Our View: Posting online is posting to a person

August 4, 2020 10:24:04 AM



On Friday, one of our sports reporters, Ben Portnoy, took advantage of a rare opportunity of late: covering a live sporting event.


He wore a mask to a high school softball game and practiced social distancing, per our company policy and per guidelines issued by the school. He was one of the only ones, as unmasked fans sat shoulder to shoulder.


Portnoy noted this observation in a tweet and in his story, and this opened him up to some expected anti-mask criticism.



As a news organization, we are used to criticism in general. We're often told we need to "look into things" more, that we're not telling the truth, that we must be in a politician's back pocket. It comes with the territory.


Late Saturday evening, hours after Portnoy's story posted to our website, someone using the personal Facebook account of local businessman Robert Rhett -- who has a child on the softball team -- posted three consecutive comments on Portnoy's personal Facebook account that rose above criticism. The comments read, "Your are(sic) a little faggot," "Get a real job" and "Show up at another game with your computer and see where you end up punk."


The first two are what they are. The third one, however, reads like a threat.


The Dispatch contacted Rhett, a local real estate agent and Columbus Redevelopment Authority board member, on Sunday, and he suggested his account may have been hacked. "I'm not Facebook or internet savvy. I don't know how to do any of that stuff. I have no idea how that got there. ... I don't know how to post anything, man," he said. "I'm 60 years old. I barely know how to answer my phone. ... I don't do any posting at all to be honest with you."


Rhett, for his part, asked Sunday for an opportunity to speak to Portnoy, and he apologized for any concern the comments might have caused and assured the reporter he did not post those things. To avoid any further issues, he told Portnoy he had deleted his Facebook profile.


As of deadline today, Rhett's Facebook profile is still active and the comments posted to Portnoy's page have not been deleted. Multiple anti-mask related posts have been made to Rhett's profile before and since the offending comments were posted.


One of the casualties of the Internet Age has been civil discourse. Unfortunately, comments like those posted on Portnoy's page are all too common. Anyone who has used social media knows this to be true, and it's a problem seen in both young and old internet users.


It's easy to feel emboldened when you're only facing a screen and not a fellow human.


We've all got to remember that posting online is posting to another person. Perhaps just as importantly, posting online is the same as standing in the middle of Walmart and shouting out your message. You're putting your comments -- positive or negative -- out for the entire world to see.


The internet has given everyone a megaphone. We should be careful how we use it.


Oh, and let's all keep our accounts from being hacked: Pick a good password.