Who Pissed in [Everyone’s] Cornflakes?


Have you ever read a comments section for a major news source? (I know you have.) Yikes!

The problem seems to be particularly bad in Canada. There are a handful of companies/players that seem to be the “official” and authoritative sources of news for the nation. So the volume of comments major stories attract is high.

And 90% of the comments are angry.

It goes something like this: there is a relatively innocuous story about a league thinking of building a stadium in one of several locales, and one city in particular has the inside track.

Typical response (paraphrase): “Flarrghhhghh! Stupid you! Article bad! People dumb make silly! Wrong wrong wrong why even do let alone write aklgadh;garrrrfjlllllll1!!!!!”

Now this is nothing new online. Online forums have been full of vitriol forever. But now we’re applying this vitriol more widely, to mainstream news, in a peaceful and prosperous place where you think we broadly agree about many things.

Does no one respect anyone or anything anymore? Is this splintered, divisive view of every issue really reflective of reality?

Maybe it’s just that NIMBYism is the default mode of engagement with every possible issue. You have some legitimate environmental concerns with large-scale pipeline or hydraulic fracking projects: bring on the healthy debate and dissent. But I’ve seen the vitriol (and the do-nothing, anti-everything default position) extend to innocuous improvements like extending bike paths, or the decision of which mid-sized Canadian city to put a CFL team in.

At a certain point these so-called [“$!@!!%!!!!”] voices of reason engender cynicism about the whole idea of public input. It becomes a parody of genuine civic engagement.

In Toronto, local businesses and citizens relentlessly fought common-sense plans for streetcar right-of-ways down horribly chaotic Spadina Avenue, and later, St. Clair Ave. West. Now that these projects are in place, what’s the result? Only better-moving traffic and the ability of public transit to move people along in large volumes, much more efficiently.

And this is when well-meaning public servants begin to filter out “input” that seeks to block and disrupt even the most innocuous improvements. And when well-meaning public servants become hardened to “process” and begin to just “ram things through,” imagine what kinds of tactics the more hard-boiled ones are going to get up to, because the meaning of public input has been discredited by temper tantrums and molehills elevated to mountains.

I’d love to know what the secret is to bringing positive, constructive voices into these virtual spaces, to balance out the endless stream of soul-killing, wet-blanket “$!$@!%!”.

In the meantime: “go bike paths! go CFL!”.

Andrew Goodman likes these.


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