The past three days brought out the best — and worst — of my community.
Neighbors of mine, 12-year-old twins with muscular dystrophy, were initially denied entrance into a popular July 4th 10-mile run. After a media and social media firestorm, they were allowed to participate.
“Able-bodied” runners pushed the boys in adaptive racing strollers. Hundreds of spectators cheered them on and everyone went home happy. Well, sort of. Maybe just battered and bloodied, but unbowed.
Reaction was swift and furious on both sides. I must compliment syracuse.com (my former employer) for reporting the story and following it through to its happy ending. I also must condemn the same company for having a policy that allows its users to post comments online anonymously.
The worst of that lot are called “trolls,” of course, and it’s really too kind of a word. I prefer “cowards” who hide behind fake names.
Below are some examples of what they put out there about the issue of whether the boys should be allowed to participate in the race. I’m mostly paraphrasing from memory because I just get too pissed off when I go back and re-read what they typed under cover of anonymity. Things like:
So you let these disabled kids in wheelchairs in a race, I guess I qualify for the Special Olympics … I can’t jump, so should I get a lawyer to get me into the NBA? … you’re different physically, just deal with it. … They also attacked the boys’ many supporters, with comments like “Shame on you” and — my favorite — “Your stupid.”
Let the record show that the proper form of that insult is
“you’re stupid.” It’s a contraction for “You. Are. Stupid.”
But then, look at what we’re dealing with — the lowest common denominator that has basically taken over the comment sections of too many media outlets. Why? Because their bean counters want “hits” — they call it “community engagement” — to justify their advertising rates.
I asked my former employer why it continues to allow anonymous comments. Its spokesperson cited “studies” — actually just one, a study of 71 pairs of college students in Israel that I’m not even sure was peer-reviewed — that shows online nastiness increases not because of anonymity but because of lack of eye contact.
It’s a disingenuous, specious argument. A website cannot control eye contact among its users any more than I can control whether dog owners in Cleveland pick up their dogcrap.
I comment occasionally on the syracuse.com site and I use my real name and a real photograph. The fact that I identify myself and stand behind what I write makes me very careful about what I say.
If I were to come up with a bogus tagline like the trolls are allowed to use, I could very easily insult other commenters. I could even say ignorant, mean-spirited things about 12-year-old boys who have a genetic disorder they didn’t ask for.
So here’s what I propose, until more journalism-based websites grow a pair and curb this hate speech: If you’re a website user, and you have something nasty, derogatory, hateful or even downright stupid to say about an issue or a person, please have the guts to put your name after it.
Better yet, just shut the hell up.