Today in MSNBC's "Netiquette" column, Helen Popkin writes that it doesn't matter how much you hate Britney Spears's extensions, MTV performance or custody battle — you should not wish she would commit suicide. "Frankly," she writes, "we all need to start thinking about why it's acceptable to spew viscous black bile in cyberspace, when the majority of us wouldn't do it face-to-face." She's referring to comments on sites like TMZ and Perez Hilton, where commenters have been posting things about Britney like "OMG, It's gonna be so awesome when she kills herself. Then we'll have to listen to a year of 'who's fault is it?' I hope she opts for a shotgun to the face instead of pills or something lame," and "BRITNEY IS A FAT STUPID UGLY HEARTLESS IDIOT! I HOPE SHE DIES AND SOMEONE WEARS HER SKIN AROUND THEIR NECK!" [Ugh. -Ed.]
Popkin admits that for many, "hanging on the Internet, it's easy to pretend you're not in the real world." However, she argues, between dating online and losing your job for a comment posted on MySpace, actual and virtual realities are more and more likely to intersect these days. "What you do online, to varying degrees, equals public behavior," says Popkin. "What you do online is part of who you really, truly are." What is it about anonymity that people feel free to express such cruelty? And is it really harmful, or do their words just get lost in endless stream of text that makes up the Interwebs?