During my lunch hour, I happened across a blog post by SI.com columnist Jeff Pearlman, in which he describes an upsetting reply from a disgruntled fan in response to a column he wrote about Jeff Bagwell and the Baseball Hall of Fame. The condensed version is the responder was snarky and vulgar and had included an x-rated link that infuriated the journalist so much, he was compelled to track down the miscreant.
Matt, the alleged sender of porn, is quoted as saying this:
“I was just trying to get a rise out of you. You’re a known sports writer and I thought it was cool. That’s all. I never meant for it to reach this point.”
Right there, I started taking notes. Sadly, Pearlman notes this is not an isolated incident. Sports journalists are often subjected to vehement disagreement. But in the old days – the days before the Internet and Twitter and Facebook – such disagreement was confined to letters to the editor. Another vocal basher, “Andy,” told Jeff “…the internet got the best of me.”
Hmm. The internet made me do it. As the author of a YA novel in which my protagonist causes a classmate’s suicide by posting embarrassing pictures online, I was intrigued by this defense. Particularly since Matt and Andy are not children. The popularity of social networking has not only removed the barriers of direct communication like mail delay, corporate red-tape, or anonymity, it’s somehow also erased the need for simple human kindness. And, it compounds that lack with a sense of immediacy – just click Send and vent. (My apologies for the shameless book plug) – “I’m pissed off NOW and I’m gonna tell you so NOW” even though, as Jeff’s conversations with both Matt and Andy would suggest, those opinions can change once the passion dissipates.
I’m not immune to the seductive power of online mob mentality. Recently, after a cooking e-zine got caught plagiarizing its recipes, I joined the immense public outcry denouncing the practice as well as the editor’s half-assed apologies. There is a sense of being part of something, something important. But at no time did I resort to name-calling or threats or sending pornographic content.
The internet is glaringly literal. It cares nothing about the context in which certain things were said, or the feelings we experienced when we said them. Andy’s plea to Jeff: “Please don’t eviscerate me” should be a chilling reminder of reality – the Internet never forgets.