I'm thinking of having a party. The guest list is pretty big. Quite a few notables. It should be quite the affair. So far, I've got:
County Executive Allan Kittleman
Council Members Calvin Ball and Jon Weinstein
Delegate Frank Turner
Delegate Vanessa Atterbeary
Board of Education Members Bess Altwerger, Kirsten Coombs, Christina Delmont-Small, Mavis Ellis, Cynthia Vaillancourt
HCEA President Paul Lemle, and various members of HCEA
An assortment of teachers and paraeducators
President of SECAC Barb Krupiarz
Lisa Markovitz of The People's Voice
Blogger Bill Woodcock
Former BOE candidate Corey Andrews
If you don't see your name on this list, don't feel bad. This is a list of the folks who have been insulted, smeared, baited, and generally defamed in the Comments section of the Howard County Times and Baltimore Sun lately. That would include me, obviously, since I'm the one throwing the party.
One or two toxic trolls, or possibly one with multiple accounts, are poisoning the comments section while under the cloak of anonymity. I don't think for one minute that this would be going on if people were required to post under their own names. Despite requests from a number of community members, HoCoTimes/BaltSun has basically done nothing. As far as I am concerned, their unwillingness to take responsibility here makes them enablers of this reprehensible behavior.
Imagine what kind of a party this would be. That's a good-sized group of people who are united pretty much by the fact that somebody hates our guts enough to want to lie about us in public. While hiding under a rock.
Imagine the small talk. It's an automatic ice-breaker.
"Hey, I don't know you, but you must be amazing!"
"Yeah, I hear we have something in common!"
Most of my friends have offered the advice that this situation, although clearly unpleasant, is merely a distraction. We shouldn't get sucked in, we shouldn't take our eyes away from the bigger issues. And I agree that there are far bigger issues at stake as a new Board of Education sets its sights on responsiveness, transparency, and accountability. But that doesn't make the issue irrelevant. Our local newspaper is allowing the ongoing violation of its own terms of service. (Yeah, I read them.)
Why? What do they get for looking the other way? More clicks. More hits. Why would they want to address their own issues of responsiveness, transparency, and accountability in the Comments section? Allowing this person free rein is money in the bank for them.
In the meantime, people in our community are being subjected to the vilest sort of slander. This just bugs me. It's the principle of the thing. And I'm not angry simply because it has happened to me, or that some of these people are my friends. I don't think it should be happening to anyone.
If I were in the business of providing news to the community I would want to maintain a relationship of civility and trust. I would require that comments be attached to real and verifiable indentities. At the very least, my journalistic "Spidey-senses" would be activiated enough to want to get to the bottom of who this person is and why they are so motivated to hurt others. There's a story in that.
It might even generate a lot of clicks.