Internet Tough

Jeff Pearlman, “online haters,” and the art of Internet self defense

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Jeff Pearlman has a column up over at CNN today that’s getting a lot of notice. Seems he tracked down and confronted some people who went after him over at his personal blog, leaving obnoxious or obscene comments or otherwise acting like jerks.

I won’t defend the jerks for a second. People were linking awful porn and calling Pearlman every name in the book. Totally juvenile and totally unwarranted, no matter what you think of whatever Jeff is writing about. It’s the kind of stuff that, if it ever shows up here or showed up at my old blogs, I immediately delete and, if it happens again, I ban the commenter.  Two clicks, and he gone, Hawk Harrelson-style.

But it does make me wonder about how an environment in which such comments can happen is created in the first place.

I say I delete and ban, but really, I’ve had to do that less than five times in the nearly four years I’ve been blogging.  And I write thousands upon thousands of posts a year, many of which are pointed and critical and — in the case of some teams’ fan bases — sometimes intentionally baiting.  Yet I don’t have people going after me like Pearlman has. The comments sections for the places I write aren’t an insane asylum of people linking nasty garbage like Pearlman describes. My comments sections are actually pretty congenial places where a lot of smart stuff gets discussed.

I don’t think it’s because I’m better or that I have a better class of readers or anything like that. When MSNBC links something from HardballTalk on its front page there are millions of eyes who come through here that aren’t “regulars.” It’s a pretty wide cross-section of America. There’s no systemic reason why — when I defend hated figures like Roger Clemens, for example — people aren’t telling me to go die someplace or worse.  But they don’t.

I think it has to do with the fact that one truly has to work at cultivating and managing a blog community. And it is a community, as is any blog with a comments section, whether the writer intends it to be or not.  My stuff in the post goes on the top of the page, but reader comments below it are every bit a part of the work as a whole. When someone finds the post later, they can read it all as a piece.  And a responsible blogger has to take responsibility for the stuff above the page break and below it, and not cultivate an an environment where the readers feel there’s a distance between themselves and the writer. A distance which provides the commenter cover, he thinks, to leave all sense of civility at the door.

How do you do it?  By commenting yourself.  By responding to reader criticisms in the thread.  By acknowledging when you’re wrong and making edits to the original post showing that your product and logic is as transparent as can be and that you’re listening.  When someone comes into a comment thread with sharp elbows, you make a point to engage them. Positively if possible, but by arguing back if necessary. And of course, you do so by making it crystal clear that your comment threads have standards. Mine: no racial, misogynistic, homophobic or otherwise bigoted baloney. Fight hard for your points but don’t attack others.  No spamming.  That’s about it.

Ultimately, it’s the same lesson your dad taught you about dealing with bullies: stand up to them and they quickly back down and skulk away. Let them do what they want without fear of confrontation or retribution? They get out of control.

None of which is to say that Pearlman has created such an environment over at his own blog. I don’t read his blog that often so I don’t know.  But I disagree that the bad behavior he is now confronting is merely a function of “the anonymity provided by the internet” and that online spaces are, by design, destined to be home to jerkish behavior.  It’s a function of a lot of things, but mostly, I think, it’s a function of commenters who feel like no one is really minding the store or reading what they write.  The people Pearlman contacted for his column said as much themselves.

Bad commenter behavior can be nipped in the bud before it starts.  I’ve done it here. A lot of other blogs I read have too.  It just takes a little work. And some engagement. Show that you’re not an easy mark, and you won’t become one.

Video: Bryce Harper launches a homer into the upper deck

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 24: Bryce Harper #34 of the Washington Nationals looks on against the New York Mets at Nationals Park on May 24, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Patrick Smith/Getty Images
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Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper has had a tough month of May. Opposing pitchers have become increasingly unwilling to throw hittable pitches in the strike zone for him, and he’s had trouble adjusting. Entering Thursday’s action, Harper was hitting .194/.454/.306 with two home runs in 97 plate appearances this month. 31 of those plate appearances ended in a walk, nine intentionally.

Harper finally got a pitch to hit in the sixth inning against Cardinals starter Mike Leake. Leake threw a 1-1 curve and Harper promptly launched into the upper deck at Nationals Park. It’s Harper’s 12th homer of the year.

Jackie Bradley, Jr.’s hitting streak ends at 29 games

BOSTON, MA - MAY 25:  Blake Swihart #23 of the Boston Red Sox congratulates Jackie Bradley Jr. #25 after he scored a run against the Colorado Rockies  during the fifth inning at Fenway Park on May 25, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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Red Sox outfielder Jackie Bradley, Jr. was unable to continue his hitting streak on Thursday night, going 0-for-4 out of the leadoff spot against the Rockies in an 8-2 loss. He hit a deep fly ball to right field in the first inning, missing a home run by a few feet. He hit another deep drive in the fifth, but it was caught in front of the wall in center field at Fenway Park by Charlie Blackmon. In his final at-bat, Bradley weakly grounded out on the first pitch from Jon Gray to lead off the eighth inning.

Bradley’s 29-game streak tied Johnny Damon for the fourth-longest streak in Red Sox history. Dom DiMaggio still has the longest in club history at 34 games.

Shortstop Xander Bogaerts was able to extend his hitting streak streak to 19 games. He went 1-for-3, hitting a line drive single in the first.

Softball legend Jennie Finch to manage a professional men’s baseball team

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 03:  Jennie Finch attends a press conference at Marathon Pavilion in Central Park on November 3, 2011 in New York City.  (Photo by Andy Kropa/Getty Images)
Andy Kropa/Getty Images
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Softball legend Jennie Finch will make history on Sunday when she will serve as a guest manager for the Bridgeport Bluefish of the independent Atlantic League. She will become the first woman to manage a men’s professional baseball team.

In the club’s announcement, GM Jamie Toole said, “We are really excited to have Jennie come out and manage the team. She is an incredible athlete and a wonderful person, and we hope our fans will enjoy seeing her in a Bluefish uniform for the day.”

Finch won the 2001 Women’s College World Series with the University of Arizona. She won the gold medal with Team USA in the 2004 Summer Olympics and silver in the 2008 Summer Olympics.

Finch is only managing one game, but it’s still a positive step for inclusiveness in professional sports. Hopefully, in the future, we see more women in sportswriting, broadcasting, coaching, and front office positions.

Mike Moustakas out for the rest of the 2016 season with a torn ACL

KANSAS CITY, MO - APRIL 21:  Mike Moustakas #8 of the Kansas City Royals hits a single in the first inning against the Detroit Tigers at Kauffman Stadium on April 21, 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
Ed Zurga/Getty Images
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Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas has been placed on disabled list with a torn right ACL, the club announced on Thursday. He is expected to miss the rest of the season, per MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan. Outfielder Brett Eibner has been recalled from Triple-A Omaha.

Moustakas suffered the injury colliding with teammate Alex Gordon attempting to catch a foul ball. Gordon suffered a fractured scaphoid bone, which will keep him out of action for three to four weeks.

It’s a tough break for Moustakas as he missed time earlier this month with a fractured thumb. He lands back on the DL hitting .240/.301/.500 with seven home runs and 13 RBI in 113 plate appearances.