Haters anonymous

Online comment boards — voyeuristic portals into nastiness — are hard to stop reading.

Mike Munzenrider

The lapsed Catholic in me realized long ago a possible personal hell based upon a previous job. I was sure that an eternity of selling skateboard stickers to tweens awaited me for all my past sins and fun. Having made that realization, IâÄôve added a new element to my damnation: about half the time IâÄôll be stuck reading the comment section on some news website, most likely those of Salon.com.
My fascination with and repulsion from online comments âÄî mostly the anonymous kind âÄî is something IâÄôm sure is shared by many. TheyâÄôre the car wreck that keeps on giving; a voyeuristic portal into all the nastiness that you wish you could express but never will, not even online, or maybe never.
The comment box seems to make people drunk with their anonymous and almost infinite power to annoy, defame, poke and prod. This intoxication leads to folks writing as if drunk as well. Punctuation and spelling fall away as trifles. The Caps Lock button starts to get a bit sticky, typos abound and making sense takes a sideline to searching for catharsis through hating.
ItâÄôs difficult to say that online commenting is leading to the erosion of society. Like statements about the suckiness of hipsters, or how texting is killing the English language, somehow ascribing some transcendental power to saying mean things on the Internet gives too much credit to saying mean things on the Internet.
What is sayable is that a lack of polite manners and a surplus of vitriol is the old norm for the Internet. But even then it wasnâÄôt always that way. My first foray into being an online hater was in 1991. As a young boy on a new-fangled service called âÄúProdigy,âÄù I was introduced to a pre-browser Internet experience, 56Ks and all.
Offering, by todayâÄôs standards, light and inoffensive criticism of, what I think, was a classic skater versus jock brew-ha-ha, I was promptly scolded by some moderator, and scared straight by promises of service cancellation and other sanctions, if I were to be so rude again in the future.
If only today we could be so easily pushed to be good online actors. But no, the Web absolutely has us blotto with an unassailable sense that we can say whatever we please electronically. Beyond, we absolutely expect that there can be no repercussions.
This past April, an Ohio judge filed a $50 million lawsuit against the Cleveland Plain Dealer for revealing her connection to a user name that had made comments on the paperâÄôs website. The comments ranged from personal attacks on a paper employeeâÄôs family member to very frank comments regarding cases that the judge was presiding over. I know IâÄôd sue if it were ever revealed that I was âÄúwolvesfan1086âÄù regardless of what IâÄôd allegedly said.
Even without the veil of anonymity, people are still ready and willing to say things to others that theyâÄôd never, or probably never, say in person. Budding reality TV star, Willow Palin recently blasted a Facebook hater, posting, âÄúTre stfu. Your such a faggot.âÄù Oh, kids will be kids, but such casual homophobia must go.
Leave it to the BBC to do some research on Internet meanness. Their findings are, in a nutshell, âÄúThe average emotional level of thread decreases logarithmically with the length of discussion âÄî longer threads are more negative.âÄù Of course they are; in comment parlance, âÄúDuh.âÄù
In all, IâÄôm sure IâÄôll continue to have real-world brushes with my personal hell. ItâÄôs too basely entertaining not to. I could also hold my breath and hope that some sense of responsible discourse will exist on the Internet. But no. Be sure to say something nice in the online comments.