Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Naughty, Naughty

Here's a warning lesson to all you comment spoofers.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Bloggers and free speech advocates are calling on prosecutors not to file charges against a teacher arrested for allegedly posting an anonymous comment online praising the Columbine shooters.

Some were disturbed by the post police say James Buss left on a conservative blog, but other observers said it was a sarcastic attempt to discredit critics of education spending.

The suburban Milwaukee high school chemistry teacher was arrested last week for the Nov. 16 comment left on www.bootsandsabers.com, a blog on Wisconsin politics. The comment, left under the name "Observer," came during a discussion over teacher salaries after some commenters complained teachers were underworked and overpaid.

Buss, a former president of the teacher's union, allegedly wrote that teacher salaries made him sick because they are lazy and work only five hours a day. He praised the teen gunmen who killed 12 students and a teacher before committing suicide in the April 1999 attack at Columbine High School.

"They knew how to deal with the overpaid teacher union thugs. One shot at a time!" he wrote, adding they should be remembered as heroes.

The comment disturbed at least one teacher, who called police in West Bend, 40 miles north of Milwaukee and home of the blog's administrator. Police traveled to arrest Buss at his home in Cudahy, south of Milwaukee, last week after the blogger gave them the anonymous poster's IP address.

After his arrest, Buss spent an hour in the Washington County jail before he was released on $350 bail. He did not return phone messages and e-mails seeking comment, and it was unclear whether he had a lawyer.

The reporter can't come out and say it for sure, if he knows, but anyone who has been around political blogs, and who can compare Buss' background with his comment, will recognize this particular subclass of troll: Spoofus strawmanicus. He pretends to be a Yosemite Sam caricature of the hotheads among the people he opposes, urging them on while uglifying them by his presence among them.

It's one reason you shouldn't read the comments threads at many sites as an honest representation of people's beliefs. It's a particularly nasty behavior, and it gives me pleasure to see this particular example run into trouble, however temporary.

Sarcasm (or satire, which it resembles in this case) that deals with very edgy and horrifying ideas, depends absolutely on the sympathy of your audience, granting you the benefit of all doubt about your intentions. And online, you can guarantee that some segment of your audience will be highly unsympathetic and not inclined to go along with the joke because you're such a good guy, really.

A teacher ought to be smart enough to know that. On the other hand, maybe he's grown so accustomed to grade-mongering students laughing heartily at his tired humor that he thinks it's sincere.

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