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Some readers take our polls way too seriously

April 29, 2007|By LIZ THOMPSON

If I'm having a really bad day, I make it a point to avoid our Web site poll question and the accompanying comments.

When you're already feeling grumpy, the last thing you want to do is read a bunch of comments about how stupid you are.

Luckily, my skin has gotten pretty thick over the years, and eventually I go back online.

Go to our Web site some time - at www.herald-mail.com - and look at the poll question on the home page. You can vote and you can comment on the question. There is a (hard) core group of people who regularly vote and comment on our polls. And, believe me, they are not shy about critiquing the questions.

They hate tongue-in-cheek questions. They hate lighthearted questions. They also hate most localized questions.

Case in point: A question I wrote in early April about water bills that overcharged 220 Hagerstown customers by hundreds of dollars. The question asked if customers should be compensated for the shock they had when they opened their bills. I think most people recognized it as tongue in cheek. But not everybody.

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"The phrasing of the question, although sophomoric, was clear and probably the very best that this newspaper person could write," said one comment. "The problem is that the question demanded either a 'yes' or a 'no' answer, but the paper provided two additional ridiculous answers because someone was trying to be 'cute.'"

Awww. Cute. Thanks.

"This question is ridiculous - shock payment for what? ... Get better questions or I am out of here!!!" another posted said.

Geez. It's a poll question. We aren't trying to solve global warming here.

"Herald-Mail staff people are getting dumber by the minute. This is the most ridiculous poll I have ever encountered. Whoever wrote these poll questions should be fired forthwith and someone with half a brain hired to replace him or her," a poster said.

Fired forthwith? If I had half a brain, I would use it to come up with a poll question that included the word "forthwith."

We try to change the poll question two or three times a week. I come up with about 90 percent of the questions. Occasionally, we ask questions about national or international issues, but most are about local issues because that's what the reporters are writing about.

Often, the questions are meant to be light or funny. And when they are, the serious responders get mad. Sometimes, really mad. And since I don't have half a brain, their reactions to the poll questions just confuse me.

I cannot figure out why they get so mad and then get so mean about it.

People on the Internet can be anonymous and, because of that, I think they start to lose some basic social skills.

For instance, there are people who stand in grocery stores and hand out samples of different foods. They are providing a service/product, free to the consumer. When is the last time you saw someone taste the sample, make a disgusting gagging sound and spit the sample on the floor?

Well, never. You've never seen that. The sample could taste horrendous, but most of us would move on, spit it into a napkin and forget about it.

Move that example to the Web, and people are spitting on the floor all over the place because we don't know who they are.

It doesn't bother me that people are anonymous. It bothers me that they take that status as license to be mean, arrogant, antagonistic and self-righteous.

I can be all those things, too. But I like to put my name to it.

Liz Thompson is city editor of The Herald-Mail. She can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 7682, or by e-mail at lizt@herald-mail.com.

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