Tragedy turns to shouting match about political issues

On Blogs

April 22, 2007|By Troy McCullough | Troy McCullough,Sun Columnist

On the Internet, there is little time for grief.

In an arena that feeds on a steady diet of confrontation, quiet reflection is naturally hard to come by, but that doesn't make it any less jarring in the face of a tragic story like the events that unfolded last week at Virginia Tech.

As news of the shootings broke, few blogs or message boards found cause to pause too long for the dead. Instead, many moved startlingly fast to axe-grinding, finger-pointing and name-calling, often in a matter of minutes after hearing the news.

Gun nuts blamed liberals for not allowing students to carry concealed weapons to protect themselves from such attacks. Anti-gun nuts blamed conservatives for allowing a culture where nearly any deranged individual could get his hands on a firearm. Some people were eager to learn whether the shooting was caused by what they called SJS - "sudden Jihadi syndrome" - while others directed vitriolic screeds at the university president and police chief long before anybody had a grasp of the day's events.

Before a final body count could be tallied, the news from Virginia Tech had become just one more piece of blog fodder for the cold, cruel, callous Internet masses.

The clearest exception to this came from those closest to the day's events. Students, alumni and faculty members used their blogs, as well as social networking sites such as MySpace and FaceBook, as vehicles for mourning and as a way to let loved ones know that they were safe in those early chaotic hours. Many of the posts were heartfelt, moving and sincere expressions of shock, sadness and loss.

But for those with no direct ties to the Blacksburg campus, it was often a different story.

When a Virginia Tech discussion thread opened up on the group blog MetaFilter on midday Monday, dozens of the site's members immediately weighed in with condolences, but the conversation quickly became entangled in a debate over gun control that for a time threatened to derail the discussion on the news of the day. The site's founder, Matt Haughey, finally forced the gun partisans to take their arguments to another corner of the Web site to keep them from interfering with those focused on mourning.

Some on the liberal powerhouse site Daily Kos felt compelled to immediately juxtapose the day's coverage with news from Iraq.

"A bad day in Baghdad means the body count mounts into the hundreds, that is, many times the number dead at VT today," wrote one commenter.

Many on the conservative site Little Green Footballs hardly skipped a beat in attacking their favorite bogeymen.

"Horrible horrible thing to happen. Libtards will be using the victims to politicize taking guns away again in 10 ... 9 ... 8 ..." wrote the site's first commenter on the subject, invoking their popular derisive label for liberals.

Other LGFers seemed cynically obsessed over whether the initial description of the shooter as "Asian" was a mainstream media ploy to gloss over whether he was Muslim.

"Who wants to bet $100 it's SJS, and the major media will hide that fact?" snarkily asked a commenter.

There were, of course, a few saner people calling for perspective and restraint.

"Can we back off the polarizing rhetoric for a moment and remember that young people have died, and their friends and families are devastated," pleaded a commenter on Sun columnist Dan Rodricks' blog.

Such pleas largely fell on deaf ears.

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