There is a lot of offensive commentary on Philly.com—cranky diatribes, ad hominem attacks on other commenters. But the bulk is racially charged, if not straight-up stone-cold racist. The infamy of Philly.com’s race-baiting extends far beyond the city limits: Much like Philly sports fans, the comments section at Philly.com has a well-earned national rep for being among the worst of the worst—which, when you read the bile in the comments sections of other newspapers, is really saying something.
The Daily News’s Will Bunch has weathered his share of abusive comments on Attytood, his popular left-leaning blog. He thinks the endemic racism of so many Philly.com commenters is merely a 21st-century extension of the fear-based racial animus that’s been dividing, and depleting, the city since the 1950s.
“In Philadelphia, you have this whole city-vs.-suburban thing,” he says. “Over the course of a couple of generations, we’ve gone from a city of two million people and kind of smaller suburbs to white flight and ballooning suburbs populated by a lot of people who used to live in the city and are still rationalizing why they left. You know: ‘We left to get away from those animals, those savages,’ or whatever. It’s hard to believe that 60 years later, it’s still being fought out. It’s not being fought out in the streets anymore. It’s being fought in the Philly.com comments section.”
MARVIN HOLMES EH. LEMME GUESS, HE PRONOUNCES “EARTH” AS “URFF.” — Norma Stitz
The unceasing deluge of septic dialogue—as many as 10 people a day are banned from ever posting again—has taken a psychic toll on Philly.com staffers. “We were very proud of the journalism that the Inquirer and Daily News were producing,” says one former Philly.commer. “To have that constantly undermined by people being assholes on our website every day, day after day, was soul-crushing.”
More than a hundred years after W.E.B. Du Bois published The Philadelphia Negro, a pioneering sociological study of the city’s African-Americans, race relations here—at least as reflected on the message boards—don’t appear to have come very far. The sad truth is that Philly.com is merely holding up a mirror. Neither Interstate General Media, which currently owns the Inquirer, the Daily News and Philly.com, nor Lexie Norcross, the daughter of Interstate co-owner and political kingmaker George Norcross, and the woman who oversees Philly.com, would agree to be interviewed for this piece—ironic in a story about commenting. Through a spokesperson, the company did offer vague promises that it would be unveiling a new “comments experience” in the coming months that will rid the site of the malignant verbiage catalogued here.
Maybe they’ll pull up the drawbridge—turn off reader commentary altogether. Ironically, this is exactly the course of action that Philly.com super-commenter Jim Dolan advocates in his darkest hours, when the nattering nabobs of negativity finally break his irrepressible will to comment—something he has done, by his own calculation, more than 400 times over the past dozen years.
“The comments section is a love/hate thing for me, because there are times when it just leaves a really bad taste in your mouth about what Philadelphia is about,” says the 53-year-old Havertown native and IT professional, who now resides in Apopka, Florida. “It could be the happiest story in the world and somebody always has something negative to say. Even though I comment all the time, some days I wish there was no comments section.”
He’s not alone in wishing for that—or for a more constructive dialogue that might actually move the city forward. From last February:
I HAD A DREAM LAST NIGHT THAT I READ AN ARTICLE ON PHILLY.COM AND ALL THE COMMENTS WERE POSITIVE. — philly57