Being in the journalism business for so long, I’m used to occasionally being called names, yelled at and abused by online commenters.
And I’m used to being disliked by some people.
I have a pretty thick epidermis, which I figured I’d need when I decided to run for the City Council. I was right.
Right out the chute, one person wrote on the Lincoln Journal Star comment section that I should “ROT IN HELL” for a story I wrote several years ago about the challenges facing a central Lincoln neighborhood. She lived in that neighborhood, and didn’t appreciate my interviewing a prostitute there, because she felt the stories put the neighborhood in a bad light.
Not long after my series came out, Mayor Chris Beutler started his “Stronger, Safer Neighborhoods” program and declared “There will be no slums on my watch!” and hired Jon Carlson to run the program. The city stepped up its work in the neighborhood, and hopefully they’ve seen an improvement. I know I see far fewer “for rent” and “for sale” signs now than I did back then. That’s good.
And then there was a commenter who claimed to have seen me at an arena meeting and heard me snap at someone who offered pro-arena comment, since I was only looking for arena opponents. Never happened. I probably should have ignored the comment, but couldn’t resist setting the record straight — which ignited another debate.
And then a particularly angry man commented on my campaign website, ending his diatribe by saying, “My advise (sic): Take a few dozen business and journalism classes and then lower your sites on city government service.” I’m not sure what that sentence means! Guess I need some more English courses, too.
I emailed the man to see what he was so mad about, and to my surprise an actual person responded (often, the meanest commenters don’t respond, most likely because they set up a fake email address for the sole purpose of posting nasty comments). A quick Internet search indicated he lives in Atlanta, Ga. I’m not sure why someone in Atlanta would be so angry at me, and when I asked for specific examples of stories he took issue with, he never responded. Hmmm….
If you pay attention to the tweeters and anonymous commenters and emailers, you can get down pretty quickly. Real people rarely have the guts to say such things in public — but it’s much easier to tap out on a typewriter — safely ensconced in anonymity.
However, I’ve found the perfect antidote: Rather than read rants online, talk to real people. Every time I go out and knock on doors (to gather signatures for my petition) I’m amazed at how very nice the real people are. They’re just plain nice. Nebraska nice.
My favorite comment on the campaign trail so far: “I’ll sign your petition, but I’m voting for Jonathan. I sing with his mom in the church choir.” Hey, I understand!
They remind me that most people are good people – they are not spending their spare time lighting up the Web with venom. Perhaps we would all do well to remember that.