The freedom to be rude

I’m a big boy, and I’ve been doing this blogging thing for some time now. We monitor our comments section ourselves, and I’m pleased to say that – on the whole – you readers are overwhelmingly polite. The few people who’ve written inappropriate things in the past usually leave after they realize their posts won’t see the light of day.

But when I write somewhere else, like CNN, I’m often somewhat surprised by what people feel free to say. I’m not talking about people who disagree with me. I’m more than willing to engage in spirited debate. I’m talking about outright hostility and rudeness. Of course, there’s almost no risk of repercussion there. I expect cowards to hide behind anonymity.

What’s more surprising, however, are the people who will spew hatred from non-anonymous sources. There are people who will tweet terrible things. Granted, many of them are still “anonymous” in the sense I don’t know their real names. But they are still linking such language to their accounts, and that’s not going away.

None of that compares to email, though. That never ceases to amaze me. I get a fair amount of nasty stuff whenever I post in a public forum, and the last 24 hours have been no exception. Much of it comes from real email addresses and real people. I have their names. Sometimes they come with signature blocks identifying their places of work.

I forwarded some of the emails I got to friends this time. Most of them assumed the emails were jokes from friends. They were shocked to hear that they were serious, and not from people I know.

Understand I’m talking about some pretty crappy stuff. People call me names I won’t repeat here. They attack my family. Some get anti-semitic.

I answer almost every one. If you have a substantive critique, I address it. If you engage me, I try and reply back. Most people are shocked to hear from me. But my goal has always been to have a real discussion, especially with people who disagree with me. As long as you’re willing to talk, and to listen, you’ll get my attention.

I also answer the horrific ones, even if it’s only to reply, “nice!” I like to think that people might feel a little regret, and, perhaps, a little apprehension when they realize they sent such filth to an actual person, with a signpost leading right back to them.


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