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There really are vicious people

May 8, 2012 - Lee Smith
The Sentinel website, like others on the Internet, allows for member users to comment anonymously, in essence, since they comment under a user name that need not match their own. In fact, they never even have to provide their own name.

This has been a source of consternation to those — including us — who don’t like to see the vicious and vile comments that some users post. We rely on other users to alert us to these comments so that they can be removed from the site. This doesn’t happen all that often, but on occasion.

Over the years, I have fielded calls from people who are quite shocked and hurt to have been the target of harsh, unfair and malicious comments. Sometimes, you can tell the callers have not dealt with such hatred before. They tend to imply that the open, anonymous format of the website is the cause. I have to disagree. It’s more like a catalyst.

What these callers are experiencing is a reality that is hard to swallow. Namely, that there actually are mean, vicious people around them every day in their own community. But there are. Thoughts expressed on the Internet are not “new.” They reside, or have resided, inside some mean souls who previously spoke ill of others, but generally in a close circle of friends, or maybe just to the walls of their living room. These folks may not have the chance to interact with their councilman, or a prominent physician or with someone else in the spotlight. And they probably wouldn’t say mean things to that person’s face. But this doesn’t mean they haven’t been thinking it.

In other words, Internet forums have let the insanity out.

The solution, it seems, is to require those who post things online to use their real names. But how that is to be monitored and enforced is not clear. Newspapers are struggling with the issue, even as they enforce the exact same rule when it comes to letters to the editor that appear in the print edition. I, like you, hope it gets figured out.


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