Most everything has a downside. While oversized SUVs provide comfort and a measure of safety, they only get a few miles per gallon. The convenience of a backyard pool is offset by perpetual daily maintenance. Flying may be the quickest and most efficient way to travel but it comes with delays, probing security checks and overpriced food.
Even the Internet, with all of its positive contributions to the world, has a downside. The World Wide Web is a medium that has become saturated with pornography, gambling, predators and scammers.
While electronic mail has made communication more efficient and cost-effective, it also has made it much easier to spread gossip. Add weblogs, known as blogs, to the mix and the Internet has become a virtual hothouse in which rumor, hearsay and outright lies thrive.
Many bloggers utilize the Internet in positive ways. They disseminate news, informed opinion and helpful facts. Some use the medium as nothing more than personal diaries. However, there is a growing number of blogs that seem dedicated to nothing more than character assassination.
Rumor-mongering blogs have operated with impunity. A recent USA Today report, however, has raised the legal implications of negative blogging.
It seems people who have been smeared on the Internet are fighting back by taking their attackers to court. While no significant judgment has yet been leveled against any blogger, most legal analysts believe it is just a matter of time.
"It hasn’t happened yet, but soon, there will be a blogger who is successfully sued and who loses his home," Robert Cox, founder and president of the Media Bloggers Association, told USA Today. "That will be the shot heard round the blogosphere."
Beyond the legal issue of libel, there are ethical considerations, especially for those who care about such things. Sadly, after several years of Internet use, I have concluded that many bloggers and e-mail gossipers simply aren’t concerned with ethics.
Who among us has not received an e-mail containing ominous information about a ring of medical school dropouts roaming the country stealing kidneys or Madelyn Murray O’Hair’s effort to remove Christian programming from the airwaves? Both are urban legends.
On occasion I have responded to the sender of false information with a Web link pointing out the bogus nature of the e-mail they had transmitted. More times than not, I have received a reply that amounted to "so what."
One person I e-mailed indicated that he did not have time to check out the truthfulness of such information. He simply sent it on because it could possibly be true. Ethics? Forget about it, I’m busy.
Forwarding e-mail containing an urban legend might not cause anyone harm, but information that attacks someone’s character is a different matter entirely.
"The Internet is just a world passing around notes in a classroom," said Jon Stewart, host of "The Daily Show." He may be right, but if the intent of the "note" is to defame or destroy, it is wrong whether it takes the form of a blog or an e-mail.
I am not exactly sure what motivates someone to post a libelous blog or send a malicious e-mail. Perhaps it is jealousy, envy, bitterness or the desire for revenge. No matter the reason, it is always unethical.
If you have any exposure to the Internet, whether you surf the World Wide Web or only utilize e-mail, you will encounter negative and nasty communications. Consider the following as you assess the information:
"Gossip need not be false to be evil -- there is a lot of truth that shouldn’t be passed around", someone has observed. No matter how noble the blogger/e-mailer seems to be, it is wise to consider that there could be an underlying negative motivation for the information.
Remember, an expert gossiper knows just how much to leave out of his or her communication. What is the blogger/e-mailer not telling you?
"Vilify, vilify, some of it will always stick," French playwright Pierre De Beaumarchais once said. British physician Thomas Fuller once observed, "Even doubtful accusations leave a stain behind them." Character assassins, whether they attack with a blog or via e-mail, know the aforementioned all too well.
The writer of Proverbs states, "He who covers a transgression seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates intimate friends." Nothing good can come from disseminating gossip, whether electronically or otherwise.
When it comes to the downside of Internet gossip, remember the lyrics from I Heard It Through the Grapevine crooned by Marvin Gaye: "People say believe half of what you see, son, and none of what you hear."