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.

Pete Rose wrote a letter to the Hall of Fame, pleading to be placed on the ballot

Former Cincinnati Reds player and manager Pete Rose poses while taping a segment for Miami Television News on the campus of Miami University, Monday, Sept. 21, 2015, in Oxford, Ohio. (AP Photo/Gary Landers)
Associated Press
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Tim Brown of Yahoo has obtained a letter written by Pete Rose — well, written by his attorney — to the Baseball Hall of Fame, pleading to be placed on the ballot so he could be considered for induction by the BBWAA.

The upshot of the argument is that when Rose accepted his permanent ban from baseball, it did not include a ban from Hall of Fame consideration. Which, yes, is true. But it’s also true that soon after the ban, the Hall of Fame — which is a private institution, not owned by Major League Baseball — decided to change its rules and only allow those who are not banned by baseball to be on its ballot. That rule, 3(e), was enacted in February 1991.

Which is itself a tad disingenuous, as it’s long been clear that the Hall of Fame and Major League Baseball pretty much see the world the same way. The Commissioner and his close confidants are on the board of the Hall for cryin’ out loud. I have no doubt whatsoever that, if Major League Baseball wanted something of the Hall of Fame, it could get it and that if the Hall of Fame did something Major League Baseball did not like, MLB would make its displeasure known to the Hall and the matter would be remedied.

Which is to say that, yes, Rose probably has a good point or two in all of this and it would be interesting to know how the Hall came to adopt its “no banned players can be considered” rule and why and whether it had anything to do with MLB suggesting that the Hall do via its rules what MLB might not have gotten Rose to agree to in its own right.

But just because something is “interesting” does not make it meaningful. The Hall is a private business that can do what it wants. Major League Baseball is a private business that can do what it wants. There is no legal right to be eligible for the Hall of Fame and, even if Rose had some sort of legal theory — Fraud, maybe? Some sort of interference with economic opportunity claim? — it was one that should’ve been brought decades ago. And no, I don’t think he’d have a legal leg to stand on even if he had.

All that being said, I think Pete Rose should be in the Hall of Fame. I think that his playing career makes him more than worthy and his transgressions, while serious enough to keep him out of the game for life, should not stop a museum and the baseball establishment from honoring what he did between 50 and 30 years ago.

His letter won’t work, though. Because the same folks who decided he was not worthy of reinstatement last year have a lot of influence on the folks who determine who gets placed on a Hall of Fame balance. In asking for what he’s asking, Rose is asking for one of those parties to go against the other. And that has never, ever happened.

Settling the Scores: Tuesday’s results

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 27:  Gary Sanchez #24 of the New York Yankees celebrates his first inning two-run home run against the Boston Red Sox with teammate Jacoby Ellsbury #22 at Yankee Stadium on September 27, 2016 in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
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The Sox’ winning streak ends at 11, thanks in part to Gary Sanchez continuing to hit like Barry Bonds or someone. Well, not quite Bonds, but his 20 homers in 49 games is ridiculous. I’d say “at some point pitchers need to stop giving him stuff to hit,” but this dude drove in a run when someone tried to intentionally walk him a week or two ago, so maybe there is nothing that can be done. In any event, Boston’s loss, along with the Blue Jays win, means that the AL East is not quite settled. It likely is practically, but not technically!

In other news, the Tigers pounded the Indians and their post-clinch, hungover lineup and, with the Orioles’ loss, pull a game closer in the Wild Card. The Mets pounded the Marlins who, one suspects, can only run on emotion so long and desperately want and ned to be with their loved ones to process this past week. The Cards and Giants both won as well, keeping the NL Wild Card at the status quo for another day: the Mets and Giants in, if the season ended today, the Cards one back.

The scores:

Yankees 6, Red Sox 4
Nationals 4, Diamondbacks 2
Cubs 6, Pirates 4
Blue Jays 5, Orioles 1
Tigers 12, Indians 0
Braves 7, Phillies 6
Mets 12, Marlins 1
Royals 4, Twins 3
Rangers 6, Brewers 4
White Sox 13, Rays 6
Astros 8, Mariners 4
Cardinals 12, Reds 5
Angels 8, Athletics 1
Padres 7, Dodgers 1
Giants 12, Rockies 3