The Audacity of Posts

Aaron McKie plans a move to Gladwyne. Take a look at the posts on today's story. These are the kinds of comments that are popping up all over the web and, particularly of late, on

Kathy Bocella's story is treated to them today. Tuesday, Chris Satullo received a book full when he dared to condemn torture. Rush Limbaugh added fuel on his national radio show.

Two days ago, I benefited from such wrath in a column that began by questioning the maturity of certain City Council members and ironically questioned the worth of cheesesteaks. What spewed forth was some serious hate, bad spelling, questionable judgment and every sort of  "ism" imaginable.

Why do internet comments descend into the sort of name calling, slurs and hostility prohibited on playgrounds? Is relative anonymity license for the sort of bad behavior condemned in daily life? Is there this much free-floating anger out there and the web is the only place to put it?

Themes emerge. Comments tend to devolve quickly into an Us vs. Them mentality, with Them being people who think they're better but are not. Us? Terrific and infallible.

Then name calling commences, following by charges of elitism (a favorite of posts), neighborhood slamming (ditto), sexism, and defamation of character, looks (especially if the writer or subject is female) and religious orientation. From there, it's a quick hop, skip and a jump to name distortion of the fifth-grade variety. 

Finally, as one online editor tells me, it will descend into the primordial sludge of racism, even if there is no apparent thread. 

The internet was praised for being the ultimate democratic form of expression, free and open to all, a blessing. But if comments descend into such anger, a verbal and virtual Lord of the Flies scenario, what good are the messages and communication? 

Isn't the intent to open this space to have thoughtful, intelligent dialogue, and robust debate? Juvenile hall posts are warding off meaningful discussion while sliming much of everything in their wake.