02.20.2011 01:44 PM

The cyber-sewer: Hate bloggers explained

Online anonymity has created what the computer scientist Jaron Lanier calls a “culture of sadism.” Some Yahoo comments were disgusting. “She got what she deserved,” one said. “This is what happens when dumb sexy female reporters want to make it about them.” Hillbilly Nation chimed in: “Should have been Katie.”

The “60 Minutes” story about Senator Scott Brown’s revelation that a camp counselor sexually abused him as a child drew harsh comments on the show’s Web site, many politically motivated.

Acupuncturegirl advised: “Scott, shut the hell up. You are gross.” Dutra1 noted: “OK, Scott, you get your free pity pills. Now examine the image you see in the mirror; is it a man?”

Evgeny Morozov, author of “The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom,” told me Twitter creates a false intimacy and can “bring out the worst in people. You’re straining after eyeballs, not big thoughts. So you go for the shallow, funny, contrarian or cynical.”

Nicholas Carr, author of “The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains,” says technology amplifies everything, good instincts and base. While technology is amoral, he said, our brains may be rewired in disturbing ways.

“Researchers say that we need to be quiet and attentive if we want to tap into our deeper emotions,” he said. “If we’re constantly interrupted and distracted, we kind of short-circuit our empathy. If you dampen empathy and you encourage the immediate expression of whatever is in your mind, you get a lot of nastiness that wouldn’t have occurred before.”

Leon Wieseltier, literary editor of The New Republic, recalled that when he started his online book review he forbade comments, wary of high-tech sociopaths.

“I’m not interested in having the sewer appear on my site,” he said. “Why would I engage with people digitally whom I would never engage with actually? Why does the technology exonerate the kind of foul expression that you would not tolerate anywhere else?”

Why indeed?

A local case in point: Canada’s most widely-read white supremacist. Why did TVO or the National Post or Maclean’s give her a platform/credibility?  Why would the Canada Israel Committee junket her to Israel?

Good questions.


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    james Smith says:

    Today the Gospel was the Sermon on the mount, some from the Hate-o-sphere might want to read read their Matthew 5, 6, & 7 and perhaps remember that Big J was a REVOLUTIONARY who was killed for asking folks to turn the other cheek.
    Or not.

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    V. Malaise says:

    Blessed are the meek, for they will stand while others sit while riding the LRT.

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    MontrealElite says:

    Turn the other Cheek…my favorite fetish club.

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      Warren says:

      That’s a good one. I’m going to steal that.

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    Cameron Prymak says:

    Great article.

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    SUZANNE says:

    It’s only okay when the left does it.

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      Warren says:

      Well, no, it’s not. And my first book was all about hatred on the Left in fact. So you are making it up.

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      Ottlib says:

      Nice demonstration of what the article is talking about. Instead of actually giving it some thought and writing a thoughtful response you come out with some off the cuff remark blaming those whom you disagree with politically.

      The internet has allowed those who hate the ability to express that hate without consequences being visited upon themselves. It cuts across the political spectrum and it is one of the more serious drawbacks of the web.

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      James Bow says:

      Suzanne, you show me a “Conservative Hunting Permit“, and then you might have a point. Even then, you show me such a thing, I’ll definitely condemn it. But on one condition: you have to condemn it when it happens on your side too. Because otherwise you’re nothing more than a hypocrite. You in?

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    VH says:

    Anonymity bad? So says a columnist in the NY Times…a newspaper that has been publishing anonymous editorials since time began.

    Same with the Economist and most of their anonymous article authors. Same with all other major newspapers like the WSJ and their nameless, faceless editorials “boards”.

    I’ve now seen or heard this aonymous-bad meme in a quite a number of places in the past few weeks so I take it that the dead tree folks are still having a hard time with this Internet thingie.

    This too shall pass.

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      Cameron Prymak says:

      Bansky, W. Mark Felt – good examples of anonymity that effected change.

      Drive-by anonymous vitriolic postings, not so helpful.

      You have an interesting comment, why hide behind a pseudonym?

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      JenS says:

      Editorials are not anonymous. They are the stance of a newspaper. That there isn’t a byline doesn’t mean it’s anonymous. The stance doesn’t necessarily even reflect the opinion of the majority of the newspaper’s staff – it’s the official newspaper line, often falling in line with the stance of the publisher.

      I’ve heard the ridiculous demands that editorials be signed for ages, and it’s an utterly ludicrous demand. I’ve watched skilled editorial writers write compelling editorials that don’t reflect their personal leanings in order that the editorial stance of the paper be represented. It’s the difference between an editorial and a column.

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        VH says:

        Newspapers are imaginary fictional legal entities incorporated with pieces of paper filed with the state.
        They don’t actual exist in real life in a physical form with a functioning brain and as such they can’t have an “editorial stance”.

        People: real with real opinions. Corporations: fictional with no brain and hence no opinions.

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          JenS says:

          In other words, you want to have an individual at whom you can vent your rancid ire, instead of taking the time to simply disagree with the idea and coming up with a legitimate argument.

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            VH says:

            I personally didn’t write anything about whether or not I agree with it, I’m just simply pointing out the “irony” in a newspaper complaining about anonymous writing.

            But if I did have a problem with it, it’s not with “engaging” with the argument. It would be knowing who’s the “Man behind the Curtain” pulling the strings.

            There’s a reason they hide behind editorials boards. When you hide behind an editorial board, one can always tell people “no 20 years ago I argued for/against X but they voted me down” for what issue. We literally would have no idea.

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    rabbit says:

    I’m no fan of Kathy Shaidle, but to call her a “white supremacist” is to indulge in the very activity you claim to denounce.

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      Warren says:

      Really, Stewart? How many books have you written about white supremacy?

      But you know, let’s save time. Get her to sue me. I’ll plead justification.

      I’ll win.

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        rabbit says:

        Ah, the old “argument from authority”. You’re the expert, so what you say goes.

        But we all have a tendency to interpret the remarks of our political opponents as hate.

        And you are a fool to use my real name. Even those who agree with you may prefer to stay anonymous, and thus may be reluctant to post on a blog where the blog owner feels free to reveal their name or email. It’s one of the few courtesies remaining on the internet, even amongst opponents.

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          smelter rat says:

          Well Stewart, it is his sandbox.

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    Aurelia says:

    One problem with your argument, your example blogs under her own name, as do most of the most hateful bloggers in politics.

    And editorial pages regularly get rambling, hate-filled insane letters to the editor written under real names; same for every media outlet anywhere, they just don’t publish them. But they do publish online comments that are rambling and hatefilled and bizarre. With almost no moderation.

    Meanwhile, there are absolutely no problems with comments, either anon or under real names, in any other area of the blogosphere. E-patients, mental health, parenting blogs, cooking blogs, science blogs, business blogs….nada. Zip. But then again, we moderate, and shun anyone who attacks our communities. We just don’t tolerate anyone who tries to harm our conversations. Debate is fine, hate is not.

    Matthew Ingram had a great column called the Broken windows theory of commenting. Can’t find the link–but to sum up, if you moderate the worst, and find ways to reward good commentators, the community will improve over time, and eventually guard itself.

    And maybe the Canadian political blogosphere needs to do that as well. But real names have nothing to do with that.

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      Warren says:

      Your real argument would be improved with a real name at the end of it, mon ami.

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    Jon A says:

    This may be a non sequitur, but I defer to the position of one Rod Serling in the Twilight Zone episode “Death’s-Head Revisted,” on why German concentration camps must not be demolished:

    “All the Dachaus must remain standing. The Dachaus, the Belsens, the Buchenwalds, the Auschwitzes – all of them. They must remain standing because they are a monument to a moment in time when some men decided to turn the Earth into a graveyard. Into it they shoveled all of their reason, their logic, their knowledge, but worst of all their conscience. And the moment we forget this, the moment we cease to be haunted by its remembrance, then we become the gravediggers.”

    The key is to know that this hate is out there, and that we are going to be held responsible for how much power we allow them. It must be archived and saved and disseminated. If you’re a racist or homophobe or what-have-you-phobe, you better damn well own it when confronted with the evidence.

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    Derek Pearce says:

    I wouldn’t trust myself with a pseudonym to remain civil when I comment online, so have always used my name. It keeps one more calm and rational when reading/commenting. You can still make a logical, passionate argument about something and not be a complete a-hole at the same time.

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    Martin Cooke says:

    Back when I was a wee one, in the days of the 3200 baud modem, the TRS-80, etc., we used to post on “bulletin boards”, which were pretty much the same thing as this comments page.

    Writing under a pseudonym, I made some really nasty comments in one particular post, comments that I am still a bit ashamed of. They were kinda political- I was a Tiny Tory at the time- but I think they really came about because I had the complete freedom to write whatever hateful crap came into my head, thinking I was the sharpest wit on the boards. Anyway, I’m convinced that there’s something about the immediacy and anonymity of these comments pages that brings out the worst in people. No chance I would have said those things out loud, in front of people who knew me.

    AND people aren’t reflective enough to think about whether they really know anything about what they are posting (Yes, Rabbit, the “Argument from Authority” should be more heavily weighted than blatherings from the ignorant). You have the right to your opinion, but that doesn’t mean it should be published/posted/available, or that it somehow counts more than that of someone who has done some real work on a subject.

    Yeah, Derek, I’m going to make sure I include my last name when I post in a public forum, too. Makes good sense.

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      smelter rat says:

      Me too!

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    Jim Hayes says:

    For those who think that Mr. Kinsella exagerrates when he calls Kathy Shaidle a “white-supremacist” I urge you just to go to her blog, “fivefeetof fury”. It is racist, bigoted and infantile. Warren, one thing i don’t understand, she has a number of times made mention on her blog that Bernie Farber called her the world’s ugliest racist or some such thing. She seems to have a real hate on for him (he must then be doing something right) What in god’s name is she babbling about? Thanks and keep up the good work. These asshats have to be exposed wherever and whenever.

    Jim Hayes
    Brampton Ont.

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