You’ll recall the thing on Friday afternoon in which Jeff Pearlman wrote a column at CNN about confronting “online haters” who have made Pearlman and other online writers “targets for abuse,” aided by the anonymity of the Internet. One of the guys Pearlman tracked down and called was Andrew Tworischuk. Yesterday Andrew gave his side of the story. I don’t endorse a lot of what Andrew says — like Pearlman, I agree that the lack of civility on the Internet is not cool — but I found this part of it rather interesting:
A few weeks later, [Pearlman’s] article comes out. It’s not bad (and not as nasty as I expected) but it’s of course not exactly a full portrayal of what happened. First of all, both me and Matt’s twitter names are our full names. I have an extremely uncommon last name so all he had to do was plug it into yellow pages. It wasn’t hardcore undercover detective work like he made it out to be. Secondly, the article makes it sound like I was harassing him. I said something dumb in passing and when challenged didn’t back down. It wasn’t like I was inundating him with hate mail.
Having read this and having gone back and checked out Pearlman’s blog posts from the relevant period, I do think that Pearlman is skewing things a bit in his CNN post. Anonymity may or may not be a problem on the Internet, but the guys he took issue with were not at all anonymous. And at least in Andrew’s case, he wasn’t even bothering Pearlman over at his blog. He was merely tweeting something about him. Pearlman had to search for his own name in order to find the the stuff with which he took issue. Andrew wasn’t seeking Pearlman out and attacking him. Maybe he wasn’t polite, but I suspect that if anyone Googles themselves they’ll find that people are saying bad things about them. Tracking down and confronting such people, however, is not the kind of thing that a confident and healthy person should spend a lot of time doing.
This just ties back in with my observations from Friday. There may or may not be a problem with the way people interact on the Internet, but to the extent there is, it’s not a function of anonymity and the rude nature of the medium of blogging in and of itself. Immediacy has way more to do with it. To spout off at a writer 20 years ago you had to write a letter, and by the time you do that the moment has passed. Now you can click before you think.
But is there something else going on here than merely anonymity and immediacy? In the past, Jeff Pearlman has called a subject of his writing “evil.” He called someone “a truly pathetic human being” and a “punk.” These aren’t isolated incidents. It’s fairly par for the course for him to make stark moral judgments about people and to say things about them that he would never, ever say to their face.
And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it, because it is his blog and his voice. You can say a lot of things about Jeff Pearlman, but he is a passionate writer who never hesitates to speak his mind. I wouldn’t dare propose that he censor himself and if someone tried to censor him, I’d defend his right to say what he wants to the death, even if I disagree with it.
But there’s no escaping the fact that a writer ultimately sets the tone for his blog. As such, he should not be surprised when he reaps what he sows.