Anonymity on the Web spawns the outrageous


POSTED: Sunday, June 28, 2009

What can you say about a 49-year-old man who cried in Argentina for five days?

That he should not have lied or caused his aides to lie about going hiking on the Appalachian Trail when he was really somewhere in the South American country “;sparking”; with a woman who was not his wife?

What can you say about a 50-year-old man who died at a Los Angeles hospital after falling ill at the Bel Air mansion where he was preparing for a concert tour in hopes of reviving his stagnant career?

Or about a 62-year-old woman whose place in pop-culture history was measured by the length of her blonde hairstyle and the width of her smile?

A lot, apparently.

Solicited and unsolicited remarks about anything and everything, of great importance or not, run helter-skelter through the anonymity of cyberspace, zillions of expressions - some thoughtful but most thoughtless - bouncing infinitely through Web sites, blogs and networks.

Keyboard the word “;furloughs”; and there will be thousands of people who will tell you what they think about the temporary, sporadic layoffs of government-employed people.

They will also tell you their off-subject views about paying taxes, legislators, Matson, the death penalty, the Superferry, swine flu, illegal fishing, Gov. Linda Lingle, previous Hawaii governors and California's governor. And while no local commentary has yet to connect Hawaii's bouts with budget gaps to Mark Sanford, the crying-in-Argentina governor of South Carolina, I have faith that given time, someone will come up with a way to tie them together.

They can look to Rush Limbaugh for inspiration. Limbaugh, whose lust for stretching the truth remains shamelessly uncapped, has amazingly managed to fasten blame for Sanford's bizarre behavior on Barack Obama.

The master blaster of bluster says Sanford blew town because the Republican governor, who attempted to refuse his state's share of federal stimulus funds, was sick of fighting the president's economic policies, forcing him to throw up his hands and say, “;I just want out of here.”;

Limbaugh has to say stuff like this. If not, his following will tune in some other monkey-house master for validation.

The Internet undeniably offers many, many benefits, one of which is to extend communication beyond boundaries. Those boundaries, however, also include decency and respect, lines that should remain unbroken but are easily slipped, particularly when a communicant can go unidentified.

We do not yet live in a society where freedom of expression is completely defenseless against punishment. Though people can say mostly whatever they want about almost anything, the question is whether they should.

A maritally straying governor certainly invites ridicule, especially when he has subjected others he supposedly cares about, like his wife and children, to undeserved humiliation.

It is difficult, if not impossible, for the human creature not to judge. But if you can't say something nice, as Thumper's mother advised her rabbity offspring, maybe it's best not to say anything at all. Or at least, not post it without your name attached.

Cynthia Oi can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).