Have you no shame?


I love getting and reading the Sacramento Bee, and love being able to read it online. The comments however are a real mix of the bitter and the sweet. I hate how the limited space in the print version constricts representations of different points of view. If that is the problem in the print paper, the online version is like a polar opposite. To be frank, it’s embarrassing. Many commenters think nothing of making racist comments, ad hominum attacks, or weaving entire backgrounds for stories that have little to do with reality.

A recent Sacramento News and Review (our independent weekly) had this to say:

“If you are someone who leaves comments below news stories on the Sac Bee’s web site, chances are your politics are reactionary and inhumane and your heart flinty and cold.
Under a story about a child who drowned in the river, you might write, ‘Kids drown all the time. Why is this news? And Rodriguez? Was the kid even here legally?

Like a piece in the Onion it is funny and sad, because you could literally find comments that read almost exactly like that in the comments section in any given week. It’s like all the happiness and joy has been sucked out of the comments section. Instead of the milk of human kindness, they’ve reverted to the poison of reptilian bitterness.

My husband follows transportation articles as part of his job, and shares the story about a woman who was forced off the road by a driver enraged truck driver who felt she had taken too long in a drive-through line where he had been stuck behind her. The commenters all came up with reasons why this must have occurred: texting, using a cell phone, putting on makeup, including elaborate descriptions of what she was doing. All of this with no facts to back up any of their suppositions, but it obviously filled their preconceptions.

The comments on recent story on burn victims from the daycare fire in Mexico coming up to Shriners International Hospital here in Sacramento was the most recent example of this combination of ignorance and meanness. Commenters were angry that we were taking care of non-Americans showing their ignorance that other commenters were fortunately quick to address; services are not paid for by taxpayers by the international efforts of Shriners and the hospital is part of a network which includes a hospital in Mexico. The response? One commenter vowed not to contribute any longer to Shriners because he only wanted to help American kids. Local columnist, Marcos Breton, has weighed in on the ugly nativism that paints all folks from South of the U.S. who have a Spanish speaking ancestor as illegal (and squares off on the reality of “illegals” as well).

My maternal grandfather was a proud Shriner for years who collected his own spare change and stood in front of grocery stores raising money. It was to help sick children. Period. I could resort to terms like, ignorant, racist, etc. but the one that really fits is small. We Americans like to think of ourselves as generous people, and we are, those comments were not from that America.

There is another more general concern that I have about the online comments. I teach in Sac City in an elementary, but one of my colleagues is Larry Ferlazzo, who teaches at Luther Burbank. We both have large immigrant populations from Mexico and SE Asia. Our problem is that we rely on using links to stories to help teach our students about their culture and how it intersects with mainstream society, which can expose them to the comments section.

A few months ago Larry pointed out a story on traditional conflict resolution methods in the Hmong community in light of the recent murder that had it’s roots in an extra-marital affair. The comments were the usually blend of sanctimony and bigoted opinions that have marked the online comments.

I wondered, what will students make of this? Most of the commenters probably don’t consider the students important enough to worry about it, but they should. Proposition 13 passed around the time I was 13 years old. In the flurry of threatened closures of libraries and other services Howard Jarvis opined that it didn’t matter if libraries closed because none of these ignorant kids read anyway. That was my political crucible and I have never and will never find anything that Howard Jarvis or his taxpayers association has to say to be credible.

I have to think that some of Larry’s students might be coming to the same conclusion about folks in the Bee comment section that I once came to about Howard Jarvis and his ilk. I once was 13 and powerless, but now I am 44, vote in every election in an electorate where my views are shared by a majority. Someday many of Larry’s and my students may be too, demographics is on their side. Meanwhile, those commenters will still be trolls.

Photo Credit: Dirty Troll Revue on Flickr

3 Comments to

“Have you no shame?”

  1. June 7th, 2009 at 10:03 am      Reply Pat D. Says:

    I comment regularly on the Sacramento Bee Web site and have done for over six years. I mainly weigh in on the CPS articles but have read and commented other articles as well. I am usually pretty annoyed by these mean spirited commenters who spew their hate on a regular basis, but I know you can never really change their minds. I wonder sometimes if they are as harsh in every day life as they seem to be when they write the trash and nastiness at the Bee. Are they the ones who pull out in front of us even though we are the last car coming down the road, the ones who stand in front of you in the store so you can’t get through the aisle to the bread, the ones who flip you off as they roar past on the freeway because you are already doing ten miles over the speed limit but that’s too slow for them? I don’t know but I bet they are. To be fair I have discovered this kind of thinking and behavior happens on other comment sites at other papers around the country as well which says nasty is everywhere. Meanness is not confined to Sacramento, to California and I figure not even to the United States. Having said that it still saddens me that there is so much bigotry, hate and selfishness in the hearts of people. But we can take solace in the fact that there is also caring, warmth and love in some of the comments and commenters. We can only hope that those who hate will learn better but I am not sure it will be any time soon.

    • June 7th, 2009 at 10:40 am      Reply alicemercer Says:

      Thank you so much for sharing. I went back and looked at the Shriner comments, and there is an interesting thing happening. If you look at the comments, there are a fair number decrying what others are posting. More importantly, the Bee has a rating system (thumbs up or down) for comments, and the positives are far outpacing the negatives. I’m thinking that post ranking might be an idea with the comments, and making a practice of posting something positive, and giving a thumbs up to posts that are constructive, even if you disagree with their point. That would help drown out the trolls a bit.

      I think you’re right about the comments everywhere. It’s a phenomena that’s been around since BBS chats/forums and the only way I know of to de-troll a place is flood it with the positive and ignore them.

      My specific concern is still sending my 9, 10, and 11 year olds to a site where mud is being slung.

      • June 7th, 2009 at 8:28 pm      Reply Pat D Says:

        I agree that children might not understand, however if you sat with them to answer their questions and even posed questions to them about what they are seeing you might find a great opportunity for discourse. Children unfortunately have to be exposed to these kinds of attitudes so they can learn what they are and how to respond to them. I will admit that sometimes I am hard pressed to figure out what to say, and unless I see an opportunity to further express my opinions ( one thousand characters is often not nearly enough to say all there is to say) by engaging them I don’t.

        When my children were young we would watch something on tv, I can’t even give you an example right now, but I bring it up to tell you that often times we didn’t finish watching the show because we had gotten into a discussion about something in the show that sparked a wonderful exchange between us. We all learned so much about ourselves, I had a chance to teach them, and they had a chance to teach me. I think you will find out a lot about your children, what they already think, what you have already taught them that you may not even realize they have learned.

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