Minds to Change

My wife and I have a policy about not reading the comments on Internet news stories. This might sound a little strange coming from the co-editor of a blog, but I think most of our readers will agree that the comments section of any online news source does tend to, at the very least, raise the ol’ blood pressure just a bit (hopefully not here, though). It doesn’t seem to matter what the story is, somebody out there is going to turn the conversation into an anti-immigration or anti-government or anti-whatever screed.

So, it was with some surprise and alarm that I found myself scrolling down to read the comments in a story posted at SignOnSanDiego this morning about a bicyclist struck by a mini-van in the Midway area. I expected (and got) the usual “bikes don’t belong on the streets” nonsense, but there were also several bike commuters standing up for the group and calling BS on all of the bike-haters. Usually, these lone cowboys are shouted down by the masses in short order and (most likely being intelligent people) make a little cost/benefit analysis and decide that a pointless troll fight is not the best use of their time. But on this story, so far, the bicyclists seem to be hanging in there.

The point of this is that, although we should probably not always read the comments, it can occasionally serve to reinforce our dedication to changing minds and providing opportunities for education. I’m not suggesting that anti-bike trolls should be the target audience for bicycle advocacy, but the underlying assumptions that inform this kind of ignorance do need to be challenged. Perhaps the best place for this isn’t in the comments section of the local news site, but it is one place to go about it.

Although we certainly can’t afford to get worked up about every anti-bike comment on every news story, we also can’t afford to ignore them completely, because we then risk speaking only to ourselves or to our slow-to-change government, and neglecting public opinion. It is here, after all, in the minds of our fellow citizens, that bicycling will either be accepted or rejected as a legitimate means of transport. And it is here that we still need to do our work.