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I used to keep a file of all my personal favorite online comments about me.

If I ever had any doubt about how fat, stupid or incompetent I am, these kind commenters always had more than enough venom to keep me certain that I am completely lacking in any redeemable quality.

About a year into curating the file, I gave up. You can only save so many variations of being called a socialist before it unnecessarily wastes space. 

Here are a couple of my favorites:

An anonymous commenter posted, "Do your good works with your own money! The reality is that you people are not Democrats and you are not liberals. You are socialists. Why don't you just admit it?" 

Probably because then I couldn't attend the secret meetings we have about the rich people. 

Trite wrote," Darrell, you have a podium and you're an idiot." 

It's called a lectern.

Clueless wrote, "You perceive the reality and the danger in this world as little as a utensil perceives the taste of food. Go buy a Prius and you will feel better about yourself." 

OK, but forks don't drive.

Funny wrote, "Funny how liberals like Darrell know that despots and tyrants won't listen to them, so they go after elected officials in free countries. Darrell: pick on someone your own size...if you can find someone that small."

I think the word you were searching for is "fat." 

All of those comments were written before 2008. The tone hasn't changed a lot. To wit:

ChunkyMonkey recently said: "This editorial is one of the most pointless ones I have heard from this editor so far. (And there have been some pretty pointless ones!) Obviously Gianforte is Christian, obviously the editor of the Gazette is not." 

Nice to know my Sundays have freed up. 

Blegle chimed in, "Just more progressive propaganda from the editor....Calling Congressman Zinke names is just one of the Saul Alinksky tactics, Ehlich, Erlick or whatever..." 

Yeah, Beagle. Bugle. Blegle. Whatever.

What began as a noble experiment in conversation has been mired in name-calling, epithet and trolling. There have been at least four iterations of commenting on The Billings Gazette's website since it began. Each had a limitation on how much control it could exert. Few commenting strings stayed civil. Most resulted in the electronic equivalent of a bar fight — insults about nothing.

That's why beginning Tuesday, we're turning off comments. Yes commenters, that means you have two days to talk about how stupid you think this column is. Consider it a parting gift.

The Gazette is not the first to do it. National Public Radio decided it was time to pull the plug on comments last month. We're not even the first in our company to do it — the Quad Cities Times is about two weeks ahead of us.

We want to talk with our readers. We want community conversations. We need honesty, if not pointed feedback. That's what makes democracy and the Fourth Estate run. 

However, conversation is different than cussing out; ideas aren't the same as insults. Too often for too long too little good has come from these. And while part of our brand and mission has been to foster a conversation and engage with the readers, I cannot say that people felt better about The Gazette because it gave the equivalent of a graffiti wall. In other words, the commenting space was a place for people to write offensive things for others to see later. It just happened to be on our website.

For every good, thoughtful, insightful comment there were dozens of them trying to identify a victim of sexual assault. Our comment filter set to catch obscenities and epithets was set at 421, with new permutations added almost every day. It was a testament to human ingenuity, and a horrible use of the symbols @ and $.

Sometime — some day — when either the technology allows for more transparency, or if there's a desire to bring back comments, we may look it at. But for now, commenters have until Tuesday.

The switch also mirrors a switch in how people interact. The majority of communication and feedback comes from Facebook, where posters often comment on the same stories, just like they do on the website. In other words, the location of the discussion has shifted and thankfully, there's a bit more transparency there.

The old comments — all those compassionate suggestions from relatively unknown neighbors — will vanish as well.

Commenting on stories for everyone to see can still be done. It's called "a letter to the editor," and we'll still gladly take those — just remember to include your real name and telephone number. 

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Darrell Ehrlick is the editor of The Billings Gazette. He can be reached at dehrlick@billingsgazette.com or by calling 406-657-1289.

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