Good Question: What makes people lash out online?

In an effort to keep up with changes to the world of journalism, kxly frequently asks for viewer input. We want to know what our viewers think. But asking for comments often invites personal insults. So, we wanted to know: what makes people lash out online?If you ever want to see people run away in fear, stand in a public place with a TV camera and try to ask them for a comment. People will run away before you can get the question out. But, post a story online? People can't comment fast enough. It's the price of doing business in the new world of journalism; we want to hear from our viewers, but for every good comment comes another personal potshot. Take, for example, one comment I received last week. We did a "Good Question" segment on why some people are faster than others. A man commented on our story: "Why are some journalism questions far dumber than others? Is it something in the water? Is it because you all went to WSU? Poor station management?"

You have to wonder: who has time for comments like this?"I think there's a lot of people with a lot of time on their hands," says Pia Hallenberg. Hallenberg is a reporter for the Spokesman-Review. She has been reporting in Spokane since graduating from EWU in 1998 and has seen a lot of changes in the way she does business. She's seen journalism go from a two-way lecture of sorts to a conversation."As a print reporter, you're supposed to be anonymous," she explains. "Nobody is supposed to know you - or recognize you - you're supposed to sit in the back of the room and take notes." Now, she's starting a new South Perry Neighborhood blog and, she knows, insulting comments from anonymous online commenters will be more frequent.How does she handle it? "If it's downright mean, I don't respond. And I remove the comment. And, also, I don't take it personally." Easier said than done. But, as journalists, we really do welcome the response and a two-way conversation with our viewers. But, sometimes we just don't get why people take the time to comment if all they're going to do is insult us. We got the answer from a prolific commenter, willing to show his face on camera."I've never been one who's afraid of speaking his mind," explains Rick Lloyd. Lloyd is our most frequent commenter. He's added his opinion on more than 300 times. He's a news junkie and loves the debate. He says it helps people feel like they're part of the news affecting our community. And, he acknowledges, sometimes it's easier to be honest when people can't see your face. But, he also sees the downside."You can character assasinate a person or an issue at lightspeed. Anonymously. That is probably the biggest drawback of all," says Lloyd.To Lloyd's credit, he always posts his name. Which is why I was able to determine it was he who leveled that particularly scathing response to last week's Good Question. I asked him about it and he told me that comment worked well; it elicited a response. Does it do it to get a rise, I asked? No, he said. Just a response.Lloyd is a good sport - and a big part of our ongoing dialogue with our viewers. So, I'm asking him to pick next week's Good Question. We'll see what he comes up with - and, I'll forward all the responses directly to him.