During the Sundance Film Festival, my friend David Carr stayed at my home for an infusion of Red Iguana mole and other Saltas family-home-evening rituals—he’d been away from his own family a few weeks and was looking dead on at missing them for a couple more. I met David years ago at an alternative newspaper confab, but he’s since left our industry for the lofty orbit of The New York Times. He was in town to report on the festival and to find fodder for his popular video blog, The Carpetbagger.
We talked about the strange relationship writers have with people who leave anonymous posts on comment boards. I told him I have no use for them—sign your name or say nothing, in my view. But David, bearer of a rather large soul, took minor pity on them, even telling me that he worried a bit about one particular keyboard monkey who used to rag on him, then disappeared. I think he wrote about that but, if so, I can’t find his column right now. Anyway, with these Stockholm Syndrome feelings of my own, I can’t muster the time for David’s, too.
Wondering about the well-being of someone who sticks a fork in you for the sport of it cannot be considered normal. When a writer is published, whatever he has to say is there for anyone to bear witness upon. An author stands before the world as naked as a Mormon cricket that has just shed its exoskeleton en route to Delta, Utah. The cricket, ready to try out a new covering and feeling full of himself, turns to grab a bite of grain with his good buddies, maybe josh around a little bit, maybe toss back a scotch. And, wouldn’t you know it—some of the other crickets start eating him. If you’re a Mormon cricket, life comes at you fast.
Which isn’t all bad—the grain is free—until you factor in that a cricket never knows who it is who’s chewing on his back. Same for a writer, who, thanks to the Internet, gets to share with his children all kinds of nasty and anonymous sentiments about him. It really isn’t new. We used to get a few anonymous letters, but at least we had a fingerprint. But, for some reason, most people signed their letters. Then came e-mail, and for a time, people signed those, too—or hadn’t yet learned how to set up fake user names. It wasn’t long, though, before anonymous e-mail began arriving. There’s nothing quite like reading a negative e-mail and thinking for damned sure you know who sent it but can’t precisely put a name to it.
Next came the blogosphere, where anonymous postings began taking hold. That morphed into comment boards at the end of nearly all columns or articles on the Internet. Nearly all of those comments arrive anonymously. It gets hairy. Now anonymous posters fight each other anonymously, too. I doubt that’s what the founding fathers had in mind when they endorsed and created a free and robust press, for I’ve yet to see such dialogue result in even the most remote positive outcome. Not to mention John Hancock and the rest signed their real names to their works—can you imagine the Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson factions doing their bidding from beneath rocks without ever facing each other?
Not all anonymous posters deserve ire. Some are quite clever; some leave intriguing comments and some contribute information that they might not reveal if it weren’t for the assurance of anonymity. It’s the nasty ones—the name callers, the flame throwers, the ones who shout by putting their emphatic idiocy in ALL CAPS. The wons who can’t spell. Here’s the funny part: Anyone who thinks that Websites are doing the public and the First Amendment a favor by allowing such creepy anonymous postings has eaten one too many Cheetos. Blogs and comment boards primarily exist to build the page views that drive up the rates on all those banner ads.
Yep, guilty as charged. Advice: Quit clicking on banner ads.
Those anonymous comment boards do draw in the eyeballs. In these parts, anything that rankles the local dominant faith will attract comments by the handcartful, and Webheads know it. Mitt Romney was gold, since not only did his detractors mock him, but a sort of contest also ensued among his supporters as to who could write the most celestial endorsement of him while also wracking his detractors. BYU and University of Utah sports are both dependable as stink at attracting flies when it comes to attracting sports know-it-alls who constantly fall upon their religious petards.
Today, I’m reading the comments about the three LDS missionaries who stand accused of desecrating a Catholic shrine in Colorado. You want a frightening dialogue, read the hundreds of posts centering on that topic on local news sites. These are religious people? Those posters represent your friends and neighbors, masked electronically as effectively as would be the case if they were wearing Ku Klux Klan hoods. I get the sense that some of them are.