Last February, Philly.com posted a heartwarming story, also published in the print edition of the Daily News, about a North Philly peewee basketball team that needed to raise $11,000 to get to the International Small Fry Basketball Tournament in Orlando. The community rallied to pony up the money. Online, the story garnered this insightful comment:
YOUR ARE LOOKING AT THE GRATERFORD CLASS OF 2020. — LARRY CHESWALD
A May story about Eagles owner Jeff Lurie’s second marriage, to Tina Lai, who is Vietnamese, brought this illuminating thought:
SHE HAD HIM AT ‘ME LOVE YOU LONG TIME.’ — Unknown
A story about a black bus driver arrested for trying to kidnap a child in Delco garnered this bon mot:
A VERY HAPPY BLACK HISTORY MONTH TO ALL!!!!! — cynic al
And a story set in West Philly resulted in this doozy:
BRING IN WILSON GOODE TO DROP A BOMB OVER THAT ENTIRE COMMUNITY. INSTEAD OF MLK DAY WE SHOULD CELEBRATE WILSON GOODE BECAUSE THAT WAS THE MOST BEAUTIFUL THING I COULD THINK OF … HE IS MY HERO AND WOLD VOTE FOR HIM AGAIN. A TRUE PATRIOT! — Friend to All
As any perusal of old editorial cartoons will attest, distasteful discourse has always been a part of the American conversation. It’s the price you pay for free speech—some of that speech is bound to be awful. But the Internet has been a game-changer in the hate-speech sweepstakes, allowing anyone to instantly comment on just about anything. The online-comments sections of major metropolitan newspapers have become magnets for racists, sociopaths and assorted trolls, who every day deface the walls of award-winning reportage with their graffiti of ignorance and intolerance.
Then there is the comments section of Philly.com.
To quote Obi-Wan Kenobi: Nowhere will you find “a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.” On a good day, it’s bad. On a bad day, it’s vile.
There are a lot of bad days on Philly.com.
“Philly has a reputation for being a crass community, doesn’t it?” understates Kelly McBride, an expert in media ethics at the Poynter Institute, a highly respected journalism think tank that more or less serves as the conscience of the industry. “That’s the thing about comments sections: They hold up a mirror to the community and reflect back the good parts as well as the parts that you just don’t find very attractive.”
She’s being kind. A better way to put it might be: Is the city really this full of hateful, horrible people? And even more sobering: What kind of “civic dialogue” is Philadelphia reflecting to the world?