Two ideas that could go together

In Sunday's New York Times, there was a bit of a rant from Alison Hendrie -- freelance writer and mother of a high-school aged basketball player.

She was pleased to find a place online where her son's games were discussed. And, predictably, disgusted at the tone of the conversation in the comments:

I remember one comment in particular, directed at my son. Suffice it to say, the term “overrated” was about the nicest of the colorful adjectives used to describe his performance.

There may have been a few remarks from students, but a majority of commentary had the wistful sound of middle-age regret, as if these people were trying to relive their youths as the sports heroes they wished they had been.

The thing is, they were talking about a bunch of high school students. Kids. Not professional athletes making millions of dollars. Not even college superstars with full rides to top schools. High school kids — all of whom had worked hard to push their team into the playoffs.

Ridicule. Trash talk. Insults. The boorish level sank even further when one commenter would respond to another, creating a caustic echo chamber.

I checked back recently to see if I had been too sensitive because my son was involved. But though the teams are different as this year’s playoffs approach, the tone is just as negative.

Sports fans are a zealous bunch, to be sure, so I thought I would investigate the wider blogosphere; surely rabid fans were to blame for such a breakdown in civility. Wrong. Political blogs, celebrity blogs, literary blogs and, yes, even some mommy blogs had one overwhelming thing in common: snark.

What to do about that? It's true! People have the nastiest things to say.

A few pages away, in the same paper on the same day, is the story of a Microsoft executive who proposes something bold: That internet users, like highway users, should have licenses that can be revoked for bad behavior. I can hear the outrage already, and don't know what the right answer is. But I certainly believe that it would be doing civility a favor to have internet comments connected to real names, one way or another.