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May-04-2012 01:35printcomments

Blog, Blog, Blog Eat Blog

Are blogs online killing fields or internet wildernesses sprouting free speech?

On the 7th Day God Created The Internet
On the 7th Day God Created The Internet (Apologies to Michelangelo & Al Gore) Photo: Wikipedia

(LAGUNA BEACH, CA) - “Everybody wants to get into the act.” Comedian Jimmy Durante

Jimmy Durante

What with all of the social media possibilities, it’s pretty much impossible to find anyone you know that doesn’t have and/or browse some type of online communication venue.

There are those who not only have their own interface (blog sites), ones they control, but post comments at the sites of others. Unfortunately, the free-for-all rules of engagement are slanted towards inequity and mischief. Nice goes by the wayside immediately, brawls abound. What could be places for vibrant dialogue, inherent in our free speech cultural values, at times degenerate all too quickly into venomous attacks.

One of my personal pet peeves from the inception and rapid rise in popularity of these blog/comments sections, maybe 10 years ago or so, was the anonymity factor. People gave the site managers their real names and email addresses confidentially for confirmation. They were allowed to create or role play, to use made-up, unique names that stood out, were readily remembered. Funny at first, it got ugly fast.

Now, it’s possible to create completely anonymous, even manufactured or bogus identities and email accounts that make tracing the origin difficult for even the savviest of tekkies or litigation if really injurious. There are email accounts that erase all data, including original creator information for tracking after 24 hours.

Sites like FITZMAIL and MELTMAIL walk you through the creation of such a disposable account (email address), or accounts (plural) if you so wish. They include auto-forwarding to your personal address that is supposedly kept confidential. They advertise as a form of bridge to keep you protected. If you want to pull the plug it’s actually the equivalent of a drawbridge over the moat of madness that email often becomes. However, as we’ve seen recently, nothing is “hacker-proof,” so often even these types of web condoms fail or some petty company criminals sell the privileged info from the inside for quick cash.

Libel and slander, no fact checking abounds with no consequences, unfortunately with freedom both chaos and anarchy can exist too. It’s like one of those heavy metal or punk mosh pits. All a-holes and elbows, tooth fang and claw gangbanging, the internet equivalent of “rough trade.”

Many blogs, as online browsers have noted, post comments by “Anonymous,” although that makes some repartee even more bizarre as multiple, redundantly named non-related bloggers opt for that same moniker. A few use a form of an avatar personality, creating their own online mythological heroes. Some in fun, some witty or clever, some to be menacing, some to be just plain nasty. Many such aliases (I’m told by seasoned veterans) are defensive, used justifiably to create filter membranes reducing or blocking spam.

Anonymous,” by the by, can be inadvertently and innocently posted if the blogger doesn’t fill in or forgets the appropriate box for names at a site. That’s happened to me, right here in SNc several times when I forgot, so it’s not a hard and fast measurement of intent.

Those who are a nemesis, who wish to harangue and harass, who attack for selfish and disruptive purposes, are usually egocentric and immature. They are called BLOG TROLLS, apparently a sobriquet that goes back to the early 1990s when “trolling for newbies” was a type of practical joke mechanism, like a snipe hunt, a harmless wild goose chase.

Urban Dictionary describes one as “A depraved individual who sits in front of a computer all day and posts flames of an idiotic or pseudo-intellectual nature on public forums and private websites. Many of these people actually become emotional about what is said on the afore-said mediums and feel it is their duty to punish those who disagree with them. They too may pursue this object in an obsessive-compulsive manner.

Here’s Wikipedia’s basic definition:

“In Internet slang, a troll is someone who posts inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community, such as an online discussion forum, chat room, or blog, with the primary intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion. The noun troll may refer to the provocative message itself, as in: "That was an excellent troll you posted." While the word troll and its associated verb trolling are associated with Internet discourse, media attention in recent years has made such labels subjective, with trolling describing intentionally provocative actions and harassment outside of an online context. For example, mass media has used troll to describe "a person who defaces Internet tribute sites with the aim of causing grief to families.”

Judith Donath Source: Wikimedia Commons

Below is Harvard Professor and MIT Media Lab’s Judith Donath providing her opinion that might be of some assistance, her attention focused on a slightly different emphasis for those in the media biz themselves. It also addresses why and how webmasters at the hub of input attempt to decipher intent, winnow out trouble and distractions plus administer proactive damage control.

Keep in mind that some sites have electronic auto-posters at the loading dock, there can be delayed retractions because a human gatekeeper only reviews the comments (literally) post facto or monitors periodically. Some use the outraged “FLAG AS INAPPROPRIATE” methodology, relying upon browsers to hit the warning bell. This has made blogging or commenting a metaphorical minefield and NOT for the wary, rookies, faint of heart or thin-skinned. Caveat emptor.

Psychologists might admit that, like sociopaths, these people mime/mirror others and have little if any societal form of conscience. They’re manipulative and remorseless, irresponsible con artists masking themselves as concerned about the topic.

“Trolling is a game about identity deception, albeit one that is played without the consent of most of the players. The troll attempts to pass as a legitimate participant, sharing the group's common interests and concerns; the newsgroups members, if they are cognizant of trolls and other identity deceptions, attempt to both distinguish real from trolling postings, and upon judging a poster a troll, make the offending poster leave the group. Their success at the former depends on how well they – and the troll – understand identity cues; their success at the latter depends on whether the troll's enjoyment is sufficiently diminished or outweighed by the costs imposed by the group. Trolls can be costly in several ways. A troll can disrupt the discussion on a newsgroup, disseminate bad advice, and damage the feeling of trust in the newsgroup community. Furthermore, in a group that has become sensitized to trolling – where the rate of deception is high – many honestly naïve questions may be quickly rejected as trollings. This can be quite off-putting to the new user who upon venturing a first posting is immediately bombarded with angry accusations.” Prof. Judith Donath 2006

Formerly, commentators on issues usually signed up with the media site giving their true names, addresses and phone/fax numbers for verification. Then their opinions (sometimes edited) surfaced in the “Letters” or “Op-ED” section of our hard copy papers, but their identity was verified unlike now. The evolving (or de-evolving) web dynamics have, advertently or not, made that passé.

"Blog Trolls Te Salutant!"
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Numerous incidents since then have popped my media cherry, led me to realize that there are faceless unidentified snipers out there, bloggers who would blatantly lie about their own expertise or credentials, hide to ambush the brave who posted their thoughts and reflections in their own legal names. I know, I know, before I get hacked to pieces after this is posted: A few create really weird names (aliases) because they fear reprisals or blowback. I get that. There are significant numbers who are really mean-spirited cowards, they feel safe insulting those who expose themselves to ridicule.

There’s no accountability, no personal responsibility, and many blogs in a sense promote or encourage that for more traffic, more hits, greater web presence. Collateral damage goes by the wayside. The fallacy is that not all such exchanges are healthy, fair or justified. Just take the risk, post a topic, hell, any topic, and watch the insults and excrement fly. Make nice in reply and they’ll eat you alive like piranha.

Many commentators go off onto tangents and side-bars, it’s difficult to remember the original subject. Rage can rule, the posters call each other petty names, cast character aspersions, start arguing among themselves about each other’s personalities instead of column topics. When I was in a band, we called this tangential playing mode “ego-soloing,” showing off.

Blogs are not totally without some redemptive or service aspects, so no need to throw the baby out with the bathwater. It has been noted by psychologists recently that the advent and growth of email, social media and blogs is in direct correlation to an increasing sense of societal and individual disconnection. The spiritual value of a sense of loss regarding “community” creates a background noise of anxiety and frustration. Anything that remotely resembles communication can be attractive because ironically people feel more isolated, not less---At least until the nasty ones run out of bullets and start firing upon their own!

Knowing the online rules and flaws I understand that I can’t ever find out who chastised, who berated me in any particular blog. I try to educate, engage and introduce causal factors that appear to be in conflict with increasing our empty coffers. So warts and all, as a Vietnam-era Marine, I guess one must accept that stationary target shooting gallery gig. Pass me the cigarette (the funny, hand-rolled kind if it’s to be my last) and a psychedelic-colored paisley blindfold.

"Morituri te salutant!" Source: Wikipedia

I guess like marriage, for better or for worse, blogging is here until death do us part. For those brave enough to openly sign their names whether in their own blogs or in others, I give you the Roman centurion pledge: “Morituri te salutant!” (We about to die salute you).

For those innocents who use a nom de plume to protect them selves, their families and/or livelihood from mischief, I apologize and hold you harmless. Peace.

For those who ARE blog trolls, maybe flipping the finger in the classic Single Digit Salute suffices?

Personally my rhetoric here at SNc is intended to reach a bigger audience, to provoke more dialogue about any subject that crosses my mind. I figuratively “wrote” this column in my head while running, although I first discussed this disturbing trend with my editor Tim King several years ago while visiting he and his wife Bonnie.

Many blogs or comments posted about my thoughts have some resonance, some apparently meritorious and good intentions. I’ve made new friends from other regions of the USA, found like-minded sympathizers around the globe and yes, I’m the one who at times has been educated….and corrected harshly if in error. It’s not such a bad thing, to find out that one is not perfect, not alone regarding certain concerns or that readers can be gentle without being pissy or prissy.

Compared to the more seasoned veterans, especially the under-40 crowd who habitually use text message cryptography, abbreviations and coded acronyms, I’m back in the Dark Ages because I actually write whole words and blog likewise. I try to objectively engage browsers, to patiently clarify, to explain myself and the context to avoid further misunderstandings.

Color me “Old School,” and although metaphorically bullet-ridden like a sieve, I keep writing regardless.

I guess that, after all, I do understand compulsive behavior, yet I always defend my obsession with a riff borrowed from Rene Descartes: “I think, therefore I write.”

FYI: If a project near you has some interesting enviro-aspect(s) that you think is/are worthy of coverage and our readers attention, feel free to contact me with a very brief synopsis. Water-related “Blue Interventions” are my specialty!


Launched in 2010, Odd Man Out is the creation of Roger Bütow and his OMO columns are written exclusively for Salem-News-com. Born and raised in the LA Harbor area, son of a German immigrant father, he moved to Orange County in 1965 and has lived in Laguna Beach since 1972. In 1998, he began his professional career in environmental review processes (CEQA, NEPA, MND, MND and EIR/EIS). He's a rare mix of cross-trained builder, writer and consultant as he brings his extensive construction experiences dating back to 1972 into his eco-endeavors. He has tremendous field and technical expertise in successful watershed restorations, plus wastewater, urban runoff, water quality monitoring/improvements and hydrologic mechanisms. He's built everything from commercial spas to award-winning private residences, and provided peer review and consultant analyses for single homes, subdivisions and upscale resorts.

View articles written by Roger Butow Read Roger's full biography on the Staff Page

His resumé is extensive, try an online GOOGLE search of his personal journey and historical accomplishments. His consultation fees are reasonable and if you've got a major project that alarms you, that needs creative intervention, then he's your man. His credentials and "CV" can be provided upon request.

Contact him at his office: (949) 715.1912 or drop him an email:

Comments Leave a comment on this story.

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Robert Torres May 4, 2012 2:13 pm (Pacific time)

So true so true

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