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.

Matt Wieters could draw interest from Reds

BALTIMORE, MD - SEPTEMBER 15: Matt Wieters #32 of the Baltimore Orioles looks on against the Tampa Bay Rays at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on September 15, 2016 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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With the Braves on the cusp of formalizing their one-year deal with Kurt Suzuki, the market for free agent catcher Matt Wieters is dwindling. ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick references an inside source that lists the Angels, Rockies and Reds as potential suitors for the 30-year-old’s services.

Wieters is coming off of an eight-year career with the Orioles. In 2016, he played through his first full year after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2014 and batted .243/.302/.409 with 17 home runs and a .711 OPS in 464 PA. A return to Baltimore in 2017 isn’t out of the question, Crasnick writes, citing some within the team that would be open to Wieters stepping into a DH role and catching platoon with Wellington Castillo. However, he also points out that the front office appears divided on the veteran catcher, and sees the Orioles as a long shot for the foreseeable future.

The Angels have already been tied to Wieters this offseason, while the Rockies and Reds don’t appear to have made any formal inquiries so far. Both could use a veteran presence behind the dish, as the Rockies are planning to platoon rookie catcher Tom Murphy with 24-year-old Tony Wolters in the spring. The Reds, meanwhile, are banking on a quick recovery for 28-year-old Devin Mesoraco, who missed most of the 2016 season after undergoing shoulder and hip surgery and forced the club to rely almost exclusively on back-up backstop Tucker Barnhart.

Red Sox could go to arbitration hearing with Fernando Abad

BOSTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 16:  Fernando Abad #58 of the Boston Red Sox pitches against the New York Yankees during the ninth inning at Fenway Park on September 16, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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The Red Sox are expecting to go to an arbitration hearing with left-handed reliever Fernando Abad, per Pete Abraham of the Boston Globe. Red Sox president Dave Dombrowski said there was a “decent chance” a hearing would be necessary after countering Abad’s $2.7 million request with $2 million.

Abad, 31, pitched just 12 2/3 innings for Boston after the club acquired him from Minnesota at the trade deadline last season. The lefty earned a cumulative 3.66 ERA, 4.2 BB/9 and 7.9 SO/9 for the two teams in 2016. He received $1.25 million in 2016 and will remain under club control (through arbitration) in 2017. A $2.7 million salary would be a hefty increase for the veteran reliever, who has seen a significant decline since he put up a 1.57 ERA for the Athletics in 2014 and who has not amassed more than 0.6 fWAR in any single season to date.

While the Red Sox aren’t close to settling with Abad, Evan Drellich of the Boston Herald reports that they may be closing in on a settlement with left-handed starter Drew Pomeranz. Pomeranz filed at $5.7 million, while the Sox felt more comfortable at $3.6 million. The two are expected to meet somewhere in the middle to avoid an arbitration hearing later this winter.