This past weekend, the Globe and Mail published a very small piece of writing they asked me to submit for the Books section of their newspaper. The topic was: What was your most memorable experience as a librarian? When they sent me the question and the deadline (with some examples and guidelines), I responded with four options. I was surprised with the choice they made, but they edited it well and shared it. I'm away right now so I didn't get a print copy of the paper, but I did see the online version. I noticed today that there are two comments attached to it. I feel like Pandora, but unlike that mythic woman, I don't think I'll be opening the (comment) box, despite my curiosity.
Here's why, in a nutshell: online comments can be brutal, unhelpful, and nasty. YouTube videos are a classic example. Comments slam the content, the poster, the views of other commenters, and more. Another example hits closer to home. My dear friend Denise Colby teaches at the Girls Leadership Academy in the Toronto District School Board. The Toronto Star wrote two articles about the girls-only and boys-only schooling experiment. You can read that article here. My friend Denise told me that her father was excited to see his daughter mentioned in the newspaper, but she reported that "he made a mistake by reading the comments". When I looked at the article's comments prior to writing this blog post, many of the comments had been removed by the Star itself but one still remained that said, "The teacher probably sees it as a nice opportunity [to] help her with her future ambitions to get promoted". Nothing could be further from the truth. Denise had a central position prior to her job with the GLA and she is responsible for teaching not one, not two, but three separate grades and all the curriculum linked with these grades. It's a heavy workload that she accepted as a personal challenge, not as a feather in her cap. No one that knows Denise would make that logic leap and there was nothing in that article that insinuated that she is a ladder-climber. It's a shame that someone could make assumptions about her character based solely on reading this news report, and not only think it, but post it. I might think that people's motives are suspect but I am not sure how quick I'd be to publicly share the potential slight.
Comments online - anonymous, easy and quick to share - can be vitriolic and even the thickest-skinned individuals can shrivel under the weight of a barrage of negative and hateful words. (I know someone well who has been a victim of targeted attacks and it's not pretty.) I don't want to be in an echo chamber with my friends sharing congratulations and praise alone, but I really don't want to be insulted because of a personal anecdote I shared in a national publication. (Twilight fans get called all sorts of names.) Maybe I'll hire a personal reader to scan comments for anything of value. Digital miner, anyone?