Mild-mannered and always polite National Public Radio has finally raised the white flag of surrender.
Like nearly every other public forum on the web, NPR’s site had become populated with hateful, racist, scatological or just plain nasty rants, usually posted under fictitious names from phony social media accounts. After admonishing posters to NPR.org to keep it clean, the curators of good taste on the airwaves cried “Uncle!” and eliminated the public’s ability to talk back to public radio.
I get why.
Every morning when I open my email, Twitter feed and Facebook page I have to stare at it with hands over my eyes as if I were about to watch the Zapruder film in IMAX 3D. It’s a good day when only half my messages begin, “Dear A$$^#?!”
I’m not sure what it is about the virtual world that gives people permission to vent their spleen with impunity. It’s hard to imagine Trolls — as they’re known in cyberspace — talk to people in their actual lives the way they do on-line. You wouldn’t dream of calling your drycleaner a %&#$* to his face, so why is it okay to do it on his Facebook page?
That so many people are regularly dropping the f-bomb, n-bomb, c-bomb, s-bomb and the other f-bomb in response to an article, opinion or even a cat video they didn’t like represents more than a coarsening of society, it’s a symptom of real sickness.
Having a different point of view, objecting forcefully, even anger is fair game; trolling is coloring outside the lines of civilized behavior.
As a newspaper bigmouth and radio gasbag to boot, I’ve developed a rhino-like hide to ad hominem attacks. When you opine for your supper you have no feelings left to hurt. Hostile reactions to political opinions come with the turf and you either accept it or get out of the racket. Like a mobster, this is the life I have chosen so this isn’t a plea for sympathy.
Still, some recessive gene in the DNA of Mankind was activated along with the first AOL account. The cloak of anonymity the web provides has unleashed our inner Klansman, our repressed anti-Semite, our closeted homophobe and unreconstructed Stalinist. It’s now risk-free for bigots and haters to poison the well water for the psychologically sound who actually enjoy exchanging ideas.
Mike Godwin, creator of “Godwin’s Law”, says, “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazism or Hitler approaches.” Of course he said this back in 1990. Today Trolls start with Hitler and it goes downhill from there.
Now everybody is Hitler.
Donald Trump is Hitler. Hillary Clinton is Hitler. Barack Obama is Hitler. George W. Bush is Hitler. That idiot in the green Subaru who plays his music too loud with his car windows open is Hitler.
Question: if the guy on FOX News you hate is Hitler then what does that make Hitler?
The hyperbole of hate knows no bounds in the digital age.
Awhile back I surfed onto an unfamiliar web page. The comment board attached to the article degenerated into an obscenity-laced verbal bloodbath over – wait for it – the correct oven temperature to bake chocolate chip cookies!
So we get mad. We unfriend. We block. Or we fire back in kind and make the world that much harsher, that much angrier. Meaner.
Thanks to Trolls, many people are now hesitant to express themselves; another irony of the Information Age. Repeated exposure to an endless stream of ugliness primed the pumps for a presidential candidate who insulted his way to the nomination of his party. Last week on New York’s Staten Island, a 13-year-old boy named Daniel Fitzpatrick took his own life because a relentless gaggle of bullies trolled him mercilessly 24/7 while the adults in his life stood by.
Next week I’ll treat you to a sampling of the responses I get for writing this piece.
Spoiler Alert! It won’t be suitable for children.
Doug McIntyre’s column appears Sundays. Hear him weekdays on AM 790. He can be reached at: Doug@DougMcIntyre.com.