Instituting the Golden Rule for Web 2.0 and Beyond

Ken RosenblattSenior Analyst IApril 15, 2008

I primarily write about the Islanders. Since joining Bleacher Report, I've been excited about the idea of tackling other areas, particularly the Mets, MLB at large, fantasy sports, and perhaps a few others.

I've been wading into those waters slowly (they're still a bit nippy this time of year). In the meantime, the hockey season, by strict definition, is over.

That's not to say that the Stanley Cup Playoffs won't provide appropriate material for posts to Islanders Outsider. We'll see what unfolds. Otherwise, the offseason is spent wondering where the next story will come from. Today, it comes from my Blog Box colleague, Dee Karl, of The 7th Woman.

Over the weekend she posted an article on Bleacher Report about Sean Avery's latest foray into the absurd. She was fully aware when she posted it that the article could cause a firestorm. The number of article views and comments clearly indicate that the storm's arrival was swift and surly.

I have an opinion on what Avery did (unsportsmanlike, clownish), as well as an opinion on Dee's contribution to the story (a valid statement of one person's reaction). This story isn't about those things. It's about the comments that readers attached to Dee's article and how they finally tipped me over the edge to write about the disintegration of decency online.

My greatest, and perhaps only, discouragement to applying for a position in the Blog Box was years of reading Internet message boards and blog comments. I deplore the base level of cynicism, hate, and childishness that flows so frequently online to such a degree that I hesitated to participate in anything even remotely related to it. I'm glad I overcame that hesitation. But the ugliness is still there. And it really makes me wonder...

How can there be so many people out there who are so comfortable with disparagement and denigration as tools of debate? Do they hope to gain in the argument from the use of vulgarity and name calling?

And, if not, what do they gain? Is it a feeling of triumph, pleasure, or joy at having verbally thrashed someone with little chance of reprisal?

How did we arrive at a place where a significant portion of our population engages in this shade of communication?

This is not a call for censorship, by the way. I'm not offended outright by language. It's the sentiment behind it. The question here isn't, "What gives people the right?" It's, "What gives them the motivation?"

Was this negative energy sitting latent all those years before widespread Internet access was available? Or were people regularly so unkind to each other, and I just didn't notice?

We are in the midst of an attack-oriented era of entertainment. You can see its underpinnings in the comments on Dee's article. Some of the commenters are so focused on the attack that they have not even noticed that the author is a woman, despite a prominent byline and picture.

Others point to her bias as a justification for telling her to give up writing, or that she's not really a hockey fan. This was quite obviously an editorial piece. Having a bias is not grounds for being discredited.

Here's an anticipated reaction to what I'm saying: "If you don't like the comments, don't read them and you won't have anything to complain about."

Here's my pre-emptive response: "If you don't like the article, don't insult the writer and your criticisms will carry more weight."

The truth is that the offending responses in this case weren't all that bad on the spectrum of nastiness. But this easy willingness to launch personal attacks happens all over. Just a few days ago, Matt Cerrone of MetsBlog, one of the most popular and successful sports blogs out there, was forced to hold comments in limbo because the integrity of the site was being damaged by offensive remarks. Here's some of what Matt had to say about it:

...thanks to recent activity in Comment’s Section of, i fear my blog will soon be known as the place for angry, violent, fringe fans who are only interested in spewing hate and venom... far, a small, but very loud group of fans have essentially hijacked this site’s comment’s section with mean, disrespectful and angry banter...

Can't we do better than that? It doesn't have to be about raising the level of discourse (but it can be). It is about opening the issue of why anger, hate, and disrespect are acceptable forms of entertainment and social interaction.

Some of you will agree that this is important, and some will argue that you have the right to say whatever you want and take satisfaction in it. If it's true that some people really get enjoyment out of such an approach, then there's not much I can say except that I don't get it any more than I get Sean Avery.

Perhaps that's as far as it goes. I still think a little good nature goes a long way.