— Helen Gym (@ParentsUnitedPA) March 25, 2014
Uh-oh. Well, how bad could the comments on a story about new high schools be?
So. Pretty bad. Does that mean the new Disqus commenting system is a failure?
Not necessarily. Yes, it sure seems that the comments at Philly.com still feature some of the trolling racism for which the site became so justifiably hated. But anecdotally, at least, the joint seems a little bit more sedate than it did in the bad old days.
When Jonathan Valania wrote about Philly.com’s comments last year in Philly Mag, he lamented that the site was dominated by “a small band of all-purpose haters, bigots and trolls who routinely inject into the public sphere the type of shocking invective long banished from mass media in this country.” It often felt like the only comments you could find on the site were the horrific ones.
That’s not quite the case anymore. There are still strongly held opinions and even the occasional invective on the site — and the commenters can still hide behind a veil of anonymity, for the most part — but go take a look at the comments in the story mentioned above. There were 42 as of Tuesday evening — some of them angry, some informative, most of them skeptical. Very few were all that enlightening, to be sure, but with the exception of the comments featured here, most were just … banal.
Wander around the site, and you’ll find more of the same. The occasional deleted comment. (Somebody’s paying attention!) Crime stories with comments turned off entirely, so as to avoid the usual riff-raff. And political stories where the comments are angry and arch and insufferable — but not much more than when people are when talking politics anyway.
Banality, it turns out, is a bit of an improvement. It’s almost normal.
Yeah, the jerks are still there, clearly. But Philly’s Philly — to expect more improvement yet might require the comments section to become better than the city it serves. “The Algonquin Round Table this ain’t,” Valania wrote last year. He’s right. But Internet comments rarely are. Philly.com comments aren’t great. But they’re not quite the embarrassment to the city that they once were, either. We’ll take what we can.
Follow @JoelMMathis on Twitter.