sewer rooster
A crowd watches the Democratic labor commissioner debate Friday, June 15, 2018, at Trolley Stop Record Shop in Oklahoma City. (Michael Duncan)

Around the NonDoc newsroom, we have a new term to describe people who spew negative rhetoric on social media at all hours of the day: sewer rooster.

Up to its neck in digital fecal detritus and crowing at the crack of every dawn, a “sewer rooster” is prone to yelling about headlines without reading articles, usually in the comments section beneath a Facebook post or below the article itself. When not busied by questioning the integrity and intelligence of every politician or journalist known to man, a sewer rooster will proudly call strangers bad names with little provocation. Sometimes, of course, they would rather rant about sports than politics, but the results are mostly the same.

Similarly, don’t think this is a homogenous species: Sewer roosters are quite diverse in terms of gender, ethnicity, age and political party. They come in all shapes and sizes, and when they square off in the pits of cyberspace, they will often fight to the death … of good taste, decency and respect.

In-person conversations much more pleasant

If one removes a single factor from this extended metaphor, however, the sewer rooster ceases to exist at all. To be sure, freedom to yell at others on the internet fuels the distasteful discourse that seems so harmful to our culture, but if you take a rooster out of the sewer, it is just another bird. All of which is to say that, after announcing, promoting and hosting two debates for labor commissioner — one for the GOP primary and one for the Democratic primary — we have once again been reminded that people are much nicer in person than they often are on the internet.

This IRL cordiality makes intuitive sense. Back when internet discussions were primarily based on anonymous chat forums, the vitriol was unfiltered and, occasionally, absurd.

That still exists in many areas where anonymity is king (trolls have their own genus, and can anyone say anonymous Twitter accounts?) But even on Facebook, where people typically type under their own names and photos, the political rancor and written diatribes often cross lines from respectful “debate” into juvenile “derision.”

In person, however, people are far less likely to be mean, rude or discourteous. In real life, people — and Oklahomans, in particular — are typically cordial, friendly and thoughtful in their discussions about politics, policy, sports or anything else.

Put another way, we are all more likely to yell at each other through a digital medium while sitting on our own couches. Gathered in our churches, arenas, watering holes and neighborhoods, we are more likely to get along, find common ground and build positive relationships.

Let’s be thoughtful men and women

We hope that our final two public political debates of Oklahoma’s 2018 primary season show a similar respect among candidates, voters and political parties. While it’s important for the public to see differences among candidates for office, our democracy is better off when we can gather in person to discuss those separations rationally as thoughtful men and women.

Wednesday’s debate among GOP state auditor and inspector candidates and Saturday’s debate among GOP attorney general candidates should offer that opportunity.

William W. Savage III (Tres) has served as the editor in chief of NonDoc since the publication launched in September 2015. He holds a journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and covered two sessions of the Oklahoma Legislature for before working in health care for six years. He is a nationally certified Mental Health First Aid instructor.