Being attacked these days isn’t the result of saying something badly, "it’s the result of saying anything at all," Los Angeles Times op-ed columnist Meghan Daum writes in a long essay on the instant commentary (and abuse) culture so prevalent online, including and perhaps especially at LATImes.com. "Haterade is an exploration/treatise/reminiscence about the psychological, creative and cultural effects of internet comments," she says on Facebook. "It's been a long time in the making and I'm grateful to The Believer for publishing it at the length at which I originally wrote it (a tall order these days.)"
I have many loyal, smart, thoughtful readers. But I also live with the fact that practically everything I write is met with an avalanche of invective. It runs the gamut from partisan attacks to personal attacks to entreaties to my editors to stop publishing me immediately. Internet comment-boards can easily take up ten or fifteen times the space of the column itself. My email in-box overflows with outrage and umbrage: “Shame on you!” “You are an idiot and a disgrace.” “What a stupid little twit you are.” And, in one of my recent favorites, “You have no credibility because you let your opinion get in the way.”...
On one hand, of course, this is what every columnist wants most. Like anyone who publicly expresses his ideas, be it through writing or music or visual media or anything else, the goal is to be heard, to inspire reaction and generate discussion. But based on much of the reaction I get—especially the comments in my own paper, where a stable of regulars have become so personally invested in their dislike for me that they’ve taken to remarking not on my column but on my looks, marital or reproductive status, and standing on the bitch-o-meter—I can hardly give myself credit for starting anything resembling a discussion. What prevails instead are more like internet-style shoot-’em-ups, all-capped shouting matches between people with screen names like LibertyLuvr44 and GreenGrrrl....
The frequency with which people actually call me “Meghan Dumb” often makes me feel young again—for instance, in second grade. My commenters also have a great affinity for making things up—again, a freedom not enjoyed by those in the newsroom.
I know that online hecklers represent but a tiny fraction of readers. I also know it’s actually a privilege to get feedback like this....[But] like most of my fellow columnists, I’m told on a daily basis that I’m utterly unqualified for my job and the sole reason that print media is dying. For all the sputtering outrage I’ve provoked in my socially conservative readers, most of whom know nothing about me but nonetheless like to fantasize that I’m some kind of East Coast blue blood who gets abortions in her spare time and was educated entirely by vegetarian, Marxist lesbians at fancy schools I didn’t have to pay for (“Meghan comes from a very rich family that paid for all her schooling and supported her lavish lifestyle,” a commenter once declared), I also hear from plenty of humorless progressive types who find me “offensive” and “terribly disappointing,” and who want to be removed from my mailing list immediately.
She says, correctly, that if you spend enough time listening to online commenters "the world will begin to look like a very bleak place indeed.' That said, her conclusion may surprise you.
Photo: Aaron Salcido/Zocalo Public Square