One of the first things I learned about were bulletin boards (an early version of forums). WebTV had a feature that allowed you to choose your interests and then it would display a list of bulletin boards you might like. Under the entertainment category, I found a bulletin board for M*A*S*H. I've always loved the show, and when I found out Larry Gelbart, one of the shows writer/producers was a contributing member of the board, I decided to check it out.
At first, all I did was read the posts. I was nervous about posting any questions or comments of my own, but when I saw that Larry was answering questions, I got up my nerve and posted one. He didn't answer right away but another member of the board did. At that time your user name ended with the system you were using (i.e. willoughby@webtv) and when this guy saw that I was on WebTV, he lit into me. He said the only people on the internet that were stupider (his word) than AOL users were WebTV users. He went on to blame me for the dumbing down of the internet. I couldn't believe it. All I had done was ask a question about the set they used for filming M*A*S*H.
It didn't take long to find out that it wasn't just the M*A*S*H board that attracted nasty people. The cooking bulletin board was just as bad. I chimed in on a conversation about how long unrefrigerated food was safe to eat and two people ganged up to tell me how stupid I was. I had said that it was risky to eat cooked chicken that had been unrefrigerated all day (picnics). These two said that people in third world countries ate unrefrigerated cooked food all the time without getting sick. According to them, people like me were the cause of all the anti-biotic resistant bacterial strains because we are overly hygienic and paranoid.
Since then, I've graduated to a high speed internet connection and laptop computer, but I still run into the same sort of nastiness all the time. I've been told that I (and everyone else who lives in Michigan) must be living under a rock if we still call carbonated beverages "pop" instead of "soda" and that we should learn to speak english here. A man who bought one of our ebay items told me I must not understand the US banking system if I refused to accept his personal check and that I should move to the European Union and stop selling on ebay. I could go on and on.
I see it on forums, blog comments and anywhere else readers can leave opinions. Don't believe me? Go to any cooking forum and profess your love for canned creamed soups, White Zinfandel or Velveeta. They'll be on you like vultures. Or try a fitness and nutrition website and admit you allow your family to consume products with high fructose corn syrup. I've seen people accused of poisoning their children for making such statements. Don't even get me started on the comments I've seen on politics, religion or birth control.
I have no problem ignoring it, but I still don't understand what causes people to behave that way. Is it really that important for them to have complete strangers agree with them? I can have an opinion without the need to express it to other people if it's going to cause a confrontation, why can't they? I wonder, too, if people in their real lives know the sort of things they post online. Probably not.
I would rather have a pleasant conversation than an argument. I would also rather say something positive than something negative. Everyone knows what it feels like to get a compliment. A few nice words can truly make your day. It takes no more energy to bring someone up than to bring them down and it doesn't diminish your achievements to acknowledge the achievements of another. But that's just my opinion.
How do you feel about negative internet users? Have you had any bad experiences?
*WebTV gave you access to the internet on your television through a dial-up phone connection.