As a freelance writer in the digital age, I know from internet commenters.
“Do you have a drinking problem?” “SHAME ON YOU.” “I can’t believe I just wasted two minutes of my life reading this trash.” “Are you fully retarded, or just half retarded?” (That last one is not only offensive to me personally, but really, to humanity as a whole.)
I’ve heard it all.
It’s funny, because personally, I’m not a very opinionated or confrontational person. If you disagree with me on a certain subject, I’m the one who will be willing to hear your side of the matter, and I might even change my mind when you’re done. I must come off differently in my written pieces, because in the past two years of writing for various online media outlets, my articles and blogs have inspired a pretty shocking level of outrage.
Print media, in my experience, is a whole different beast. When you write an article that runs in the local paper and someone takes issue with it, there’s a whole protocol for readers to add their two cents. They have to craft a letter or email to the editor and sign their name (if they want to be published). Sometimes, you will even personally connect with this person by phone to write a follow-up piece or to explain your side of things. Their complaints are usually thoughtful; they have generally given their words more than 30 seconds of angry thought before vomiting hatred at you across a computer screen.
But there are no rules for commenting online. We are smack in the middle of the internet’s wild west age, and anyone can do or say anything – from stealing a copyrighted picture to writing “YOU SUCK ***!!!!1111!!!” beneath a well-researched article on a national news site.
I’m not saying that I, and other writers, do not deserve this criticism. I didn’t become a writer for people to tell me how great I am. But like most other writers, I am hugely self-conscious, and it’s a little jarring to be attacked by a nameless, faceless entity who really seems to hate me.
“You know, they do that to everyone,” my husband used to tell me. “They’re just sad people with no lives.”
But I knew that wasn’t true. Yes, many times, the so-called “trolls” were a bit kooky. But many of them were professionals with successful careers. Many of them were married with families. (Yeah, I stalk my internet haters. What of it?) Many of them were educated and had a lot of friends.
So what did that say about me, that they had such a profoundly low opinion of me — low enough to write things like: “How did you get this job?”