Think before you speak online

Theresa Bruskin

I’ve worked for this newspaper for four years. I’ve been a reporter, worked for the copy desk, written for the editorial board, held three different editor positions, and now I write columns and design one night a week. I’ve heard a lot of people say a lot of stupid things.

Sometimes it’s sources or people who send letter or leave comments on the Web site. Sometimes it’s our staff members. Sometimes it’s me.

For the most part, using the newspaper to speak out is an exercise in both guts and self-restraint. It takes some level of courage to put yourself and your views out there for everyone to see, knowing that not everyone will understand and that some, including your friends and family, may be offended.

Even those who leave anonymous comments online are a part of this in a way because they at least took the time to share their opinions and contribute to discussion.

But I have a problem with people who leave unproductive, rude and belligerent comments online and choose not to leave their names. If you’re brave enough to say something so inflammatory, then you should be brave enough to identify yourself.

I have read many, many articles and blog posts and have seen many obnoxious comments. Some are just rude and judgmental. Others are dangerous.

I recently read about a man who commented on an article about a woman who was shot at work by her estranged husband. The commenter said that as a divorced man, he understood and sympathized with the shooter and that the woman probably had it coming to her. Imagine a world where this man could be easily identified and tracked down before he could harm his own ex-wife.

This, of course, is not the direction I think we need to go in – it would, after all, include serious violations of free speech and privacy. But just for a second, continue to picture a world where the Internet didn’t exist outside reality, where everything said online was treated and transmitted as if it were actually said in person.

We shouldn’t need punishments or threats to behave honorably on the Internet. Remember the cheesy PSA that said, “If you wouldn’t say it in person, why say it online?” It’s tacky, but not altogether wrong. Cyberbullying aside – even though that’s a serious issue by itself – I seriously doubt most anonymous commenters would dare to say in person even half of what they say online.

I love a good debate, but name-calling and rudeness isn’t debate; it only disregards your opponents’ views and neutralizes any comeback they might have. It also demeans whatever life experience or background your opponent brings to the table, not to mention the fact that it’s cowardly, juvenile and vapid.

You don’t win a debate by spouting nonsense, and you don’t further your cause by acting like an imbecile.

I know this seems like a lecture, and this really isn’t the time or place for this kind of discussion. After all, there are so many more important issues out there (like that fact that the Republicans are trying to use the health care debate to undermine Roe v. Wade. Don’t believe me? Look up the Stupak Amendment). I am beyond sick of the stupidity hiding behind every corner of the Internet.

So think before you speak, and if you don’t have anything productive to say, for all our sakes, don’t say anything at all.

Theresa Bruskin is a senior political science major and a columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected]