I imagine the scene went something like this: Brian Burke, former general manager of the Toronto Maple leafs, opens his computer just after getting fired from his job earlier this year. He is already very fragile. The Google Alerts he has for his name is going crazy, and he’s reading the articles and accompanying comments by anonymous people online.
And–oh no!–some of them are saying things that are untrue! They’re suggesting that he was fired because he had an affair with sportscaster Hazel Mae. Burke writes in his diary that he’s so devastated by all these rumours, and he is just so sick of this draaaamaaaaaa, and it’s going to be so awkward to go to school tomorrow.
Last week, Burke filed a defamation suit against online commentators for “spread[ing] lies over the internet” about his firing. His claim says that 18 defendants were commenting online anonymously, saying he had an affair and fathered Mae’s child.
Brian Burke seems to be the only person on the internet still getting mad about what’s said in online comments.
It’s a stark reminder that what you say online can always be tracked back to you, even if you don’t sign off with your name. Meanwhile, more and more websites are requiring that commentators sign in with their Facebook accounts so that there’s a name and face responsible for the conjecture. Requiring real names is a good way to demand accountability online, particularly since it’s so rare.
But anonymity is also one of the things that makes the internet so good. The ability to express your opinion without fear of personal retribution is something you can’t get anywhere else.
And frankly, Burke is being a big baby.
Do you know why they call some internet commentators “trolls”? Because they’re small, immature, insignificant, and ugly. Like the old saying about not wrestling with pigs goes: “You get dirty and the pig, well, he kinda enjoys it.” Same thing goes for internet trolls. Imagine if Stephen Harper paid attention to what people said about him on The Globe and Mail’s website, or on Twitter. He would be filing a lawsuit every 17 seconds.
Just last week, I had some jagweed lose his mind at me on Twitter. In response to a comment I tweeted about a Dr. Phil episode I was legitimately and pathetically excited to watch on a Thursday night, a stranger sent me this (relatively NSFW) tweet. When I checked up on him the following day, his account had already been suspended.
Obviously, I was devastated. Some stranger on the internet said something mean to me! I rallied everyone I knew to track him down.
Or I just, like, forget it completely because I have a life outside of the internet. (Not for long, though–once bitcoins become a proper currency, I am never leaving my house again).
And yet, a win for Burke would set a crazy precedent for how we deal with web comments–but perhaps not for the right reasons. Adolescents like Jessica Laney need to have some protection from online scorn where anonymous commentators are bolstered by a lack of repercussions. People need to understand that you can’t say something online that you wouldn’t yell out on the street.
Brian Burke is a public figure, huffy that people on the internet are the worst, as if that’s any surprise.
What he should really be upset about is that right after he got fired, the perpetually-terrible Leafs got into the playoffs with another general manager.
Now that’s a true indignity.