It Takes 20 Minutes: The internet, critics and people in disguise

February 14, 2010 | Drew Forrester

These are interesting times at WNST.

Likewise, with the on-going surge of social media and connectivity with the rest of the world via the internet, these are interesting and somewhat confusing times within the human race itself.

Two weeks ago, I came across a piece authored by Mark Morford of SFGate, a publication connected to the San Francisco Chronicle.  My good buddy Neal Shaffer used it to create a blog topic on his web-site this week and once you read it, I’m sure you’ll agree it’s a very interesting discussion-point.

It’s called “Why are you so terribly disappointing?”. You should probably read it here, now, before you go on reading what I have to say.

Welcome back.

Interesting, huh?

Morford attempted to grasp the concept of why so many people “out there” simply can’t offer anything positive.  Something’s always wrong, somewhere, and it’s getting to be more and more our everyday nature to spend more time bitching about it and less time working on trying to improve upon it.

I don’t need to elaborate on Morford’s point(s).  He did a great job of slapping the active complainers in the face.

I thought, though, that Morford missed one significant point when he outlined the issues affecting our daily review of all-things-wrong-in-the-world and it’s a subject I’ve talked and written about a lot over the years:  Anonymity.  (Expanded to read:  On-line anonymity).

The natural flow of discussion on the internet is driven and fueled by opinion.  You write a blog about a great restaurant, people respond and tell you if it’s good — or not.  You author a heartwarming story about a father of 3 who just raised $77,000 for a homeless shelter…someone’s bound to write a response and magnify that incident last summer when the father was managing his son’s Little League game and got thrown out by the umpire for calling him a “f**king jerk” in front of everyone.   “Turns out that guy isn’t such a good guy after all,” you write.  And you write that response because you can.  The forum is there and you use it.  You don’t attach your name to the response.  Well, 98% of the time you don’t.

In a 2009 study at Northwestern University, they cataloged 71,000 comments in response to blogs written at six different newspapers across the country and only 2% of the comments contained what appeared to be a real name.  The other 98% were screen names, invoked mainly to disguise the commenter’s identity. (Huffington Post)

So when the story comes out about the dad who raised the money for the homeless shelter, you just couldn’t let that story float by without getting in your dig about how that same man got tossed from a Little League game.  But you post the comment without giving your name.  Why?  Well, most would say you wouldn’t want to face the scrutiny from either the Dad, himself, or others in the community who might know you and respond to your comment by saying, “Now why would you ruin that heartwarming story by bringing up the incident last summer?”

That the incident shouldn’t have been publicized is worth debating.  If it happened, it happened.  But not attaching your name to a comment shows some kind of insecurity that needs to be addressed.

That’s what Morford missed in his piece, I thought.  Yes, people are hateful.  Yes, people would rather write mean things than nice things.  The underlying issue, though, isn’t anger.  It’s lack of accountability.

The issue of on-line anonymity is now being studied at the highest place possible in our country, the United States Supreme Court.  In fact, here’s a clip from a recent article in which Judge Scalia offers his own personal opinion of internet anonymity.

US legislation is sure to examine the subject of on-line anonymity as laws slowly begin to catch up with important issues regarding the internet. One daunting look into current legal cases, however, seems to paint a grim picture for anonymity on the internet. Justice Scalia recently stated in a ruling on McIntyre vs. Ohio Elections Commission that he found anonymity generally dishonorable. He wrote that “It facilitates wrong by eliminating accountability, which is ordinarily the very purpose of the anonymity.” He also felt that creating legal protection for anonymous communication without a reason to expect “threats, harassment or reprisals seems to me a distortion of the past that will lead to a coarsening of the future”. Additionally, the Supreme Court of California recently upheld a state law prohibiting anonymous mass political mailings by political candidates. The fact that this case involves limiting anonymous speech, which is strongly protected by the First Amendment, does not bode well for media such as on-line communications which would have inherently less protection.  (63 U.S.L.W. 4294, 4293-94 (Scalia, J., dissenting) -McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Commission, 63 U.S.L.W. 4279 (U.S. April 18, 1995).

Interesting.

The Supreme Court Judge finds on-line anonymity “generally dishonorable” — “It facilitates wrong by avoiding accountability.”

The multi-pronged dilemma facing the on-line world these days includes a slab of the audience known as “trolls”.  These are people who, mainly, have nothing better to do with their time than to try and create a diversion to the topic being discussed by engineering their own discussion on their own terms and nearly each and every time, it’s authored in a contrary position to the original poster.

We have a large variety of trolls at WNST.net. Some do it for the sake of making (attempting) a fool out of the blogger.  Some do it just to create strife. And my own thought, personally, is that most trolls do it because they’re not smart enough to contribute in the way their mind tells them to.  I think trolls WANT to make a point and, in their own brain, the opinion they’re about to espouse is probably reasonable enough to be considered.  Then, at crunch time, they just don’t know how to take it from their brain to the keyboard.  It just doesn’t work.  And when that happens, someone takes issue with THEIR point and the troll-fight begins. And before you know it, the blog or story has lost its appeal to the readers who really do matter.

MASN’s Roch Kubatko finally reached his boiling point a week or so ago.  Weary from having to “babysit” the idiots who frequent his blog, Kubatko launched into a rare (for him) tirade in which he chastised anyone who was intending on trolling in the future.  Go ahead and check it out here for yourself. If LOL in cyber-lingo means LAUGH OUT LOUD, then I gave Roch an “AOL” when I read his diatribe.  That would stand for: APPLAUD out loud.  I’m with you Roch.  Tighten the gloves and get in there and take a few swings at those dicks.  Good for you.

Speaking of taking on detractors…

Anyone in the media is open game for the general public.  With the advent of blogs, stories and “comment below”, everyone has become, for all intents and purposes, a writer.  Read it.  Then comment on it.

I like that, personally.  We should all be allowed to say whatever we want to say without fear of losing our ability to communicate again in the future.  Someone should tell that to the baseball team.  But I digress…

As I wrote earlier, in my opinion, the issue most concerning about internet communication and connectivity isn’t the message itself, but the messenger.  And that’s where people continue to duck their own responsibility to say or write something and then be willing to say, “Yes, that’s me, that’s what I said and I’m more than willing to talk with you about it.”

These drive-by web-shootings where people write whatever they want without fear of accountability has led many to question both the purpose and the need for such public forms of dislike.

It goes back to what Mark Morford wrote:  ”Why are you so mean?”

Here’s what Chris Cornell (Soundgarden lead vocalist) once said about critics and on-line bashing.

“I read stuff on the web all the time about me, the band, my singing and my career and you know what?  I don’t give a f**k about any of those m***erf****rs. And that sounds harsh and irrational and maybe even downright hateful, but the point is this:  You don’t know me. We’ve never met.  Never had a cup of coffee. Never talked about making a record or writing a song.  I read something once where I cussed out some girl in Boston because she wanted me to pose for a picture with her and I didn’t do it and we started cussing at each other. Man, that s**t never happened.  Never.  But someone wrote it and stuck it up there and everyone went around saying, Cornell is such an a**hole.  Have some accountablity, man. Write the f**king truth.” (Rolling Stone, 2008)

Accountability.  There it is again.

I remember a blog once written by Adam Duritz, the lead singer of Counting Crows.  I’ve tried to archive it here, but couldn’t.  It’s evidently too outdated. Anyway, Duritz wrote a blistering piece early one morning after a night of drinking in Greenwich Village in which he attacked on-line haters and wrote one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen about critics and people who write or say things about you without just cause.  It went something like this:

“I’ll go back and rent a one-bedroom flat in Berkeley and be a short-order cook for $10 an hour before I’ll ever let someone who hasn’t done half of what I’ve done tell me I’m doing it wrong.  F**k those people.”

He was drunk when he wrote it.  But Hemingway was drunk a lot too.  Just remember that.

At least Duritz wrote it and put his name to it.

Somehow, the internet has become a sanctuary for people in hiding.  It’s the on-line version of the witness-protection-program.

You go in, under an assumed name or different identity than you own, and you become “someone else”.  You can then write whatever you want, opine as strongly as you want and, in some cases (a lot of time) outright LIE about something and there’s no formal measure of accountability.

And that’s all done under the guise of “internet privacy”.

Last week, I wrote a blog at WNST.net that dealt with the photos floating around cyberspace that show a Ravens fan pissing on Bob Irsay’s grave. I followed that up with on-air discussion last Friday morning on WNST. In my attempt to gauge what the public’s opinion on “Piss Gate” was, I collected opinions from the blogs I wrote, e-mails that came in to me and then scanned the various football-centric web-sites in town where folks gather to discuss all things Ravens and NFL.

In going through the on-line opinions, I noted on the air that many people condoned, supported and applauded the act of someone pissing on Bob Irsay’s grave. I pointed out several posters from web-sites in town and identified them by screen name and chastised THEM for their position, since my opinion was in direct contrast to their opinion.

That’s when the REAL pissing (and moaning) began.

“You can’t use our screen name on the radio.  That’s not fair.  That goes against the rules of the internet.  You’re invading my privacy.”

Then came the back-breaker.  Someone authored a comment that said, “A-hole Drew called us all scumbags today”.  What followed, of course, were e-mails to me and on-line publishings about the nerve I displayed calling people “scumbags” just because I disagreed with them.

The only problem?

I didn’t call anyone a scumbag.

Fortunately, our WNST.net Buy A Toytoya.com Audio Vault backed me up on that.  No one was called a scumbag, but yet, someone on-line posted an out and out lie and decided to “run with it” under their screen name and their own version of witness protection.

It gets better.  I happen to KNOW the true identity of the offending poster.  And I posted his name in a reply to his message in which he lied about my use of the word scumbag.

Hey, look, if I call you a scumbag and it’s legit, I have no reason to complain if you “out me”.  Just tell the truth.  That’s all I ask.

And then the s**t hit the fan when people discovered that I had used this person’s real name.  ”You can’t do that.”  ”There are privacy issues at stake here.”  ”You have to have the person’s permission before you can use their screen name, let alone their real name.”

I haven’t asked for “permission” to do something since 3rd grade when I asked out of school early to go with my Mom and Dad to the 1971 World Series at Memorial Stadium.

Funny…the person posting MY name and posting a lie about ME didn’t ask ME for permission.  As Dave Matthews would say:  ”Funny the way it is…”

So the world has now evolved to this:  You are allowed to post something anonymously.  And even if it’s a lie, a fabrication or somehow distorts the truth, you’re STILL not allowed to be held accountable for that?  And even though you’re posting on a PUBLIC domain, no one outside of that domain is allowed to mention your existence?

I don’t think it works that way, but some people do.

In the world of professional wrestling, on very, very rare occasions, one of the performers will break down and conduct what is known in the business as a “shoot” interview.  It’s done with the person in question being out of costume…out of character.  This doesn’t happen much.  And at the executive level of the industry, it’s always frowned upon because those who run the world of wrestling want their employees to stay in character ALL THE TIME.

I’m always fascinated when I see, read or hear others in the world conduct what amounts to a shoot interview, where they say or transcribe whatever’s on their mind without fear of repercussion or backlash.

WWE head man Vince McMahon had a much-celebrated 30 minute shoot interview with Bob Costas back in 2007.  The final 10 minutes featured an exchange between the two that nearly got physical.  In fact, on numerous occasions afterwards, Costas admitted he thought McMahon was going to strike him during the live show.  Here’s that part of the interview if you’d like to see it.  Please note there’s foul language and mid-way through, the video goes out for 20 seconds or so and the sound diminishes.  Hang in there with it and you’ll see that it comes back.

McMahon made several outstanding points in the piece, but the one that made the most sense to me was when he cross-examined Costas about HBO’s airing of “The Sopranos”.  While Costas was busy raking VM over the coals about the WWE’s “racy and offensive” content, McMahon quickly pointed out the use of the word “f**k” throughout the show that aired just prior to the Costas-McMahon interview.

In other words:  ”Call it fair if you’re gonna call it.”

Costas pointed out a personal issue that he had with WWF programming when he mentioned his dislike for some theatrical wrestling “bits” like crotch-grabbing, using the phrase “Suck it!” and other offensive elements of McMahon’s show.

And then McMahon body-slammed Costas again.  ”We haven’t done that stuff in a year,” McMahon said.

“But you used to do it,” Costas countered.

“We don’t do that anymore, Bob. You really should be doing your homework on this kind of stuff.  It’s obvious you don’t watch our program anymore, yet here you are up here talking to me about it.”

The only way McMahon could have hurt Costas more would have been by hitting him with a steel chair.

We get this kind of laziness all the time at WNST.

“I don’t listen anymore…but here’s what’s wrong with you.  And your show.”

“I haven’t listened to your show in two years but a friend of mine told me you said ‘so and so’ last week.”

“You talk too much high school sports.”

As a side note, I got THAT e-mail the other day.  Someone wrote me a note to say they had filled out the survey at WNST and wanted me to know – for whatever reason – they had given me a “2″.  The reason?  ”I can’t stand that high school report you and Glenn do every morning.”

Umm…we haven’t done that in a year.

In fact, the reason we stopped doing it was because enough people said, “I don’t like it” for me to consider stopping it.  So I did.

So when I sent the person an e-mail reply telling them we haven’t done daily high school reports in a year, his response was:  ”I still don’t like your show.”

OK.  I guess that works.  You haven’t listened in at least a year – probably more – but you’ve decided you “still” don’t like it.

Maybe, like McMahon said to Costas, you should try experiencing the product…doing a little homework, so to speak…before blabbering on about how the high school reports every morning have ruined the show.

Or maybe not.

Maybe you should just continue to think the way you think, without really challenging yourself to put in the effort required to stimulate your brain into trying new things or giving something a try once again because it used to be appealing to you.

(I’m on a 10,000 Maniacs kick these days.  I was a big fan 10-15 years ago.  Last week, I pulled out one of their old CD’s and threw it in the player in my car. You know what?  They were really good.  I fell out of favor with them in their final years…admittedly…but their best 12 songs are still really, really strong.)

So that’s it.

I think I encompassed just about everything.  Thanks to Mark Morford, Justice Scalia, Chris Cornell, Roch Kubatko, Adam Duritz, Vince McMahon, Bob Costas and “those people” at “that website” that I’m not allowed to mention because I didn’t get “permission” to do so.

I welcome the exchange of opinion, both on the show and here at WNST.net.

You’re more than welcome to tell me what you think about THIS…or my take on the Ravens…or my position on the Orioles…or, even, me personally.  You don’t have to have my permission to do so.  It’s part of the deal.  I write it…or say it…and you can comment on it.

But if you’re NOT willing to put your name next to it, then you get what you get.

And if you ARE willing to put your name next to it, you’ll get what you get as well.

Fred Grau doesn’t like me.  He doesn’t like the show.  He’s not a fan.

He told me that yesterday.

Somehow, I still woke up this morning and had breakfast at Mount Pleasant.

And even though Fred Grau doesn’t like me, I’m still going to grill steaks tonight and my life will go on without interruption.

I don’t really know Fred Grau at all, so I can’t say whether or not I like him.

But you can bet your ass that if I do wind up knowing him and it comes to pass that I don’t like him, I’ll put my name next to it.

I’m not in the witness protection program.

And you shouldn’t be either.

Say what you want.  Feel the way you want to feel.  Have an opinion.  Make your case.  If you’re happy, say so.  If you’re disappointed, convey that message as well.

And stop trolling.  Enough is enough.  If you’re not smart enough to contribute to the discussion, we’ll mail you a dunce cap and you can wear that to the mall.  However – if you MUST troll – and believe me, I’ve seen enough evidence of it to know that some of you have to do it (it’s in your DNA), then please, please put your name next to it so everyone out there can see how much your high school educators failed you.  Worst case scenario? I find out how who you are then publish your name for everyone to see.  And no…I’m not going to “ask for permission”, either.

Come early, come often and make your case. But put your name to it and stop hiding.

Assassins hide behind bushes because they don’t want to be seen.  KKK members wear sheets and hoods to hide their faces so no one knows that it’s “YOU” involved in that heinous act.  Bank robbers pull wool hats over their eyes, nose and mouth so you can’t ID them.

You don’t have to hide on the internet.

Or on the radio.

Stop. Being. Afraid.

Just say what you want or write what you want…but man-up, as Denzel said in Training Day, and attach your name to whatever it is you believe in.

Or stop coming by.

I won’t miss you.

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