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Woman drives 200 miles to kill internet commenter?

When I saw the headline "Woman Drives 200 Miles to Kill Internet Commenter," my first thought was: "Dang, they stole the title of my memoir."

The woman in question, Breana Greathouse, drove from Kansas City, Mo., to Ottumwa, Iowa with a gun to threaten a man who had written mean comments about her online.

Sure, this is an extreme case. But it's a frustration familiar to anyone who has ever been on the receiving end of a comment that was posted online.

Oscar Wilde said that the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about. Oscar Wilde never met some of these online commenters. If he had, they would probably have written things such as, "Are you stupid? You earn an income and make a living doing this?"

I've been told that to know me is to love me. Well, I haven't, but I've conjectured this based on this venn diagram I just constructed.

toknowme.bmp

To my knowledge, no one who has ever met me has written a long, angry entry underneath my blog post in which he said: "Seems the WaPo put some pond scum in a petri dish and came up with, well, a Petri." or noted "I have a suggestion for you WaPo, get rid of morons like Petri and save yourself some money with staff that educates instead of dumbing down the public. Or else put this fool in the cartoon section."

Don't get me wrong, I would love to be in the cartoon section, too! But there's my public to consider. This public thinks that I look "like a dog" and use my column to housetrain the folks I resemble! I'm providing a valuable public service.

In person, you must understand, I am physically stunning. People who see me often wander off in a daze, temporarily blinded. Zeus had to shield his eyes before visiting me, not vice versa. My beauty is only matched by my intelligence. I once helped Stephen Hawking finish a crossword puzzle. Sometimes, migratory birds call me in the middle of the night to make certain they're hovering over the right continent.

I spend all the time that I'm not at The Post saving children from burning buildings, tutoring prison inmates, and tutoring children in burning buildings. When I'm not doing these things, I sit around my house, quietly waiting for my Nobel Peace Prize for Literature and Physics to show up in the mail.

Do the commenters care? No.

Here is a totally unscientific breakdown of all online comments, based on my limited personal experience.

bewildered2.bmp
pop column3.bmp

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Not that it doesn't get to you occasionally. Gene Weingarten wrote that reading online comments after an article in the paper is like ordering a sirloin steak and receiving a side of maggots. That's usually about right. I try not reading them, but I always worry that one will be from Tina Fey suggesting we have coffee when she's in the area. I can't take that risk! "Maybe, after comparing me unfavorably to Pol Pot, there'll be a transition to the part of the comment where they offer me a job in the biz," I think, scrolling down. "I wish they'd get there sooner instead of wasting time on this list of disfiguring accidents they think I suffered to produce my profile picture."

But it's hard not to be moderately consternated by the comments, or consterned, or whatever the word is. Come on, guys! My golden rule of online commenting is that, if you wouldn't post it on someone's Facebook wall, don't post it on anything else. Online people are people, too! I think. I haven't seen Catfish yet.

And sometimes, the knowledge that your target will read what you've written still isn't enough to cause your human decency to kick in.

I don't mind a little good-natured ribbing, but the same phenomenon that manifests itself in the civil discourse on a site like The Post's multiplies throughout the internet in decreasingly civil ways. Here, we have moderators. But elsewhere, even on Facebook, cyberbullying has taken hold, with kids and adults alike mercilessly harassing each other. The tragedies of Tyler Clementi and Phoebe Prince have only reinforced that online cruelty causes real-world pain.

The internet is fundamentally impolite. Not saying anything at all if you didn't have anything nice to say? That vanished with the advent of the screen names that allow you to hide behind CleveThePirateHunter or CleveThePirateHunter8, if CleveThePirateHunter was taken. Give a man a mask, Oscar Wilde said, and he'll tell you the truth. Or if not the truth, something with a lot of CAPITAL LETTERS AND STRONG OPINIONS in it.

The answer isn't to rush to someone's home with a weapon. But it might be worth occasionally remembering that words can be weapons, too.

I'd like to extend an invitation to anyone who has written a negative online comment on my column to have coffee with me. I love coffee! And maybe when we see each other as people, you can find more polite ways of saying that my column is comparable to garbage -- or, better yet, saying nothing at all.

Let the commenting commence.

By Alexandra Petri  | October 5, 2010; 1:50 PM ET
Categories:  Only on the Internet, Petri  | Tags:  online comments  
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