Used to be, you had to put some effort into insulting someone in the newspaper.
If you wanted to put someone in their place – tell them “how the cow ate the cabbage” as they say in Oklahoma – you had to dig out your old Smith-Corona and find a clean piece of typewriter paper before you could let fly with some prime, grade-A spleen.
Then, after completing your treatise and fixing the mistakes with White-Out, you had to trot it down to the local newspaper office. Then you probably had to talk the harried editor (all editors were/are harried, not to mention irascible) into printing your opinion in the “Letters to the Editor” section. That way, everyone in town could read what a low-down, double-dealing, back-stabbing skunk your target of choice really was.
Then, the harried and irascible editor had to go into his publisher’s office (nice furniture) and convince him (most were hims) that he should risk a libel suit and months of death by lawyers, and print your angry letter in his newspaper. That could be dicey, because few publishers wanted to be in the middle of every pig wrestle in town. It made things unpleasant at the country club.
With all that work, it’s no surprise that fewer insults found their way into print.
Not so anymore, thanks to the miracle of the internet and social media. Today, we have what former Laramie City Attorney Tom Smith (nice guy) called “the vociferous minority.”
These days, you can hammer out a clever, humiliating insult in seconds on your telephone, hit “Send” and in no time at all you’ve put the target of your ire, the low-down, puppy-kicking, card-cheating cur, in his/her/their place.
No need to think twice. No talking a harried editor into printing your attack. No getting past the libel-leery (remember libel?) publisher who wants things simpatico at the country club. You can unleash the slavering beast whenever you please. You’re the editor now. You’re the publisher now. So, let ‘er rip! Katie bar the door!
I first noticed the fangs of social media years ago on bulletin boards featuring comments on stocks. If you asked a simple question, there was often some angry person out there who would put you in your place, call you a moron, dumber than dirt, unworthy of said angry person’s precious time. See that a few times and you’ll think twice about asking a question.
I once mistakenly posted a mildly political photo and comment on a site dedicated to scenic photographs, and got read out so thoroughly that I’ve never been back. A beginner, I thought I was posting to a different site. Sorry. But, no mercy on the web.
Lately, there’s a web page for people to report real-time road conditions. It’s handy. But admit that you’re from out of state and you risk the fury of angry trolls. “Learn how to drive!” they’ll reply. “Go back to California!”
Just the other day my wife posted on Facebook that it would be nice to have a Best Buy in Cheyenne. But some troll thought she was talking about Casper, where they have a Best Buy, and posted, “Are you off your medications?”
No, she isn’t. But the nasty troll clearly is.
My columns are sometimes posted on Facebook, but I’ve quit reading the comments. Because the old adage is true that you can get dozens of positive responses, and one negative, and it’s the negative comment you’ll remember. For trolls, it’s not good enough to say the writer is wrong, or that they disagree. No, the writer has never written anything worthwhile in his entire life. In the words of Taylor Swift, “Never, ever, ever!”
Friends don’t let friends read the comments.
Last week, in a story about Rep. Harriett Hageman’s resolution condemning socialism, a person called her “an ignorant clown.”
Think that’s bad? On Facebook, I once saw Trump defenders called “degraded specimens.”
What’s happened to us? Why the Vesuvian fury?
Freedom of speech is obviously fundamental – no argument there – but slam dunks often damage the very case you’re making. Just because you can, should you?
Rodney King famously asked, “Can’t we all get along?”
I rest my case, Your Honor.