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June 18, 2008 / Maleesha Kovnesky

The Hostile Internet

I liked the Yahoo chat rooms, circa 1996. I’m sort of nostalgic for the novelty of widely-available 14.4 MBps internet, when you could go into a chat room and type to someone who was in another state. Oh, the happiness at hearing that squealing dial-up, and the beeps and the boops that meant the connection was almost complete.  Imagine the novelty of having your own computer to type a message to someone who was on the “other side” of whatever giant void your words were traveling to. 

A Virginal Yahoo

Approximately .002 nanoseconds after this was fun, the creeps arrived.  Entering a chat room suddently felt like getting hit with thirty virtual paintballs…the pop up messages on the screen asking a/s/l? Wanna chat? Come into my private room. So much for pen pals, I guess.   

Today’s internet forums feature many filters and tools to keep most of the smut and junk out. One thing that software will never be able to do is filter out meanness and ignorance.  These are encountered regularly on internet forums and newspaper websites.

Cartman after too much WoW

Take the Washington Post.  I love the WP.  It’s a great newspaper with an award winning website.  The WP website has easy “commenting” features and boy, do their readers comment.  Today I was reading a WP parenting blog about a mother who took her crying baby on an airplane and how the stewardess was trying to grab the baby out of the mother’s arms because she didn’t feel the mother was doing enough to silence the infant.  Sure, no one likes to hear a crying baby.  No one.  Especially on a freaking airplane where there is no escape.  However, most rational people are aware that babies cry and that is sucks. 

Most rational people would also feel like clocking a flight attendant that tried to yank someone’s baby out of their arms.  (Since they’re rational, they wouldn’t actually do it.  They’d just feel like it.  Back to the story.)

The comments started pouring in…a rotten back-and-forth about how families with babies have no business traveling, and how people without children are obvious morons who wouldn’t know; to the mother must have been a bad parent because the baby was crying; to the idiot who said the mother was bad must have been beat up by his daddy, et cetera.  It devolved from there.  About twenty comments in, no one was commenting on the story, they were only ALL-CAPSing to each other about how one side’s comments were pointless and unintelligent, and then how the other side’s comments were pointlesser and unintelligenter.  Reading the spewing, foaming at the mouth collective made me queasy.  Finally I gave up, realizing that reading the comment chain (now with 250+ future anger-management candidates!) was the pointlessestiest activity of all.

It’s not just the Washington Post, nearly every online news story I read has a comments feature, and all too often the comments are just mean.  I’m nowhere near believing we should all hold hands and skip through the daisies together, but come on.  99% of the Anonymous Cyberturkeys would never have the sack to say these sorts of things to someone in person.  This is most likely because deep down, they know that their Darth Maul T-shirt might lessen them in the eyes of their opponent.  I say, how about both opponents show up at the NetCafe for a blog-off?  Fifty bucks says they both have a Star Wars t-shirt somewhere in their wardrobe.

This looks like it's gonna be a walk off.  Rules?

A while ago I read a story about road rage.  The summary was basically this, if you look the other driver in the eye, they’ll usually smile and wave.  And it’s true.  This er…um, friend of mine cut someone off the other day, and it was totally intentional, but I…I mean, she smiled guiltily and waved at the other person with a very apologetic expression.  The other lady waved back and and mouthed Oh it’s okay and her face was almost glowing with the universal It happens to everyone look.  That’s what I’m told happened, anyway. 

Now try the same scenario again but completely ignore the other driver, keep the “I’m so preoccupied with myself that I can’t be bothered to acknowledge your existence” expression on your face, preferable with sunglasses on and a cell phone tethered to your ear, and you won’t be getting a wave-through anytime soon.  My friend told me that one too, just so you know. 

The internet community is just like the second scenario.  The tinted windshield of anonymity is there to hide our faces.  We can feel just fine posting anonymous comments to people about their total lack of brains.  If only people were forced to look each other in the eye before posting Comments of Superiority, perhaps Yahoo would still be a safe place to visit.  But venturing into the darkness nowadays…you gotta be ready for anything.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go log in as ToothBrush777 and yell at this dude in Arkansas who keeps talking about how cool his new lawn mower is.  ‘Cause it’s totally not

PS: For fun, go use the

Way Back Machine

to see what your old favorite webs looked like in the pioneer days of the web. 

You know, ten years ago.




Leave a Comment
  1. maleesha / Jul 18 2008 9:51 am

    So I had to look up King Friday…sounded so familiar yet I couldnt place it. So Mr Rogers Neighborhood? King Friday? A description from Wikipedia:

    King Friday XIII – The imperious monarch of the neighborhood. He is relatively egocentric, irrational, resistant to change, and temperamental, although open-minded enough to listen when told he is wrong. He has a fondness for giving long-winded speeches and using big words

    So what is it you are trying to say, here?? 😀

  2. Melissa Pancurak / Jul 16 2008 8:23 pm

    This is probably my favorite blog. It was true, it was funny, it was the full package. Well done, as usual King Friday. 🙂

  3. crisitunity / Jun 27 2008 10:41 am

    There’s a webcomic called Penny Arcade related to video games that has a name for this. It’s the “Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory.” See here:

    Sorry, two comments in one day, I’m totally stalking your blog.

  4. Allison / Jun 24 2008 10:13 am

    I almost dread to even look at my local paper online when something big happens in our town b/c I know the local morons will be spewing forth garbage faster than my daughter can destroy a room.

  5. rambleicious / Jun 23 2008 9:34 pm

    Great post and so true! There are plenty of morons like that in Vancouver, BC too. Any story that gets people riled up here devolves into “Yeah? Well, yo MAMA!” type comments pretty quickly. That and the spelling and grammar Nazis. So you get comments like “You are such an illiterate moron. “Their” is possessive – get a damn dictionary already! Yo MAMA!”

    The reading level of most papers here is between grades six and eight – the mentality behind a good portion (not all!) of the comments is about grade three.

  6. cherikooka / Jun 23 2008 2:10 pm

    The way back machine makes me feel old. I did my first website in 96. Oh, by the way, you have been tagged to do a 6 word memoir.

  7. Stacey / Jun 22 2008 8:21 am

    a/s/l? takes me back to my high school days when everyone who was anyone was on America Online. (You know, when you could actually connect.)

  8. Glassowater / Jun 21 2008 12:52 pm

    Perhaps the most annoying question ever: A/S/L?
    Not even a question really, just a list with a questionmark, shorthand for:
    “please give me the answers I want so I can decide whether I should talk to you”
    I seriously have no nostalgia for chat rooms mainly because I have way too much of a life to even think about wasting time like that.
    I mean, I have all these blogs I read, all those news sites I peruse, my myspace page with all my photography and my friends sites, and someone inspired me to start a Facebook page, not to mention all the tv I watch on my computer and the games I play like World of Warcraft and Mass Effect…oh dear god!
    I just realized…this is far worse than being addicted to chat rooms…
    is there a self help book for internet addiction….

  9. Matt / Jun 19 2008 8:25 pm

    p.s. a/s/l? lol

    HA!! Now I’m really nostalgic. 🙂

  10. Matt / Jun 19 2008 8:25 pm

    Excellent post! I’ve never felt quite the same about my town since the paper went online and “ordinary” citizens could start leaving comments. Yikes.

  11. Colleen / Jun 19 2008 8:01 pm

    You made me nostalgic. I remember venturing into those internet chat rooms in college for the first time. I think it was 1994. I didn’t even really know what the internet was then. Didn’t get an email address until a year later. Now I can’t imagine living with out it.

  12. romi41 / Jun 19 2008 6:32 pm

    You know, this post made me think of one I read today on email etiquette…not in the same vain as hostile anonymous Internet-bandits, but a pretty clever take on how the Internet lets the need for manners fly out the window…or so the prevailing behaviour would indicate:

    And as for you lady: “This is most likely because deep down, they know that their Darth Maul T-shirt might lessen them in the eyes of their opponent”…that one made me laugh my a$$ off 😉 …like I can’t remember the last time I heard someone say “Darth Maul”, the PERFECT not-so-cool reference, hahaha 😉

    Thanks! I checked out the link…yes that’s what I’m sayin’! I mean no offense to everyone reading who owns the said Maul shirt. Okay, just a little offense.

  13. Dave / Jun 19 2008 6:33 am

    The Colorado Springs Gazette commenting feature is exactly the way you describe. I tend to ignore it.

    Now, I read a new blog from a Tacoma newspaper related to my football team, the Seahawks. It will occassionally devolve, but the blog is run by the beat reporter and he (or someone on the staff) monitor the comments pretty well. In fact, many times, the most useful information comes in the comments as other fans have access to sources that I don’t. Especially during live events like games, draft day, etc.

    The ultra-polarized ‘Zette is actually what inspired this post!

  14. maleesha / Jun 19 2008 5:58 am

    Woops! Fixed the link. I see the meanness mostly on blogs of news sites…hence the “take sides” I guess. Thanks for the comment!

  15. Peter Parkour / Jun 18 2008 11:51 pm

    Great post, but your Way Back Machine doesn’t seem to be working, 😕 but I enjoyed the post none the less. 😉 I’ve faired pretty well with my blog so far. I don’t recall a single mean comment. Then again I don’t tend to rock the boat with my topics, nor do I make it a habit of leaving inflammatory remarks on the blogs of others. Of course all of that could change. I’ve had a lot of my mind lately. If only I could get my blogging juices flowing. Until then I guess I’ll just remain nice and fuzzy. 🙂 Good day. 😉

    ‘Tis fixed now. Don’t watch Colbert and blog at the same time is the moral of the story. I look forward to your future fuzzy posts.

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