Wick Communications

How dare you have an opinion!

In Online media on January 27, 2011 at 11:23 am

Pity Jeff Pearlman – and the rest of us – who run afoul of the anonymous Internet hoi polloi. It’s an uncomfortable feeling, there in the middle of a comment feeding frenzy. I think most of us have been there.

Well, Pearlman, a columnist for SI.com, did something unusual. He tracked down a couple of the meanest spirits and found them just like you and me. They were merely good people with a high-speed Internet connection and some low-brow habits. In fact, they were both embarrassed by their own conduct.

The commenters Pearlman found seemed to be surprised that there was an actual human being at the other end of their verbal spears. And when asked about the horrible things they said, (Pearlman’s crime was expressing an opinion about whether Jeff Bagwell deserved to be in baseball’s Hall of Fame) they were embarrassed. Here’s what one of them said to Pearlman:

“You know what’s funny?” the guy said. “I enjoy your writing. But I disagreed with you (about Bagwell) and I got caught up in the moment. When you read something you think is bull—-, you’re gonna respond passionately. Was I appropriate? No. Am I proud? Not even a little. It’s embarrassing. But the internet got the best of me.”

This is why I try to engage commenters on our Talkabout Web forum at hmbreview.com. I find that most of the time – though by no means all the time – the vitriol stops when I call folks out on it and suggest a bit of civility. They see my comment, under my real name, and it makes them stop and think. Or at least take a breath. Sometimes, that’s all it takes…

Here’s why I think this is important. Pearlman and I get paid to take the heat. Most of our readers do not. If we want them to participate in the give and take of our Web sites – and we certainly do – we have to maintain a hospitable place in which to play.

— Clay

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