by Dan Bolles
Every week — it may even be a couple of times per week, actually — the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies (AAN) sends out an e-mail containing small blurbs of note about other papers around the country. Typically, the posts concern the comings and goings of various editors and writers or perhaps the merging or demise of less fortunate papers than Seven Days — say what you will about VT, but the insular nature of our state tends to protect us, to a degree, from many of the misfortunes of the outside world, including the "death" of print media.
I'll be honest, I generally give these missives little more than a courtesy glance. Rarely do they contain any nuggets of info that directly pertain to me or my job. However, today I saw something that raised my eyebrows and hit very close to home indeed. Here it is:
July 14, 2008
Guest Blogger Quits, Rates Mention in Time Magazine
Source: Time Magazine/The Stranger
The Stranger's first guest blogger, Chelsea Alvarez-Bell, quit last month because of the "vicious bullies" who tormented her in the Slog's comments section. This week Lev Grossman ledes with the incident in his column in Time Magazine decrying "the horribleness of commenters."
(Yes, the blurb actually contained the misspelling "ledes." I just read 'em, folks.)
Grossman's Time column is a good rede, er, read, especially for anyone who has been on the business end of the unsettling phenomenon known as the "Internet Tough Guy." I'll not waste your time or mine describing these people. If you read Solid State with any regularity — or, sadly, most blogs and message boards — you know exactly who I'm talking about. Remember the Daryl Rabidoux ugliness? There you go.
What is disheartening is not necessarily that these people exist — assholes have flourished long before the advent of the Interwebs. The disturbing thing is that these ass clowns were able to spew their vitriolic bile to the point that they badgered Alvarez-Bell out of a job. And she was The Stranger's first guest blogger. So she's been around for a long time — the Seattle alt-weekly is something of a gold-standard in the industry, particularly in terms of Web-based content.
I've never read Alvarez-Bell's work or the offending comments. I can only imagine how bad it must have gotten based on my relatively brief experience in cyberspace. As such, I can sympathize with her decision — although I've never entertained thoughts of leaving based on the ramblings of anonymous half-wits.
Here's a clip from Grossman's piece:
The horribleness of commenters isn't really a mystery: Internetanonymity is disinhibiting, and people are basically mean anyway. Noris it a mystery why the people who run websites put up with commenters:the economic model for Internet content is based on advertising, whichmeans it's based on traffic volume, and comments mean traffic. They'repart of the things that make online publishing work. TIME.com enables comments on its blogs, including mine.) It's just hard to tellwhether they're ruining the Web faster than they can save it.
Commenterstend to respond with surprise--they're shocked, shocked!--when peoplecall them on being not nice. In their social universe, this kind ofrhetorical slap-fighting is just how you do business, and anybody whofeels otherwise is thin-skinned and humorless. As lame and self-servingas this excuse is, we can learn something from taking it at face value.Maybe commenters are just on one side of a cultural disconnect betweentwo incompatible ideas of what the social conventions of the Internetshould be. One is based on the standards of real-world, off-linepoliteness. The other is a kind of communal game in which whoever iscleverest and pushes the most buttons wins.
That pretty much sums it up. Us versus Them. At stake: the future of online journalism.
OK, it's not that dramatic or black and white. However, Alvarez-Bell is certainly not the first online writer to walk away as a result of anonymous bullying. And, sadly, I doubt she'll be be the last.
Can't we all just get along?