The Blog Meanies (Or: If You Don't Have Anything Nice to Say, Go Punch Yourself in the Face.)
That pretty much sums up my feelings about the trolls I keep encountering this week. Not on my blog specifically, although "anonymous" from Surrey, Prince Edward Island with isp 18.104.22.168 did take the time out of his busy day to tell me that my new mom haiku was "gay."
I don't quite understand why the anonymity of the internet brings out the dark, shadowy side of people, and in particular, the dark, shadowy side of mothers. Are mothers even supposed to have a dark, shadowy side? Man, I keep telling the government that they need to institute some NCLB-type standardized tests to determine the qualifications of potential moms:
1) Do you like to hurt small woodland creatures?I'm confounded at what sort of personal fulfillment people get from attacking strangers online; and yes, I do think there is a level of satisfaction, some sort of power that some people derive from inflicting cruelty on perfectly nice people. I used to see it on message boards all the time and it's part of the reason I stopped going on them. It was unproductive at best, at worst it was contemptible.
2) Has Jesus come to you at night and told you to give all your money to televangelists?
3) Do you post cruel and hurtful things to other mothers under the name anonymous on the internet?
If you have answered yes to any of these questions, proceed directly to therapy. Do not pass go, do not collect sperm anywhere near your cervix.
The catalyst for my departure from one of the snarkier urban message boards was an incident where a woman posted about having suddenly lost her young child. Shocked, numb, and at a loss for words, she came to the board to ask for help writing the obituary. A few women, unable to give her the benefit of the doubt, chimed in with comments like "fake post" and "yeah right." With that, the bandwagon went careening down a hill with no driver, as the comments escalated into attacks like, "if you were for real, you would never be on a message board right now, and if you are then you're a complete f*king idiot."
The next morning the little girl's obituary was in the paper.
I still wonder whether it haunts the women who participated in the flaming that night. I would love to know whether they learned a lesson (one at someone else's expense no less) or whether they're just soulless enough to shrug it off. Or, worse, to place the blame back on the victim with "well if you can't stand the heat, stay off the message boards."
I see that same rationale now in blog comments all the time--don't blame me, you're the one who put yourself out there for criticism. I especially see it on the so-called bigger blogs. The Dooces, the Amalahs. As if those writers are just SO superhuman, SO emotionally impenetrable, that you can say whatever you want and they'll just have to take it so poop on them. It's throwing soda cans at the monkeys in the zoo.
Except we're not disfunctional pre-adolescent boys, we're moms. And we're supposed to be better than that.
I know I sound completely pollyanna-ish but is it so hard to think about how you make someone feel when you post a comment to them? There's a person behind those words. Someone's mother, someone's wife, someone's daughter. Maybe even someone you know but don't know you know.
Now wouldn't that be a kick.
Sometimes, when I'm having a crappy day and I get into the elevator at work ready to snarl at someone who asks me to hold the elevator for them for a whole three seconds, I stop and think, what if I get up to my office, this person follows me in, and it's actually a new client? Or our new receptionist? Or the boss's mother? It's a pretty good way to preempt any sort of bad behavior. Try it sometime.
Maybe there's a kind of twisted silver lining to the meanness. Like women are letting their bad selves fly in anonymous forums so that they don't do it to people in their "real" lives. Perhaps the women that post comments like the ones discussed here or here or here are just one cathartic, cruel comment away from beating their kid with a belt strap. Maybe we should all be pleased they're wounding with their words and not something that draws actual blood. I don't know. I'm open to other theories. This one has me stumped.
In the meanwhile, I'd like to propose coming up with a new term for troll. Troll connotes something powerful and mythic, the kind of thing you might be proud to sport on a tee-shirt for irony's sake. We need an expression with a little more stigma attached to it; a label people would rather not wear. I'm thinking NetHitler. Or StillPeesInPants.