Whatever you do, don’t go down the website rabbit hole

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“Wow, did you see the comments on your column on the Enterprise website?”

Nope. Why would I go and read those, when I could just shove an ice pick through my temple?

I haven’t visited that website in months. It’s infested with trolls, and arguing with trolls is just an exercise in aggravation as well as a colossal waste of time. Sort of like Facebook, but without all the cute cat photos.

Ann from down there on Far East Grant Avenue emailed me this week, recommending that I check out the comments on last week’s column, in which I took a swipe at Monsanto. It’s mostly positive, she said, except for one negative note from a Monsanto employee. (Gee, who saw that coming). She said I didn’t need to protect myself to go see.

That made me chuckle. Protecting myself wasn’t what I had in mind. I was thinking offense, not defense, in the event that I visit, and discover a troll has since vomited into a text box and hit “post comment.” No, I was envisioning more of a full frontal assault.

Blast my Viking ancestors. I’m genetically hardwired to tangle with people when they tangle with me. And it’s not just the Enterprise website trolls that throw sparks onto the dry brush of my DNA. They infest the Sacramento Bee and SFGate websites, Facebook and Twitter — anywhere people are allowed to create fake handles and post vicious, petty remarks they’d never have the stones to say in person.

So, I avoid becoming engaged with website trolls because I’ve learned the hard way that it always deteriorates into a verbal pit bull fight. And word to the trolls:  There’s only room for one alpha bitch in this ring. And guess what — it’s not you.

I guess the trolls believe I’ll be nice and polite when attacked, like all the other Enterprise staff; that when you hurl insults at me like cowpies, I’ll be calm and professional, like editor Debbie Davis, the epitome of patience and self-control. And you’ll be, oh, so wrong. I’m not part of the Enterprise culture.

I’m out here in the badlands of Far West Russell Boulevard, at the Winters Express office. Our welcome mat should read, “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.” And I fit right in.

All in all, it’s best if the Enterprise website remains a Debra-free zone, a safe haven for those who cower behind the cloak of anonymity and throw spears when your back is turned. I have zero respect for those too cowardly to identify themselves — I do just that on every single thing I write. If I write it, I’m ready to defend it, and if you can’t do the same, you are not a worthy opponent.

Like what I wrote? Great. Hate it? Great, particularly if you can articulate that to me in a more sophisticated manner than “You’re ugly and your mother dresses you funny.”

If you start an email with “I disagree with you, and here’s why,” we can have an intelligent exchange of ideas, and may even discover we’re in agreement, once I enlighten you to the folly of your thinking. But if it’s another one of those, “Jane, you ignorant slut” rants, I view that as a slap. And you’ll discover really quickly that I slap back.

I know, I know. I’m breaking the rule passed down to me from The Great One, Bob Dunning, for whom I would write across the sky in letters that soar a thousand feet high, who advised me to respond to all hate mail courteously and politely. And I did. For a long time. Until I discovered that slapping someone who has it comin’ feels way better. But: That’s only true with folks brave enough to sign their names on their hate mail.

A slapdown with website trolls is an entirely different story. It’s like flailing at the Queen of Hearts’ playing cards. You’re absolutely right, Alice — they’re silly and harmless! They’re nothing but a pack of cards! Better to just avoid the website rabbit hole completely.

Don’t go there! Ever! That’s what I told Wendy Weitzel and Bev Sykes, who both commented recently about the thread of viciousness running through the anonymous posts on the Enterprise website, and both said they’d been the target of some.

This was an epiphany. These trolls are so sad and pathetic that they’re attacking Wendy Weitzel? Arguably the nicest person on Earth, writing utterly benign stories about shoe shops and whatnot? How do you even compose a “Jane, you ignorant slut” post about the new pizza parlor?

And Bev Sykes? Really? Pelted with anonymous snark? This is a woman who rescues puppies in her spare time, for God’s sake! And there she is, tirelessly reviewing play after play, finding good things to say about community theater, and let me tell you as one who knows, that reviewing community theater isn’t easy.

It’s not Broadway. You can’t hold local actors to Broadway standards. The claws must remain retracted at all times. You have to find the bright spot in every play, even if it means yammering on about how wonderful the lighting was, and hey, that blocking was off the hook, people! And then you weep a little.

So, which Enterprise innocent will the trolls target next? Kim Orendor? Why don’t you just go kick Bambi in the jimmies? What the heck is the matter with you jerks anyway? No butterflies handy to pull the wings from? I mean, nasty posts about me, sure. It’s part of the territory, and besides, it’s never been my goal to play nice (see: “Viking ancestry,” above).

But when you start sniping at folks like Wendy and Bev, I’m outta this online rose garden, Alice. They’re nothing but a pack of cards.

— Email Debra at debra@wintersexpress.com; read more of her work at www.wintersexpress.com, www.edebra.com and www.ipinion.com

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