How to Post Comments on SonomaNews.com (and live to tell about it)

The phrase “May you live in interesting times,” otherwise known as the “Chinese Curse” for its alleged provenance as a proverb in the Middle Kingdom, has been taking on increased meaning of late – especially for Sonomans. One can see for oneself in the comments section of SonomaNews.com where a war-of-words between pseudonymous soothsayers adorn many a post.

Perhaps more entertaining than truly interesting, the fact remains that “mere anarchy is loosed” as Yeats might say (who might also add under his breath, “The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity.”). How does one navigate such troubled waters as the blood-dimmed tide continues to rise?

First, stop reading Yeats – at least while browsing the I-T’s website. For some reason, no matter how hard we try, newspaper copy just doesn’t have the ring of modern Irish verse and the comparison is a bit embarrassing. Feel free, however to read Shel Silverstein or Dr. Seuss.

For reasons lost to the annals of literature – most dirty limericks pair well with J.M. Berry’s column. I can’t print the complete text of “There Once Was a Band from Sonoma” but be assured it’s bluer than lingerie night at the El Verano Inn.

Here’s another piece of online protocol: Do not piss off “Ian Billings,” the lion of Sonoma’s online commenting culture, who defends the just and smites the fatuous with a certain insouciant charm. If you’re not overcome by the nuance of his argument you will be by the length. The man can be down right palaverous (look it up) and given the fact that the Internet offers infinite space for such rants, he may also be dangerous. I mean that in the “action hero” sense of the word, which, for me at least, is a positive association. Billings’ rhetoric is a high-wire act above an alligator pit of lesser wits, but a recent server switch-over with the I-T’s online presence seems to have banished his posts to the far corners of cyberspace. Come back, Ian Billings – Sonoma is lost without you!

The third consideration when one is clicking through the online commentary is to never get between “Anipseojattnet” and “RonLemley.” Although I’ve not read a word either has written online, I can eyeball whilst scrolling through the comments section that they are both quite vociferous, penning several paragraphs in some instances, and are engaged in some sort of rhetorical cage match. Other contributors who likely fear being ground into pixilated pulp by getting betwixt their volleys rarely interrupt.

Of course, the media maven in me applauds the comments section not merely for its extension of free speech and creating a forum for engagement with the news and issues germane to the Sonoma experience. Technically, comments are what we call “user-generated content” and those who post them aren’t just airing their grievances, they’re helping build the site and add to its value. Well, in most cases. Sometimes, it’s just an online pissing match between blowhards, which has negligible editorial value but is at least humorous. And sometimes scary.

As with any online community where anonymity is an option, there will be lurkers. I believe “trolls” is the correct parlance – those who lie in ambush, waiting for an unsuspecting commentator to share their opinion so that they may pounce and publicly denigrate the poor sap. These are the virtual world’s equivalent to flashers. Given the option, I’m sure most of us find exposing their intolerance online is vastly more tolerable than them exposing themselves offline. Insert emoticon here.