Dear trolls who write nasty, ignorant comments: Identify yourselves

Cazenovia July 4 Duchenne support

Spectators support Nolan and Jack Willis, 12-year-old twins with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, during the July 4 10-mile race in Cazenovia, NY.

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.

The local newspaper’s digital outlet, syracuse.com, broke the story on July 2 that the twins, who have Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, wouldn’t be allowed in the Independence Day event.

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

Spectators cheer for Jack and Nolan Willis, 12-year-old twins with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.

Spectators cheer for Jack and Nolan Willis, 12-year-old twins with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.

“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.

It’s a shell game at best.

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.

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About Jim McKeever

Writer, father, runner, advocate based in Central New York.
This entry was posted in Irish Investigations, role models, running and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to Dear trolls who write nasty, ignorant comments: Identify yourselves

  1. markbialczak says:

    The cloak of anonymity is an upsetting cover, indeed, my friend.

    Cheers to the twins and everybody who championed their cause, in the blaze of sunlight, names attached, including you, my friend, Jim McKeever.

    To anybody who thought they should not have participated and had the courage to attach your name to your opinion: I disagree strongly, but support your right to think otherwise and express those thoughts.

    To the trolls: Shut up until you are brave enough to put your name on your bile.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Jim McKeever says:

    Exactly, Mark, thank you.

    Like

  3. chmjr2 says:

    This country has something called free speech. Anonymity is not a right as far as I know. The brave people who founded this country did not practice anonymity. What they said, and thought was put forth in a most public way. We just celebrated a holiday because of that. The Declaration of Independence was made public and signed by courageous men. Men who stood up and made their proclamation in full view. That is free speech. I do not bother to read what “Trolls” have to say, and when you think about it they really have nothing to say. While I am not in your league of writing I also put a face and name to what I write. That is why like you I am careful and give thought to what I say in my blog and other writings. I think that is the way it should be for us all. Yes we should have free speech but under the public light.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jim McKeever says:

      Thank you, Charles, I try to ignore the trolls as much as I can. But when it gets personal, it’s hard to avoid wrestling in the mud with them. After reading their nastiness, a shower is in order anyway.

      Like

  4. Go Jim Go! When a journalist interviews people in person, they get their name. The same should apply to comments (Although, I’m not sure how one could ensure that.) Your point on ‘your stupid’ reminds me of one of my favourite definitions of grammar:

    Grammar: The difference between knowing your shit and knowing you’re shit

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Jim McKeever says:

    Thank you, Diana! And I love that definition of grammar … I had not heard that one before.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. ermigal says:

    Bravo, Jim! I don’t read syr.com for just that reason–trolls–but i will register my complaint about this the old-fashioned way: writing a letter. I don’t want to be a click-count. Maybe if remaining subscribers boycotted the paper, they would do the right thing and require a name. Thanks for shining a light on this.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I absolutely loathe comments. I can’t even be bothered to read them, because I am terrified of what I’ll find. It’s easier not to read them, because folks will and do hide behind screen names, or as you mention, anonymity. It’s a scary world we are allowing our children to grow up in, that we are allowing adults to post in this fashion on a news site, only shows our youth it’s okay to bully the same way in social media. For shame that we are the ones setting this example.

    Like

    • Jim McKeever says:

      Thank you, Jen. There are cases in Great Britain in which teenagers who were bullied in online comments have committed suicide. This isn’t exactly the same thing, but cut from the same cloth.

      Like

  8. Jim McKeever says:

    A great idea, Ermi! Thank you. And I’d love to know if you get a written response, and if it’s on paper.

    Like

  9. Jason says:

    Great post! I couldn’t agree more!

    Like

  10. I am whole heartedly behind you on this Jim. I like your last line, a very appropriate suggestion.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I have stopped reading Syracuse.com comments for this reason. It is discouraging, disheartening and revolting to read the cruel, thoughtless and incredibly ignorant posts. I use my name and am proud to do so. Until the policy changes, however, I have stopped adding my thoughts as I find zero value in contributing to a debate with trolls and the anonymous morons among us. Thank you Jim and Mark for challenging your former employer and our community to do better. Much better.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Jim McKeever says:

    Thank you, Janice, I hope it does some good. I’m not counting on progressive decisions anytime soon. But we can keep up the pressure. If the court of public opinion can persuade an organization like the Syracuse Chargers to change its mind, then maybe the same can happen with Syracuse.com.

    Like

  13. Debbie Tarbell says:

    Thank you Jim for saying what I’ve felt many times about these mean spirited,nasty people. They seem to just want to,excuse the phrase,piss people off.

    Like

    • Jim McKeever says:

      Thank you, Debbie … I can only hope some of these trolls stop and realize the hurt they sometimes cause. There will always be a certain number of knuckleheads, but maybe a few will see the light.

      Like

  14. webnerbob says:

    Jim, I enjoyed your piece, which I found to be thought-provoking, and I’m glad that the race organizers changed their minds about letting the two boys participate. However, I have a slightly different take on the issue of anonymous posters on the internet: http://webnerhouse.com/2014/07/06/a-response-to-those-angry-ignorant-anonymous-comments/

    Like

    • Jim McKeever says:

      Bob, thank you and your piece was the first thing I saw this morning. Well done, as usual, very thoughtful and insightful. I do agree with you to some extent, but these trolls have hit too close to home a few times after tragic deaths of young people, and the hurt from their comments lingered for years. And is still there, in some cases. When you and I worked for newspapers, my former employer (the one in question here) had a full-time editor who read every letter to the editor and called the sender to assure its legitimacy and authorship before it was published. Now? Forget it. Register with an e-mail address, type up some hate speech and let ‘er rip. Sure, they’ll delete it eventually for violating “community standards,” but it’s a farce. It’s all about the hits, and encouraging reporters to be “SEO sweethearts.” (I am not making that up). If I had the time, or the inclination, I’d try to figure out the identities of some of these clowns and ‘out’ them. Apparently some trolls have done that to each other. Must be nice to have so much free time! Thanks again, Bob, and my best to Kish & your sons.

      Like

      • webnerbob says:

        And to you and your family, Jim!

        We agree that whoever said “sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me” didn’t know what they were talking about. Words do matter, and mean words do hurt. The question is what to do about them. Your point about trying to “out” the people who cross the line in their comments is, I think, in line with my thoughts about responding by pointing out the ignorance and not letting the mean, anonymous comments go uncontested. Either way, the point is to always challenge the bigots and the trolls.

        Your point about media outlets that actively seek to gin up comments from the lunatic fringe is an extremely important one. A key part of fourth estate freedoms is using that freedom responsibly. That applies as much to anonymous website comments as it does to other, attributed content.

        Like

  15. barbtaub says:

    “Your” dead-on with your assessment of the trolls. But it’s absolutely unconscionable that a newspaper—which, presumably, would never print a story based entirely upon unverified anonymous sources—would think their responsibility is somehow negated because the venue is online digital commentary. Shame on them!

    I continue to take heart from the fact that the same community that is being subjected to flagrant trolls still cares deeply enough to champion the cause. You have good neighbors. But the disrespect shown to them by their local newspaper is appalling.

    Like

    • Jim McKeever says:

      Thank you, Barb, I am in full agreement with “you’re” assessment. Let’s keep fighting the good fight, and maybe this ridiculous business model of modern media outlets will be replaced by something more responsible. We won this battle, but there are many more to come.

      Like

  16. Lorrie Fitzgibbbons says:

    Well said. Thanks Jim

    Like

  17. Playing catch-up this morning.

    I don’t get it. Sometimes the comments are funny, sometimes people are incredibly intense, but this is just pathetic and disgusting. These are the people that we should be worried about that could do the most damage. The scary part is that they might have kids themselves.

    Like

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