This is how it happens…

Posted Jan 21 2011, 7:02 pm in ,

During my lunch hour, I happened across a blog post by 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.



6 responses to “This is how it happens…”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Patty Blount, Patty Blount. Patty Blount said: Blog post. The internet never forgets […]

  2. Linda G. says:

    So true. Once you release your words into cyberspace, they are there, in some form or another, forever.

    Hmm. If we really thought seriously about that, it would be tough to tweet or comment at all, wouldn’t it?

    • Patty says:

      True but the danger is in tweeting, emailing, commenting, etc, while IN A RAGE. Kind of like TWI (Tweeting While Infuriated?)

      I’ve done this and regretted it later. But imagine if Jeff had plastered Matt and Andy’s full names all over the internet…

  3. abby mumford says:

    i think the danger of the internet/email/technology is that it provides a barrier to hide behind. sure, your words are public, but your face is not and that makes the mob mentality that much more seductive.

    we have to rise above it. golden rule and all that.

    • Patty says:

      Golden rule, exactly! I think that’s what Jeff was getting at when he mentioned Andy’s plea to not eviscerate him. Andy clearly developed some regrets about his rant, though whether said regrets set in before or AFTER Jeff tracked him down cannot be determined.

  4. Jeannie Moon says:

    This is exactly the kind of thing we try to teach the kids about the Internet and social networking. Once it’s out there, you can’t take it back.

    I’ve got a wee bit of a temper. So if something ticks me off, I write my raging e-mails with no address in the address line. Then I save it and think about it for a day or two or three. Usually, I rework the e-mail or delete it altogether.

    Many issues with social networking are a lot more serious than an angry e-mail. It’s important to think before sending or posting. The consequences can be dire.

    Good entry. Makes a person think.