Liberalize gun laws; tighten up immigration; expel Muslims; strip-search travellers; bring in the death penalty; charge bystanders for not helping; close borders between provinces.
These are a just a few random reader comments left on news stories about last week's grotesque bus beheading. Some of the remarks were predictably knee-jerk; others read as if they were lifted from a diary. The striking majority, however, could best be described as "crazy talk."
Not so long ago, comment sections were considered the saviour of news journalism, luring online readers back to traditional news sources from blogs and message boards. Reader feedback allowed current-events conversationalists to riff on the news without being anywhere near a water cooler, thus giving online newspapers new relevance.
But as the aforementioned bus story shows, comment sections can lack the reason and civility of the water cooler. Indeed, from globeandmail.com to CBC.ca, these forums have become outlets for racists, bullies, fanatics and all kinds of lunatics.
So what began as laissez-faire venues for the exchange of opinions (commentocracy) have now become platforms to launch bombs of vulgarity and worse (commenterrorism). And mainstream media outlets are the major sponsor.
In the last year, a strong anti-comment movement has emerged in online journalism. Offensive responses, the thinking goes, are turning readers away from news sites instead of reeling them in.
Recently, a blogger for the Stranger, an alternative weekly in Seattle, quit her job at the paper because of "cruel" commenters. For similar reasons, popular blogger and Web entrepreneur Jason Calacanis abandoned his blog in favour of a private e-mail list. Tumblr, a newish blog service, is now mostly comment-free.
Locally, the Toronto Star's website moderator was forced to close feedback on a news story concerning the Jamaican Canadian Association last week after users became abusive toward a subject in a story. At the group blog Torontoist, one resourceful reader built a modification that allows you to block out certain commenters you don't want to read.
That online media is starting to push back at the foaming-at-the mouth comment crowd is a promising sign.
But, really, what do you think? Drop your thoughts in the comments section of the online version of Web Jam.
Leak of the week
Alterna-rockers Buckcherry were furious that their new album, whatever it might be called, was leaked to the Internet last week. They even sent out a press release saying so. ("Honestly, we hate it when this s*** happens, because we want our FANS to have any new songs first.") TorrentFreak, a downloading site, became suspicious of the band's show of outrage and checked into the leak. As it turns out, it came from the same IP address as the band's manager. Read TorrentFreak's evidence here.