Back in my much younger days, one of my favourite Sunday rituals was reading the Sunday Sun newspaper, a monolith of news, entertainment and sports that carried the density of a wet phone book.
I would spend a couple of hours pouring over it every week and one of the things I always enjoyed was the letters to the editor section.
But as a teenager I wasn’t interested so much in the opinions of the strangers with something to say and a need to be heard on the Toronto issues of the day, but rather I was drawn to the witty retorts that the Sun’s editorial page editor would print in bold type underneath those letters. Usually a snippy comeback, a slapdown or a humorous take on what the letter writer themselves had written.
Looking back, it was a pretty crappy thing to do. And the Sun itself eventually stopped the practice.
I mean, if someone takes the time, effort and thought to share something, do they deserve to have their opinions diminished or made fun of by an anonymous person who is always going to have the last word?
In the past few months we have stopped allowing comments on our letters to the editor.
We did so because we want to encourage people to speak out and have a voice and share their opinions. Allowing (largely) anonymous people to attack that person’s opinion and voice seems counterproductive.
Yes, we can moderate comments, but that can be time consuming on a work flow level and imperfect on a filter level.
People shouldn’t hesitate to use their voice, putting their name at the bottom of the letter, because someone using an anonymous handle can then attack and ridicule that opinion.
Why would you share your thought-out opinion just to be attacked?
True, there can be solid discussion and debate in a comments section. But it seems inevitable that eventually descends into something nasty. It almost always does.
So ending comments on letters to the editor isn’t a way of silencing people, it’s a way of encouraging others not to be silenced.
And if you really have some thoughts you feel it’s important to share on someone’s letter, by all means, respond with a letter yourself.
Just remember, you will have to put your real name on it.