Pictured: not Susan G. Cole.
We sort of agree with Susan G. Cole. There, we said it.
NOW‘s entertainment editor has a piece online today about how she does not like most anonymous internet commenters, born out of her reaction to Google being forced to reveal the identity of an anonymous blogger who called model Liskula Cohen a “psychotic, lying whore” and a “skank.” Cole writes:
I’m constantly on the receiving end of some very nasty trash talk, courtesy of anonymous bloggers and commenters, and outraged by it. Why should online commentators get away with saying whatever they feel like without being made accountable, while those of us who use a byline to offer unpopular opinions have to take the heat?
As a perpetual target myself, I’m hoping that users will adjust to online excess and learn which comments to take seriously and which to reject.
Frankly, except for whistle blowers and those offering scandalous tidbits probing government incompetence or corruption, I assume anonymous bloggers and commentators either have an axe to grind or are simply craven cowards. You should, too.
Even though she ends up disagreeing with the decision to reveal the name of the “skank”-calling blogger—because, she says, anonymity sometimes lets people speak truth to (skanky?) power—she’s mostly right. The internet is a strange and horrible place, and it can bring out strange and horrible things in many of the people who use it, especially when there’s little or no accountability for what’s said. That was never clearer than when Cole wrote an ill-advised obituary for Martin Streek, suggesting that his suicide was the result of a lost battle with drugs. (It was a pretty bad obituary, and we wrote about it, and some of Cole’s other recent work, then.) Cole would eventually write a follow-up, apologizing for her being “misconstrued.” “To all who were outraged by my post,” she wrote, “please know that I did not intend to make any kind of innuendo and regret that my post added to your personal pain.”
The worst of the comments on both obituaries are now gone from NOW‘s site, but we distinctly remember them getting more and more ugly, eventually becoming less and less about Streek and more and more about how Cole was a woman (!!) and gay (!!!!!!!) and not particularly young (!!!!!!!!!). You can probably guess what she got called. What’s saddest, though, is that that reaction makes sense by the logic of internet: people were already angry because someone they loved killed themselves, and then someone else came along, and seemed to incorrectly postulate on the cause of the death. Instead of dealing with it as some people would in the real world—getting briefly angry about it, and moving on, maybe with a terse letter or call to the editor—people found an angry echo chamber that they could yell into, without social norms, without filters, without tact, and without names other than Streek’s and Cole’s.
And sure, some people did go so far as to make an angry Facebook group that aimed to get Cole fired as a result of the obituary, which means that the reaction wasn’t altogether anonymous (that Facebook group, by the way, has since been renamed to “titfucking Susan G. Cole is my secret fantasy”). And Cole’s surely overreaching now by suggesting that everyone who comments anonymously online is either someone with an “axe to grind” or a “craven coward.” But the internet’s one hell of an enabler.
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