Why does the internet bring out the asshole in us?

I have been following Meghan’s recent posts on Tory fiscal malfeasance with great interest over at Somena Media (which is fast becoming one of my favorite blogs) and I got reading her discussion of dust-ups between her and Kate at Small Dead Animals. And that got me reading late into the evening on the right side of the blogosphere, something that I used to do but stopped.

And now I remember why I stopped.

I stopped because too many of the commentors and posters on the more popular of the sites resorted to ad hominem attacks as a first response to anyone posting a differing opinion. To be fair, it doesn’t happen everywhere, and it does happen on the left as well; Deb Frish being a recent and particularly vile example. In any case, I have bumped into it far more often in the right-wing blogs, and it has happened often enough that it turned me off and I simply couldn’t be bothered with the grief anymore. I’m here to learn and ask questions and discuss. (If anyone followed the discussion on the flag lowering issue that we had here and on many other blogs a few months back, you will note that I totally changed my opinion on the issue after lots of interesting discussions.) That is what I’m here for – education. If I can’t get it because a site is full of immature jerks that would rather insult people, then I just don’t feel the need to hang around.

And I see that Small Dead Animals hasn’t changed much at all.

Where exactly does this come from? This belief that I am right, that there is no possibility that I could not be right, and you are not only wrong, but also the lesser for it. And what’s more, you need to be told in no uncertain terms that not only are your ideas shit, but you as well are. Why exactly does this manifest itself so verdently on the internet? Maybe I should turn the question around. How is it that I can work and run with people that have radically different opinions on things political and religious than I, and we can have conversations over coffee about these very things without the words “asshat” or “stupid motherfucker” ever coming out? Is it because I’m too much of a coward in person to tell people what I really want to and that they should be called asshats?

Are these beligerent jerks on the internet in fact just me, but with balls?

Of course not. The reason the world works at all is not because of jerkwads like Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter, but in spite of them. Most people, even though they might disagree strenuously on some issues, can do so without insult or threat, hell, without even being rude. If this is the case, why must political discussions on blogs be so different?

Unfortunately, this kind of thing even happens on quiet little back-alley blogs like ours. When someone would rather tell me to get a brain instead of putting together a cogent argument simply because I disagree with them, it saddens me because it is another lost opportunity to learn, discuss, and have a bit of fun. I’d like to respond in a sensible manner, but crap like this makes it hard to do that because it gets my ass up. I don’t at all mind differences of opinion, hell I like it when others have different opinions than I – but I don’t expect or deserve to be insulted for the difference.

I haven’t felt the need to monitor or moderate the posts here and I really, really don’t want to. It’s not a time thing – the traffic is light enough that I’m sure it wouldn’t take very much effort, but I wouldn’t be able to access my email to perform the moderation during the daytime and I don’t want people to have to wait 12 hours or whatever to see their comments posted. It’s not fair and besides, I really would rather everyone felt free to say whatever is on their minds anyway. But what I will do from this point forward is delete any comments that include infantile attacks and/or insults that do not add to constructive criticism. I don’t mind bad language – I use it all the time, so wail away, but I would rather not see it directed at people and won’t let it sit too long on this site.

Even when I write it – which I have on a number of occasions.


17 thoughts on “Why does the internet bring out the asshole in us?

  1. Seriously, i blame FoxNews. I’m fairly new to the blog world – my primary internet experience since 1999 has been discussion forums – mostly over at Delphiforums. That “debating” tactic was extremely prevalent among the right-wing posters on US politics forums, but virtually non-existent among right-wing posters on Canadian politics forums – except for those who had those illegal satellite dishes and could get Fox.

    As Fox becomes more available in Canada (thankfully not in Quebec yet!), i’ve seen this sort of stuff become increasingly common. Can’t counter the facts? Insult them until they go home.

    BTW – how does one get the RSS feed for your blog? I don’t have the RSS icon thingy in my address bar.


  2. rc,
    There is definitely a tendancy for the MSM to prefer combative angst over real debate, but FOX isn’t the only one, though they may well be responsible for getting the ball rolling. Take John Stewart’s appearance on CNN’s Crossfire a couple of years back as a great attack on this sort of thing.

    The RSS feed is located way down at the bottom of the side panel on the right – down below the Blogging Alliance list. I should probably move it up higher..


  3. What’s truly bizarre is, I am actually not from the left. But what I have discovered in my life is that I always learn more from people whom I disagree with, than people who live in my particular AMEN corner. Over the past 2 years a lot of my attitudes about a number of issues have changed, because, due to the SDA thing, and the reluctance of the BTs to deal with it, I did not find a place of safety to comment or even participate in discussion until I found prog-blogs and people like McLelland, or Skippy, and Section 15.

    Look, I’m so far to the right, that I’m an anarcho-libertarian. But on the left, I can actually have, and regularly do have discussions with people who I disagree with, and it doesn’t degenerate into the nasty and personal vicious stuff that I see and have experienced on the right. If you had told me 5 years ago, I would be on a ‘progressive’ blog-roll and most of my on-line friends would be self-declared left-of-center people, I would not have believed you.

    But then Sept 11th happened, and 90% of my right-wing friends literally went OFF THE RAILS. It’s as if the entire world and it’s history prior to that moment in time ceased to exist. A cultural shift occured which to me has become uglier, darker and scarier with each passing day.

    Predomoninatly — what I enjoy about my prog-blog friends is that even if I disagree with their conclusions, at heart they are good people, who are very genuine in their compassion and empathy towards other human beings. I disagree with some of the ideas they have about how to make life better for other human beings, but that’s mere detail work.

    Over the past few years I’ve seen the right turn into a lumpen of nearly socio-pathic rage, that not only has no compassion, but also seems incapable of empathy. It’s really rather frightening.


  4. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the people who agree with the President of the U.S. have their views constantly reinforced like a mantra – acceptable views are correct views.
    Very well said, Meaghan.


  5. You are, sadly, so right. All too often, a reasonably intelligent posting deteriorates into a shrill exchange of juvenile insults after a few comments. Having no stomach for this kind of disrespect for fellow citizens, I now rarely venture beyond Progressive Bloggers.

    I believe the problem lies in the anonymity, rather like radio talk shows. People who might be quite decent face-to-face become utterly boorish when their faces are masked by technology.

    How unfortunate that an instrument of communication divides rather than connects.


  6. It seems to be a great problem for those who maintain web sites. Shall they control the posts or not, and what if yahoos show up frequently or in some way excessively. How much time can the site owner put into reading comments and sorting out what is sort of ok and what is not. How long can’t the site owner continue until they hang up their keyboard and go fishin.
    I find that little new information develops after the first exchange, and then the level of debate seems to go downhill quickly. Those who repost tend to keep doing it with no apparent concern for hogging the space or the fact they are just going in circles with less and less light.
    Maybe it would be a useful idea to have a rule tried out along the lines that all you can have is one post, or maybe two, per thread. And then you are blocked for a few days.


  7. Meaghan -> I find it heartening in some way that someone from the right validates my sense that the right blogs are more toxic and less useful than the left. I’m always suspicious of the way that my own personal biases shape the way I see things.

    garhane -> I can see how moderating posts can indeed become a nightmare. Our blog is pretty small, and frankly I don’t see it becoming a real issue, so for me the problem is mostly that I find commenting on quite a few other blogs distateful. It’s no big deal, but I just think that it’s such a shame.

    (Of course as I write this I’m watching CNN and seeing beligerent politicians carp at each other. Perhaps it *is* as much an effect of the MSM promoting the scoring sound bite over a thorough argument.)


  8. As my name has been raised, I think it’s only appropriate to broaden the debate a little, to place the link to Somenamedia into better context.

    This is the complete content of a post written at a blog then titled “Uncle Tom Injuns” authored by Meaghan Walker-Williams.

    “Dear Adrian/Raskolnikov/Kate’s Beard

    Are you capable of making a single essay or comment that doesn’t have anything to do with Aboriginals and how much you despise your own people?

    I’m just wondering.

    Or are you just a One-Trick Pony for the Blogging Tories?

    Seriously… why don’t you try it some time. Write a post, that doesn’t involve your contempt, rage and disgust at Aboriginal Peoples.

    If you hate Indians so much… why do you spend so much time doing nothing but thinking about Indians, writing about indians, bashing indians?

    For somebody who seems to so despise “identity politics”, you are postively enamoured with playing the “Right-Wing Blogging Injun” thing to the hilt.
    Don’t you know it’s boring.

    Or are you both still searching for identity Having decided to first discard your own heritage, and then piss and shit all over it as well, as often as you possibly can?

    You do know that you are nothing but a “token” to these right-wingers…

    That if you dared to challenge them on any subject, on any topic, they will drop you like a hot potatoe, and treat you, with exactly the same contempt that they are applauding you for your snipes and attacks at other indians.

    You may have fooled yourself Raskolnikov, into believing that if you can just bash indians enough, that you won’t be associated with the bad stereotypes of indians in the minds of your new found friends.

    But no matter how much you scrub your skin, you will never get the smell of “Indian” off of it these people will never forget who you are… even if you have.”


    That wasn’t enough. On another ocassion she insinuated (see the reference to “adrian”) that she knew his identity and that his employer at Indian Affairs might like to know what he was up to.

    Like many of her more toxic endeavors, that disappeared rather soon after it was discovered.

    She also has an ongoing monologue going with the John Kennedy of no-treason.com, at notreason.blogspot.com that really has to be seen to be believed.

    It is one thing to raise the topic of civility in blogging – quite another to pick the well known author of a dozen attack blogs to undermine your argument quite as thoroughly as you have ….



  9. Kate;

    Irregardless of what Meaghan has said in the past, she managed to put a fairly civil post in here, something you failed to do. In fact, looking at your blog (nice try not linking to it – are you trying to insult our intelligence, or are you ashamed of something?), you seem to be incapable of holding a conversation that doesn’t degenerate into over the top name-calling and threats on your part. In short, whether Kev’s undermined his argument, you’ve certainly managed to strengthen his point on the lack of civility on the right.


  10. Sad…as for Uncle Tom Injuns… Just today StageLeft brought our attention to a post made the other day Dust my Brooms, that called all Metis people, “Cockroaches of Society” claiming that Darcey had never met a metis person who had never lied, stolen, commited assault or some other crime….

    Ah…But never mind.

    ‘Nuff said. It’s like contortortionism at times. It becomes bigotry in their minds, to not accept the bigotry that they indulge in. Thus the unacceptable becomes acceptable, and vice versa. Kate’s problem is, all she really has to go on in reposting the self-loathing anti-aboriginal crap from Darcey and Rask is that they are part aboriginal. This does not give them a “get out of being considered racist towards your own people free card”… which I guess she and they haven’t figured out yet.

    Ah well.


  11. Kate,

    Just laying out what MWW says is hardly providing “context”. I have read your blog to some depth recently and I used to read it frequently and I know that Meaghan was simply participating in what really is a toxic stew of epithets and intolerance. Not specifically racial intolerance, though there is some of that to be sure, but intolerance of other views generally. Showing Meaghan’s responses without showing the rest of the conversations, which I have read, is not showing context, it is precisely not showing context.

    I have no idea how a blog in which so many posts result in fights and insults is supposed to illuminate or educate anyone. It might not be the point of the place, I suppose. The inevitable result is an echo chamber where very few or no other voices will be heard and the participants simply support each other’s views and chuckle Bevis and Butthead-like at each others “good one’s” at the expense of those stupider than they.



  12. Referring back to ‘The Matriarchist’:
    You are entirely correct about the influence of anonymity. The difference between online interaction and more personal forms is the absence of non-verbal, primarily visual cues that communicate, intentionally or unintentionally, the position of the speaker. I’m not just talking about ‘body language’ although that in itself is quite fascinating, but I would also include tone and inflection in vocalization. So far, emoticons haven’t reached the point where they can convey that sort of additional information.
    This type of anonymity encourages a mob mentality, as it can in large physical collectives, such as the spectators at a soccer game, etc. All it takes is for one individual (who can inevitably be identified afterward) to start performing a behaviour that would ordinarily be considered ‘out of bounds’, and the anonymity allows people to follow, and repeat the behaviour with a complete absence of a fear of reprisal. The phenomena are parallel – all it takes is one person to start speaking emotionally, and that will prompt others to follow suit, even if they may not ordinarily do so. The difference is, the physical occurrence of a mob mentality is time-limited, as circumstances inevitably end the disorder and people return to individual states, but the person emboldened by a permanent sense of anonymity will be emboldened to continue with no fear of reprisal. Limiting the emotional discourse will send them somewhere else, the possibilities are infinite.
    In all honesty, I’d rather let these people continue posting, so we know where they are. That, and they are perfectly capable of embarassing themselves to the point where people cease to listen – case in point: ex-ndip.

    Sorry about that – class dismissed.:)


  13. Flash,
    Preventing the occurence of “mob mentality” is the reason that I prefer to respond to all comments, regardless of tone or intent with either calmness or, if I’m too angry, just silence. Adding my voice to that of the screeching monkeys just gives me a sore throat and makes it even noisier.


  14. I agree – and you do respond well. You and I and all the ‘Koggers enjoy the opportunity to debate, and deplore name-calling. I think we can all agree on that.
    I just got on a ramble on the reasons for the lack of civility in a general sense, I didn’t intend to imply any fault. I’m quite proud of the ‘work’ we do here.


  15. I guess I will let that be a lesson to me. Here I thought I was offering a reasonable comment when this black Porsche went screaming by on one side with vague objects thrown out the windows,
    and in the same moment an 18 wheeler thundered down the other side with heavy turbulence roiling the air behind.
    As long as the girls are having a good time, why should anyone complain, eh? Civility it definitely ain’t. More like artillery exchanges.I think I will just get off this road for a bit, get back to the Island highway north of Port Hardy where nobody goes faster than 25.


  16. I read this post and appreciated it because I have had the same questions as to why the invective appears to be so intense on the conservative and neo-conservative side. I first started blogging by reading Paul Wells and much as I appreciate his posts, I was frustrated by the absence of dialogue; then I discovered Andrew Coyne and thought, maybe this site will help me understand what the other points of view are all about. Wow, every time I ventured forth,a blast of invectives! When I called Harper Bush-lite and explained why a few months ago, I was called every name in the book, so that is why I return again and again to this site, and although I don’t have time to write reasoned and well-thought arguments I appreciate reading them. So keep up the good work. But please try and remember that many women are reading your blog and phrases like “as long as the girls are having a good time” may not be invective, but it is patronizing and dismissive and just as insulting as some of the expletives and attacks found elsewhere.


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