July 13, 2010 in Sports

Internet has become new Wild West

Norman Chad
 

This is the second of two Couch Slouch columns on the Internet. If you missed last week’s, you were probably playing poker online or surfing porn sites.

The Internet is the most democratizing technological tool in history. Yet the Internet might be the undoing of democracy: It fans flames of discontent, encourages baseless character attacks and traffics in misinformation.

And that’s a good day at a sports forum.

Sport, as usual, reflects society at large, and right now we’re in a polarizing, poke-your-pal-in-the-eye mood. Everyone’s always angry, over a missed a shot, a blown save, a bad call.

In the old days, you might argue with a friend on the front stoop or the corner bar. Eventually, you could call in to talk radio to vent. And, now, with the Internet, you can log in and spit out any point of view any time of day.

The Internet, in effect, is just a high-tech version of everyone opening up his bedroom window and shouting at the same time. It’s a flip-the-bird mentality for the vox populi. I mean, with a lot of forum posters, chat room habitués and bloggers, if you take away dirty words and ALL CAPS, there’s a lot of white space left on your computer screen.

If all this hue and cry were just over, say, whether you wanted the Red Sox or the Yankees to win, it would be fairly innocuous. But the information superhighway travels in more substantive areas and, frankly, it’s filled with treacherous potholes.

In early America, we had the Wild Wild West; now we have the Wild Wild Web.

Anything goes. Bloggers and commenters treat fiction as fact and engage in character assassination, under the veil of anonymity. There’s no accountability: These people get in your face while wearing a mask.

The biggest danger, of course, is the threat to the free flow of information, which is a pillar of our free land. With newspapers suffering, we’re told that a generation of “citizen journalists” will fill the void. Really? We don’t have “citizen lawyers” or “citizen surgeons.” Heck, you wouldn’t even leave your car with a “citizen auto mechanic,” would you?

So think about it – if you don’t want someone touching your muffler without automotive experience, why would you want someone touching news reporting without journalistic experience? Good journalism is hard; I’m not sure you want the guy writing traffic tickets on Monday reporting on drug trafficking on Tuesday.

The Internet makes so much information so accessible, but how much of that information is reliable? I grew up with the Encyclopedia Britannica, usually written by experts and scholars. Now I sometimes use Wikipedia, sometimes written by 14-year-olds between “Hannah Montana” reruns.

Because I broadcast the World Series of Poker on ESPN, I am a de facto public figure. (My apologies to real public figures.) Thus, I have been run over on the information superhighway time and again.

If you Google my name, you might come across a forum thread entitled “Norman Chad: DUI.” It’s about a DUI I never had. There are no real details – well, there can’t be, since it didn’t happen – but people discuss the incident and the impact on my job.

Can I erase this? Not easily. But, like your so-called “permanent record” in grade school, this stuff becomes part of my permanent public record, factual or not.

Elsewhere online, you can find “Norman Chad: Gay?” threads. This happens largely because, on occasion during poker telecasts, I’ll talk about a man being attractive.

(When I comment on a woman being good-looking, I’m sexist; when I comment on a man being good-looking, I’m homosexual. I can’t win!)

On one forum, a poster mentions seeing me at a Tampa Bay gay bar, then another confirms I was there, dancing. Alas, (1) I have never been to Tampa Bay and (2) if I were ever seen dancing in public, there likely would be a court order preventing me from ever dancing again.

Anyway, I feel kind of small denying that I’m gay while millions of gay Americans are denied their full civil rights.

So – for you folks online – if you want me to be gay, I’m gay. I just hope the Red Sox and Yankees both lose.

Ask The Slouch

Q. Since LeBron James takes an hour to let us know which team he has chosen, should we expect a 68-hour NCAA Tournament Selection Show next March? (Gary Zetts; Cleveland)

A. It’s almost as if you are sitting in on network programmers’ meetings.

Q. Was Lebron’s “decision” a teachable moment or an unforgivable spectacle? (Richard Simon; Spokane, Wash.)

A. When Jim Gray asked LeBron if he still bites his nails, I believe the Earth shifted on its axis.

Q. As a Cleveland sports fan since birth in 1962, I am at a crossroads. Can you help? (Bill Overton; Parma, Ohio)

A. It might not make a difference, but I’m willing to move to Cleveland.

Q. Will you announce the name of She-Is-The-One IV on a nationally televised hour-long special, or will her name come out in court papers as usual? (Jim Ondrey; Chardon, Ohio)

A. Pay the man, Shirley.

Norman Chad is a syndicated columnist. You, too, can enter the $1.25 Ask The Slouch Cash Giveaway. Just e-mail asktheslouch@aol.com and, if your question is used, you win $1.25 in cash!

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