In college, I played "Hearts" so often it interfered with my schoolwork.
Three friends and I would gather on benches, and socialize and gossip as we huddled around the deck of cards.
The game itself was an excuse for us teenagers to have fun and waste more of our parents time and money.
Years later, I became curious about an online forum for "Hearts" aficionados. I logged into (with a pseudonym, of course) the 'Lagoon Room', and participated in my first virtual card game with three strangers.
It had been years since I played; I was rusty and made a couple of careless errors which cost not only me a victory, but also stole the win from one of the other players.
In the chat area below the game square, I was bombarded with every ugly epithet imaginable. Fromgay slurs, to black slurs, to Jewish slurs and, of course, the standard f-bombs and body parts. My opponent made sure to insult each major category of human, since, of course, I was invisible.
This opponent was identified simply by a series of random letters and numbers. They were reveling in anonymity. The was my first experience with online road rage.
Now, as a blogger, I monitor my comment section carefully. This is a nuisance. It means each time a comment is logged on a post, I'm signaled through my smartphone, and must approve the comment or it will never be published.
I could approve the comments automatically, but I would then risk being side-swiped and rear-ended by online drunk-drivers. These cowards hide behind pseudonyms, and empower their little selves by insulting others.
To filter out these adult-children, I have to budget part of my time as writer to also include literary policing.
As a father, these termites also force me to teach lessons in anonymity to my 7-year-old as he writes his blog. Yes, his blog - an activity which encourages computer skills, literacy, and creativity is also one during which he must learn to hide his identity from the digital schoolyard bully.
What began as: "Don't talk to strangers, and certainly don't tell them your name or where you live." Has evolved into: "Don't sign your real name to that story about your baseball game, nor to the one about your upcoming piano concert."
Even when these digital rodents aren't intentionally gnawing at your self-esteem, they address their fellow readers with the kind of pomposity otherwise reserved for that windbag relative you're forced to invite to major functions.
A simple rule of etiquette: Pretend the people you are engaging in online discussion are strangers sitting across from you in a mutual friend's living room. Speak to an online community in the same manner you would address a human being next to you on a sofa. No matter how nonsensical their comment, you wouldn't insult them or demean their intelligence. If you did, you would be asked to leave, and never be invited back.
Of course, stating such rules is akin to selling water to whales. Intelligent, respectful members of the online community - like mature members of warm-blooded society - already understand and abide by this code of conduct. These are the same people who thank someone for opening the door for them; that allow a fellow driver the parking spot closer to the door because it's no big deal parking ten feet further away; and that don't begin their order at the deli with the word "gimme".
It's impossible to explain to jerks why they shouldn't be jerks. They don't care what you think. That's why they're jerks. The drunk driver doesn't care who's injured due to their carelessness. That's what's so great about being drunk; you can hide behind the euphoria of that fifth Bloody Mary.
The comment troll is high on pseudonyms. He can drown blog posts in bombast, sign his name as "Bloody Mary", step on the gas and surf to his next destination. Another drunk driver on the information highway.