Don't Be a Hater on the ’Net


What’s with all the hatred on the Internet? The anonymity that the medium allows enabled users to be snarky and nasty from early on. But recent events showed that a rather vile strain of hatefulness has infected expression on the ’Net to toxic and troublesome levels.

First was following the death of Robin Williams. His daughter Zelda received numerous ugly messages on Twitter, and checked out of the service for a while. That anyone would not only show such insensitivity to someone in grief after her father’s truly tragic death but engage in hateful nastiness shows a genuine pathology that is truly disturbing. This bothered me immensely not simply because Williams brought immeasurable delight to many millions with his comedy and movie and TV roles. I had two encounters with the man that had utterly charmed me.

The first was after a press event in the early ‘80s at Rockefeller Center’s Rainbow Room where he was in attendance. My date and I were on a crowded elevator ready to close its doors. At the last minute in stepped Williams and his companion. You could feel the reaction to his celebrity presence by those aboard. But before anyone could say anything, he spied a fur a woman was wearing and immediately commented on it humorously, which led him into an off-the-cuff comedy routine that had everyone in the car cracking up as we descended 65 floors. When we hit the ground floor and the doors opened, he zipped out, turned to us all and gave a wave and wished everyone a nice evening. Not only was it a clever way to prevent the effusiveness to stars that can be embarrassing and burdensome to them, it was utterly charming.

A few years later I was out at a Manhattan nightclub with a friend when she said, “Oh, there’s Robin,” and waved at Williams across the room. He smiled and waved back, immediately heading our way.

“You know Robin Williams?” I asked her.

“Sure, we’re friends.” As she later explained to me, she’d caught him at a comedy club before he rocketed to fame with “Mork & Mindy” and introduced herself after his show. They became friendly, and even after he became successful, he would call her when he came to New York to get together, one night even went out to dinner with her family. For a good hour or so, she and I hung out with him. He was warm, gracious, unpretentious and funny in a gently casual way that was not any kind of performance. It was simply chatting with and enjoying the company of a guy who presence and attitude in no way reflected that he was a huge star. I don’t recall much of what he or I said – it was mostly just your usual barroom talk – other than telling him how my mother went to elementary school in Dayton, Ohio with Jonathan Winters, his comedic hero, and how he was his zany self from an early age.

In my decades of encounters with famous folks as an entertainment journalist, both when doing interviews and less formal situations, no one ever seemed as real and bereft of self-importance as Williams that night in the club. He was just such a likable guy. So naturally, his suicide devastated me. And then to read of how some people used that to vent viciousness towards his bereaved daughter just disgusted me. (It must also be noted that many thousands expressed sincere sympathies to Zelda Williams, but still....)

Not too long after, the rock band U2 gave away their latest album for free via iTunes, and it prompted a cascade out outrage, anger and invective towards the band. Huh? A superstar act gives its music away and people went nuclear?

Yes, it was a tactical error to have it simply show up in every iTunes user’s music collection, which lead singer Bono later admitted in what wasn’t and shouldn’t have been an apology. But really – all anyone who didn’t want it had to do was delete it if they didn’t want it. But the immediately widespread response on social network as well as online media was angry outrage and hateful slams at the band and their music. (It may not be their best album, but it certainly is a good one.) It was a generous gesture with perhaps a hint of grandstanding, But the response was shockingly disproportionate. On the Internet, no good deed goes unpunished if not reviled.

The Web was supposed to bring us closer, at least as many first theorized. Yet it has too often become a cesspool of unjustified simmering bile. It makes me wonder just what kind of society we now live in.

Rob Patterson is a music and entertainment writer in Austin, Texas. Email

From The Progressive Populist, December 15, 2014

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