‘Heartland’ Values Meet the Internet

Apparently, the blessed heartland isn’t acting so heartlandly on the intertoobz:

But of late, more people in this hardscrabble town of 5,000 have shifted from sharing the latest news and rumors over eggs and coffee to the Mountain Grove Forum on a social media Web site called Topix, where they write and read startlingly negative posts, all cloaked in anonymity, about one another.

And in Dee’s Place, people are not happy. A waitress, Pheobe Best, said that the site had provoked fights and caused divorces. The diner’s owner, Jim Deverell, called Topix a “cesspool of character assassination.” And hearing the conversation, Shane James, the cook, wandered out of the kitchen tense with anger.

His wife, Jennifer, had been the target in a post titled “freak,” he said, which described the mother of two as, among other things, “a methed-out, doped-out whore with AIDS.” Not a word was true, Mr. and Ms. James said, but the consequences were real enough.

Friends and relatives stopped speaking to them. Trips to the grocery store brought a crushing barrage of knowing glances. She wept constantly and even considered suicide. Now, the couple has resolved to move.

“I’ll never come back to this town again,” Ms. James said in an interview at the diner. “I just want to get the hell away from here.”

But really it’s all about values that those unreal Americans lack. Or something.

Since urban areas don’t really get into Topix, the internet forum, this appears to be a “feud state” phenomenon (boldface mine):

Topix, a site lightly trafficked in cities, enjoys a dedicated and growing following across the Ozarks, Appalachia and much of the rural South, establishing an unexpected niche in communities of a few hundred or few thousand people — particularly in what Chris Tolles, Topix’s chief executive, calls “the feud states.” One of the most heavily trafficked forums, he noted, is Pikeville, Ky., once the staging ground for the Hatfield and McCoy rivalry…

In Hyden, Ky. (population 365), the local forum had 107 visitors at the same time one afternoon this month. They encountered posts about the school system, a new restaurant and local arrests, as well as the news articles and political questions posted by Topix.

But more typical were the unsubstantiated posts that identified by name an employee at a dentist’s office as a home wrecker with herpes, accused a gas station attendant of being a drug dealer, and said a 13-year-old girl was “preggo by her mommy’s man.” Many allegations were followed with promises of retribution to whoever started the post.

If names had been put on and tied to what has been said, there would have been one killing after another,” said Lonnie Hendrix, Hyden’s mayor….

Mr. Tolles acknowledged the biggest problem at the site is “keeping the conversation on the rails.” But he defended it on free-speech grounds. He said the comments are funny to read, make private gossip public, provide a platform for “people who have negative things to say” and are better for business.

Seriously, this is why all that culture war/real America garbage is crap: there are plenty of assholes everywhere.

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2 Responses to ‘Heartland’ Values Meet the Internet

  1. katefromiowa says:

    *SNORT* Seriously? This is just small towns being small towns. You get it in the cities too, from neighborhood to neighborhood and school/school district the school district. Even block to block, where I grew up. Yeah, it sucks, but what are you going to do? Ask your neighbors to stop being a big a gossip as you? The only difference is that instead of almost-but-not-quite overhearing it in the church parking lot after service, you saw it posted on an online bulletin board.

  2. evodevo says:

    Yeah, so much for those “values voters”. I live in a VERY small town in Ky and gossip is a 24/7 industry, and hypocrisy is rampant. After a while you learn to check out everything you hear by going to the horse’s mouth. It’s not that they are necessarily spiteful, they don’t check their sources and tend to get even the smallest details wrong – jumping to conclusions is an Olympic sport around here. And you have a LOT of bad feeling and “history” where one’s aunt was dissed by another’s grandma 40 years ago and still mad about it and looking for an opportunity for revenge. Luckily I am an outsider – no local relatives. I also sat in on the local city council meetings for years to monitor their activities – they kept trying to annex me and my neighbors, so I was being pro-active – and those were a hoot, too. Democracy at the basic level is not a pretty picture. After a few years here you no longer wonder at the Hatfields and the McCoys.

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