and an annual rate of $180.

If readers don't want to pay to comment, they can feel free to hurl abuse via Twitter or Facebook, or anyone can email the magazine and hope that it ends up in the weekly letters page. How old fashioned and how civilized.

It would be nice if Tablet could once again open up their comments, but as with so many things, the few ruin everything for the many — and that's partly because the many don't take advantage of an opportunity with as much vigor or frequency as the few anyhow.

I haven't found any reports online pronouncing the move to be a success or a failure, but I noticed this morning it is still in effect, so the magazine must be at peace with its decision currently.

A while ago, I had my comments turned off on the Eagle site. I noticed that anyone who has anything of substance to say — even people who disagree with whatever I put forth in a column — is thoughtful enough to take the time to politely type it out in an email.

The comments section has too often become the hangout of the same group of anonymous trolls with snippy gripes that add nothing to the conversation anymore and only serve to dissuade any sincere person from making a comment.

I still get abusive emails in private from people accusing me of being a special snowflake, but are too cowardly to reveal their real names even in private.

To all the readers who send me emails and say interesting and helpful things, I appreciate those and I do try, though don't always succeed, to answer each one. And I can count on you to provide me with a your real names, at the very least.

Sadly, this has become the state of the country we live in.

A candidate like Donald Trump has brought out into the open the vigor with which some people embrace the kind of discourse that has come to define online comments sections.

If civility ever existed in America — I have some vague memory of it 30 years though I could be misremembering it — it is long gone. I like to think that a silent majority does exist; one that is made up of people who want to speak calmly, even if they disagree, but are drowned out by the cranks.

And on the occasions we say something against them, we are accused of being politically correct, of being special snowflakes.

This misreads us. We're not hurt; we just refuse to function as your platform.

Contact John Seven at Follow him on Twitter @damnjohnseven. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of The Berkshire Eagle.


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