My mama always told me not to read the comments


I learned a long time ago that, to enjoy the benefits of good journalism online, it is best to ignore 90 per cent of the comments posted under a story.

The trouble with that strategy is you have to encounter a great swathe of that 90 per cent in order to get to the 10 per cent who will get you to think, laugh or otherwise improve your reading experience.

Between the story and the worthwhile comments is a prehistoric landscape of bigots, incoherent ranters, axe-grinders with a little too much vinegar in their drinks and childish name-callers.

I was reminded of this when one online commenter saw my picture under the First Person story I did on the food bank and compared me to Forrest Gump.

That was one of the worthwhile posts, by the way. It gave me the best laugh of the day.

And it reminded me that the online comments section is like a box of chocolates. Except nine out of 10 chocolates taste like narrow-minded barf.

I was also reminded of the comment conundrum when two first-term councillors approached me at the start of Tuesday's council meeting to make their feelings known about the comments under our city council stories.

Mary Jean McFall lamented how people like herself give of their time and energy to put forward projects and make decisions they feel are best for the community, only to be ceaselessly derided by the Brock Troll set.

Councillor Leigh Bursey referred to this as “cyberbullying.”

I reminded them that in Brockville, the Troll community consists of maybe fewer than 10 people.

Better still, I should have told them, these are not 10 Trolls out to eat you for dinner, since they are likelier to eat each other first.

I would, however, resist any reference to cyberbullying, a term that brings to mind not mean-spirited, ignorant or vulgar comments, but death threats, homophobia, slut-shaming and revenge porn.

All this is, really, is the most recent manifestation of the “throw-the-bums-out” noise every elected official in every true democracy quickly comes to recognize and, for the most part, ignore.

It is telling that the two councillors most inclined to bring up the online comments issue are first-termers.

The seasoned veterans on council remember a time when the mean-spirited constituents had to hurl their invective at them over the phone.

(Former Councillor Larry Journal once recounted a time when, in the midst of a debate about silencing train whistles, someone called him at home in the wee hours of the morning, shouted “listen to this!” and put the phone out the window as the train was sirening by.)

Compared to this, the latest mis-punctuated rant by the likes of IamBrockvillesTrueVoiceGoddammit seems relatively easy to ignore.

Nonetheless, one must sympathize with McFall and Bursey's reactions. They are a reminder that there are different degrees of politician.

Local politicians, most of the time, are not the kind of cold-blooded cutthroats we associate with the higher-stakes games of the “Big Leagues.” They're here because they want to see twin pad arenas built and do what they think is best on the matter of city policing. They are not here to pad expense accounts for houses in which they do not live.

And as such, they are less deserving of the hard knocks the bigger players get.