I can be both proud and embarrassed of my home state of Wisconsin. Today, it pleases me to hear that the Janesville Gazette has shut down online reader comments for several categories of news: crimes, courts, accidents, race or sex. That's kind of a lot of content, huh? Editor Scott Angus (his last name really should have been Holstein or Guernsey, but I digress) has with deliberation and reluctance admitted that his news service can no longer reasonably handle the amount of abusive dialogue offered up on a daily basis from the Gazette's readers, noting, "The comments typically start out OK, but they deteriorate into insults, innuendo or otherwise offensive remarks...People simply can’t or won’t behave." These are not the words of a prude, or someone who wishes to restrict free speech -- journalists are often the most passionate defenders of the right for people to speak their minds, regardless of how difficult the sentiments might be to hear. But something has changed, hasn't it. The anonymity of the internet has created a nation of shitbirds.

You know what a shitbird is, right? One of our airborne avian pals, flying free and easy above us, who thinks nothing of dropping a copious load of crap down upon the world at any time, for any reason, on anything, and merrily just continues on its way. It is either completely unaware or unconcerned that it has soaked the top of your head with disgusting pasty smelly goo. It may, in fact, get quite a kick out of it -- we don't know, because the shitbird has already left the scene of the slime. Life for those of us on the ground has a different set of rules: if you poop on someone, they will probably get very very mad and will then scream at you and may very well slug you or pull down his or her own pants and poop on you in return. I believe there was some kind of Supreme Court ruling on this back in the 1850s. It's not civilized to just go up and poop on people. It doesn't help advance society in any way and can cause riots and public health alerts.

If you read any comments anywhere on the internet, from news services or magazines or YouTube, you know very well about the shitbird phenomenon. It hardly matters what the content is -- some troll will say something ugly, and things usually just get worse from there. But even if the pile up or pile on doesn't happen, you and I have to read the shitbird anyway, because it's just sitting there and it's not highlighted red or something to alert you to just skip it. Defenders of shitbirds (yes, there are many, and they too are also usually called "Anonymous" or "KillZone45" or "EatMeBitch") will say it is the readers' duty to just suck it up and deal. If you don't like it, just ignore it, because...

"...It's just the internet."

But guess what? No, it isn't. Behind each post there is a person, and behind each news story there are even more...people who are often in some kind of crisis to begin with. Shitbirds would never have the nerve to just walk right up and poop on your foot, because these birds are small and weak and nervous and know you may be perfectly able to, with one swift move, grab them in one hand and wring their little necks until they're fit for nothing but becoming Thanksgiving appetizers in Kentucky. But on the internet, shitbirds are emboldened with the confidence that no one will ever be able to make them  responsible for their words, no matter how racist, sexist, creepy, vulgar, or threatening.

And what is the outcome of having thousands or millions of career shitbirds who get away with saying anything they feel like at any time and get a lot of attention for it with no consequences? It seeps into "real life." What was once considered taboo and backwards now seems perfectly acceptable. See: the Tea Party shouting at members of Congress, the assistant D.A. in Michigan who openly stalked a gay student leader, the Westboro Baptist Church...

There is a cost to allowing abusive and unproductive speech. If the public cannot police itself, then people like the Gazette's Scott Angus have the sad task of doing it for them. We all lose when we can no longer have the opportunity to have our voices heard, all because of a murder of unrestrained crap crows. The Gazette loses some of its vibrancy and immediacy and value by shutting down comments, absolutely. But I will stand behind Mr. Angus. Someone has to clip those wings. After all, if all of us here on the ground become so covered in crap that we are afraid to speak, or are prevented from speaking, well...Hitchcock's "The Birds" starts to look not so scary in comparison.