People can be downright nasty

Most of you know what I do for a living.

My boss often says: You don’t want Victoria writing about you. It means you – or your loved ones – are having a really bad day.

I cover crime, courts and breaking news for Gannett and the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.

Monday was rough – two fatal crashes (on the same road, no less), a news conference on the state providing funding for bulletproof vests for police officers, and what appeared to be a drowning in the river.

Tuesday was even nuttier with more on the river search and the sentencing of a 22-year-old man who brutally beat his girlfriend to death with objects around her college dorm room, including a coffee mug and a clothing iron. He wept throughout the court appearance and ultimately was sentenced to the max – 25 years to life in prison.

You don’t want to hear the gritty details. Trust me.

While I love what I do, some days can be damn hard.

victoriaWorking the scene a few years back. Photo by Carlos Ortiz

Sometimes the news hits home. Sometimes it becomes personal. Sometimes you hug the source bawling on your shoulder. Sometimes you realize you are a person first and a reporter second.

I often see my work posted on websites and shared via social media. That I love. But what’s grown increasingly disheartening is how people commenting on the work can be downright nasty.

On a piece about the arrest of a single working mom who left her 4-year-old child in the car while she was working, I see people ridiculing her, calling her names and questioning her ability to care for herself, let alone her son.

Regarding an article about a fatal crash involving a wrong-way driver, people badmouth the motorist, the intersection then turn on one another.

And Tuesday’s sentencing? Let’s just say comments like “rot in jail,” “where’s the firing squad” and suggestions for someone to stab him with a sharpened toothbrush in prison are among the kinder ones.

While I love so much about social media, such as its ability to connect people of common interest, it seems to have also made it increasingly acceptable – not to mention easy – to publicize and amplify any gripe with a business. Many people post a vicious complaint, even berate a company online, to ensure a response rather than take the time to speak with an employee, go to a store or make a phone call.

I’m wondering – where’s our compassion? When did it become acceptable to ridicule others in a public forum? When did it become acceptable to throw a public tantrum to get our way? Is this degrading discourse a bigger sign of what’s to come? Is this the fault of online communities and social media?

I certainly hope not. Whenever I want to respond to nasty comments, to reply and ultimately feed into the negativity, I type my response and promptly delete it.

What do you think of people’s insta-reactions on news articles, some blogs and other newsworthy items online? Do you filter yourself when posting?

Side note: I have a work-related Facebook page. If you wish to see more of what I cover or join the conversation, I’m “Victoria Freile” on Facebook.

22 thoughts on “People can be downright nasty

  1. Sounds like a tough day for sure and I know your job must be difficult and very emotional at times {hugs}.
    I’ve found that basic things like compassion, kindness, paitence, etc. are so rarely seen anymore. Social media makes the “insta response” so easy to post/publish/Tweet and often times it’s an emotionally charged comment or something we should probably think twice about saying. I try to practice all of those (above mentioned) things everyday (when waiting in a long line and I’m totally annoyed, someone who cuts me off in traffic, etc. the list could go on). There is so much hate/violence in this world I try to put a little kindness and love back into it in my own way, each day πŸ™‚
    Karen @karenlovestorun

    • Thanks Karen, it wasn’t a particularly awful day, there was just so much happening Monday so it became a l-o-n-g day. It’s rare I become emotional regarding coverage, but it does happen — and often when I least expect it.

      How horribly people treat one another (on the roads, online and in stores — just witnessed this yesterday) just baffles me. It’s something that’s really been bothering me lately. And I really think you are right – people immediately share/overshare their reactions to something without pausing to think about whether its a good idea – for whatever reason. I love your attitude. xo

  2. I have seen some pretty nutty responses to D&C articles. It’s easy to be judgmental and nasty when you’re not looking someone in the face. Social media brings that out in people. But a lot of people are already like that in the real world. They seek out articles with shock value so that they can comment and get a rise out of people.

  3. People used to throw garbage and rocks at people who were in the stocks for minor crimes. They attended public hangings for entertainment. People may not be better now, but where is the evidence that they’re getting worse?

    • That’s a good parallel on the stocks and people watching hangings for entertainment. I don’t know that it’s worse or better. I just find it more and more disheartening that people think its OK to treat each other in such a manner.

    • Yes, I really try to do it in person or on the phone (over e-mail). Example, I recently went to a fast food restaurant at hubby’s request. I had to wait 15 mins in my car for the drive-thru order (that I really don’t mind because I know it’s at least hot/fresh.) They missed one big item in the order, I went inside and complained and they fixed it. I got home and found they missed another (smaller) item in the order. I called, spoke with a manager. Problem solved. Was I happy? No. Did I post it for the world to see? No.

  4. Wow, so much going on up there in Rochester. I admire what you do. As you know I work for a newspaper too ( I don’t write real news though…lol). last night our neighbors house got struck by lightening and caught fire and my husband was urging me to take pics of it. It just felt wrong taking pictures of someone else’s misfortune. But wouldn’t you know some one else did take the pics and sent them in to the news station and the paper!

    • It was a busy week for sure – busier than usual. Yes! I know you write features for a paper! Which one is it again? And I totally understand why it doesn’t feel great taking pictures of someone else’s misfortune.

  5. Wherever crass or cruel behavior is tolerated, it will take root & grow. People do it because they can, and because they’ve grown accustomed to daily lives that don’t require much self control. (…. says the woman who’s responding to a post written by someone I don’t even know…. )

  6. It just goes to show that people really don’t care what they say when it’s not to your face! I have learned that although we have the freedom to say whatever we want, we are not free from the personal consequences that go with that freedom. Still, on social media what consequences do you have for putting your rude or nice opinion out there?
    Ps- Facebook actually tracks what people post and what people DONT POST. As to better understand the question “do people filter themselves?”

    • Yes, it is so much easier to say mean things, or even “like” something meanspirited when you don’t have to face someone directly. Some forms of social media allow users to report abuse by another user – I’m not sure how many abuse clicks it takes to actually face consequences, but I do personally know someone who had his account suspended because of this. I really don’t know how common that is though.

  7. I make a point of not reading comments on news sites and the like. It’s just too upsetting. They seem to bring the worst out in people. I far prefer comment systems that do not allow anonymous commenting, like RunnersWorld.com, which uses your Facebook profile. It seems to elevate the conversation so much. I wish every website would do away with anonymous comments. So sorry you have to deal with that. I’ve had my fair share of crazy comments on stories I’ve published over the years. When its your story and you have to read the comments, it can be hard to stomach. And I’ve never written about anything as tough as the things you cover!

    • Wise woman! Our paper actually doesn’t allow anonymous commenting – you have to do it through your Facebook account. We used to allow it and people were horrible to one another. When it was changed to FB commenting, it did get better, but not by a lot. I do take all of the comments with a grain of salt and understand that people love to comment without actually reading the article. But yeah, how people act toward each other is just disheartening.

  8. Hey Vic — I really connected with this post. Having been in your shoes before, I read social media comments only as little as I had to. People, especially when they’re allowed to be anonymous, can be monsters. And it feels lousy considering what this means. And that’s sad. Good for you for not becoming burnt and cynical yourself, especially after years on a tough beat. There is always room for compassion.

    –Dan
    (aka Vic’s former colleague from a past life)

    • Thanks Dan. It’s very smart to read as little of the comments as possible. Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments and I hope you are doing well!

  9. I had a conversation about this sort of thing with friends this weekend, about 2 different incidents and the consensus is that the “anonymity” of the internet brings this on. Even among people who actually know each other in “real life”. Things that happen online would end completely differently if they were happening in person. People are WAY more brave when they’re behind a keyboard than if they had to look you in the face.
    If you wouldn’t say it to someone’s face, don’t post it online. And sack up people. Be willing to stand up against the pack and defend what’s right.

    • That’s great advice – and you’re so right, Many will say hurtful things online that they’d never think of saying to someone’s face. Thanks for sharing

  10. I’m glad I’m not the only one who starts then stops a response. Usually after a few moments I ask myself — is this really worth the aggravation? That almost always leads me to the delete key. Naive though it may be, I choose to believe that the vast majority of people are empathetic and kind, not nasty or miserable. It gets harder and hard to believe that some times.

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