The Internet was described recently in Maclean's magazine as "an ocean of misinformation, trivia and sludge."
It is all that. But it has also given voice to the previously unheard. Silent majorities aren't so silent any more.
Since Mario Dumont set himself up last week as the defender of French Quebec's identity against an onslaught of pushy immigrants, it's been written that the Action democratique du Quebec leader had merely said out loud what many Quebecers had been saying to themselves.
My friend Michel C. Auger usually receives up to about 30 comments from readers in response to his column in Quebec City's Le Soleil or his blog on the Cyberpresse website. But after he criticized Dumont in his column, he received more than 100, almost all supporting the ADQ leader.
The response is out of all proportion to the significance of the few, isolated incidents sensationalized by media competing for readers or viewers, or to the number of Quebecers affected by them.
At worst, the incidents were mistaken but well-intentioned, voluntary decisions by public or private bodies forced to arbitrate between conflicting rights.
For example, a CLSC excluded male partners from prenatal classes so that Muslim, Hindu or Sikh women who wouldn't have attended mixed classes would receive proper attention.
Quebecers hadn't been keeping their opinions to themselves even before Dumont spoke up in their name. The debate on "reasonable accommodation" of minority religious freedom started last March, when the Supreme Court struck down a ban on the Sikh kirpan in school.
It's been conducted on the opinion pages of the newspapers and in magazine articles. And, in less genteel terms, it has been going on in forums on media websites.
In September, L'Actualite magazine published an interview with writer and filmmaker Jacques Godbout, who said Quebec's culture was in danger of disappearing beneath a wave of religious immigrants.
While some readers who responded on the magazine's website embraced Quebec's increasing diversity, more said they felt threatened by it.
"My ancestors didn't fight for 400 years for me to be addressed in English half the time and to have the impression of strolling through an Arab neighbourhood because there are so many veiled women," wrote one Montrealer. But many of those who feared diversity were from regions where there are few ethnic minorities.
And before Prime Minister Stephen Harper's motion yesterday to recognize that all Quebecers form a nation, maybe he should have checked out what some members of the nation were saying about others in forums on the Canoe websites.
These sites are owned by the Quebecor media empire, whose newspapers and television stations have been leading the competition over the "reasonable accommodation" story.
As of yesterday, there were nearly 200 posts on the forums. The overwhelming majority were hostile toward immigrants in general, described as guests who were taking over the house, as well as other minorities. Even though the forums are moderated, some of the messages accepted for posting were racist.
Obviously, postings on the web are not representative of public opinion in general. But they might be representative of something.
Some observers think Dumont will have little impact, since his party is absent from Montreal, where most minorities live and where almost all the seats are safe for either the Liberals or the Parti Quebecois.
But there might be enough resentment of immigrants elsewhere to make the ADQ a factor in the next election.
Forty years ago, the now-defunct Union Nationale defeated the Liberal government by waging a riding-by-riding campaign appealing to rural voters who thought the Quiet Revolution had brought too much change, too fast. Among other things, the UN blamed the Liberals for "tearing the crucifix off the schoolroom wall."
Most city-based observers didn't see the UN's victory coming. But then they didn't have the Internet to warn them.
Dumont strikes a chord with Quebecers
Quebec websites hum with concern that pushy immigrants are taking over