HAVE you noticed the way that comment has changed over the past few years?

Not very long ago, comment in newspapers – usually in Letters to the Editor – was often passionate or critical but seldom unrestrained.

Now, thanks to the anonymity of the internet, we think nothing of telling others exactly how we feel about them. It is an unfettered way of venting feelings we Brits used to keep hidden.

In fact, it’s almost as though we have a duty to inform others of our important views and, since no-one will know who we are, there are unlikely to be any real repercussions.

Trolling, of course - the official phrase for individuals being truly obnoxious and vile online – can result in criminal prosecution. Earlier this year, John Nimmo received a prison sentence for sending anti-semitic messages to Labour MP Luciana Berger. One included a picture of a knife and a threat that she would “get it like Jo Cox”.

Unfortunately, there is a very small step between vicious comment and trolling. Interestingly, those commenting often turn on each other to vent criticism and nasty remarks – quite often going way off the subject in order to snarl and snap at fellow posters.

It is as if, suddenly, all the restraints on being pleasant and polite have been lifted from people and they are now free to speak their mind without any thought for the consequences.

Every vile and unpleasant thought is expressed simply because the poster feels that he or she has a right to say this. They do not care if their words cause hurt or upset; after all, they are only telling it like it is, aren’t they?

Some who comment have poor spelling and grammar while others are very articulate but may completely wreck their own argument by getting far too personal in their comments.

Nor is it just reacting and polarising opinions in print media. TripAdvisor has a very dark side to it which, while not negating the positive side which allows us to get other customers’ views of hotels and restaurants etc, does offer those with a personal agenda their own platform.

Sifting the genuine from the spurious is not always easy, either. Just because someone complains about service or facilities at a hotel does not necessarily mean they have a personal axe to grind against them. It may just be they genuinely had a poor experience and are sharing it as a warning to others.

Going completely over the top is often a dead giveaway here. Those with a vivid imagination warm to their subject so completely, they go mad and totally overdo it.

In spite of all the pitfalls of comment today, though, personally I’m still very much in favour of free speech. Do I think people need to curb their emotions and their words and show a bit of self-discipline here? Yes, I do.

But, do I think people should be banned from expressing their opinions – even when they may be hurtful – overall, no.