Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Internet monsters

A recent study by the University of Virginia found that the typical comment poster underneath a newspaper story on the Internet is a 24-year-old high school dropout who shoots cats with BB guns, does not live in his mother's basement because she kicked him out for setting fires and does not realize that stories in "The Onion" are satirical.

OK, there was no such study, but if the University of Virginia chooses to promote one, I'll help finance it.

I picked that particular school because it was started by Thomas Jefferson, a founding father who promoted free speech but doubtlessly would say "holy shite" if he could rise from the dead and see what people write on the Internet.

I rarely look at comments underneath stories on the Chronicle's website anymore because I am depressed enough by my creeping old age and the thought of sharing the road with all the crappy drivers we have now that schools can't afford driver training. I'm not even talking about those who rip me. I have almost 30 years in the news business, my bosses like my stuff, I get lots of wonderful feedback on personal emails and I could give a shit what 19-year-old buttboy342 thinks about my game stories.

I'm talking about the wretched garbage put forth under news stories. How rare is it to see a good intellectual debate in these comments? It amazes me how 12 comments into a thread under a story about increasing garbage rates you can read something like, "Yeah, they ought to put bullets in the head of any doctor that does abortions," or, "Obama is a fascist who might not have been born on the planet Earth."

I'm speaking for myself, of course, and not my employer. The Chronicle promotes comments. In fact, we're revamping ours to make them bigger and better. We like lots of hits and page views because advertisers like them, and we like advertisers.

I'm just a cog in the wheel -- OK, a cog that might be a little smaller if I didn't eat Denny's fried pancake poppers at midnight on the road -- and nobody at The Chronicle really cares what I think about such things, but I want to go on record and say we should take the bold step and require every comment to be signed, with the author's real name, as we require with printed letters to the editor.

How are we advancing any debate when we allow megatroll_pigboy to spew his vile underneath a story. To me that stifles a conversation more than promotes it. Who really wants to proffer a rational opinion knowing he or she is going to be flamed?

You might not like what I write about the Giants, but you know who wrote it because my byline sits atop each story. I don't understand why people who absolutely ravage me, and more significant the players and team officials about him I write, can do so behind a veil. This isn't a police state. You are not going to be taken away in the middle of the night by the secret police if you sign your name to a comment that says, "The Giants wasted $18 million on Edgar Rent-a-Wreck." Show your face.

I admit the comments from the worst Internet monsters used to bother me until colleagues reminded me that most readers respect what we do even if they don't agree with every word; that there really is a silent majority of people who don't feel the need to pick a screen name like San_Leandro_Vulcan and denigrate everything on the planet.

I'm reminded of a onetime Cubs manager named Lee Elia who got into a load of trouble when, in a rant about Wrigley Field fans who were abusing the Chicago players, said, "Eighty-five percent of the f-- world is working. The other 15 percent come here."Elia said that in 1983. Now, he might amend that to say, "The other 15 percent come here. Then they go home and spend hours anonymously bitching on the Internet."

Please don't infer from my screed that I believe all who partake in Internet debates are bums. Many are earnest and intelligent, but I fear they are drowned out by the screeching rabble.

As I said, I rarely read comments anymore and I never let them bother me. But I checked in on the crowd who regularly read my Splash blog on the Gate (thanks for your loyalty, guys), and one statement did bug me. It came from a regular poster who professes to be a college student back east. When another poster joked that she was starting to sound like me, she responded, "I am a female Henry! Subtract 40 years though!"

Hey now, dearie, I'm not that old. If I were, I'd log into the comments section under the screen name baseball_Adonis and tell myself to get my ancient ass out of the press box and let somebody who actually can chew hard food take a crack at covering the Giants.


  1. I particularly like when I post something on YouTube (the LeGarrette Blount incident and the Prince Fielder celebration 120,000 hits and counting) and I have to police all the racist comments that follows. And if I don't police it and edit people out, then I'm called out for not deleting the comments one would not dare say with a real name attached to it...

  2. My name is Erik Egan and I just wanna say it is time to bring Posey up now! I don't buy this crap from Sabean about him needing more minor league seasoning. He outside of Sandoval has the best chance of being a difference maker in this lineup. Start him 4 days a week either at 1B or C and see what he can do. His catching may not be superior, but it's not that bad. Good stuff Henry. I enjoy reading it.

  3. Henry...not too different than callers on KNBR (the same 6 people who just change their voices) or baseball fans who pay a few bucks to vent their spleen. Gotta love em. At least they are out there and are breathing....cheers..p

  4. "comments one would not dare say with a real name attached to it..." Crowleyk nails it. Coming out from behind the screen name would mean the hate-spewers would have to own it, wear it, be held accountable. I'm with you, Henry—no posts without a name attached. This blog is a great addition to your usual Giants posts—wacky, ranty, ironic, wry and fun as hell to read. Cheers, Barbara Anderson, aka Infield Single

  5. You say that now Henry, but who else is going to provide you with the mental image of Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter rounding second base on the kiss cam? You can't get that sort of quality interaction just anywhere.

  6. What Shaun said. :)

    Glad there's enough of us to help Henry bash the bashers and have fun doing it.

  7. A rational discourse? I don't think that we are capable of doing it in this culture. As a silent reader, I am a fan, even if I do occasionally mutter under my breath or disagree with something that you write. But that is what the function being a reader is. Take in information, process it, and either agree or disagree, even maybe coming up with a new and or updated opinion about something. Even if that opinion might be something others might consider to be offensive!

    Keep on truckin'!

  8. You know, Henry, you should try to be a bit more introspective instead of lashing out at people you deem so inconsequential.

    I've had the misfortune of periodically reading your work over the last decade. You're a mouthpiece for Brian Sabean, no matter how bad a job he does, and you're too lazy to learn about how modern baseball teams operate.

    Oh, and every criticism I've ever posted of you has my real identity attached to it. You could find my home address if you felt like it. But it hasn't made a difference - you haven't gotten off your ass and learned something new.