Post Apocalypse

The Web needs commenters. But are they ruining the Net faster than they can save it?

Illustration by Post Typography for TIME

Last month a woman who worked for the Stranger, an alternative weekly in Seattle, quit in a huff. She had been writing for the paper's blog, the Slog. The problem was the comments people were making on her posts. She couldn't stand them anymore. "The word I would use is cruel," she wrote in her sign-off.

Actually, if cruel was all they were, she got off pretty easy. For all the hype about Flickr and YouTube and Twitter and whatever else is putting "Web 2.0" in its business plan these days, the most ubiquitous form of user-generated content (to employ a...