The Ultimate Student Journalists’ Guide to Avoiding & Surviving an ‘Internet Drubbing’

In February 2012, Lisa Khoury met the Internet. Foregoing a handshake, the meeting began with the digital equivalent of a slap across the face.

As a sophomore at the University of Buffalo and at the start of only her second semester practicing journalism, Khoury wrote a column for The Spectrum student newspaper expressing her distaste for tattoos.

Her sentiments went dizzyingly, nastily viral. In return for immense page views, Khoury suffered withering public and private attacks from strangers worldwide. They belittled every bit of her — “personality, looks, upbringing, position on gender roles, and morals.”


The moral of the story, as Spectrum Editor in Chief Matthew Parrino wrote at the time: “Beware of what you write. It can destroy you.”

In their first interviews since the viral dust has settled, Khoury and Parrino discussed the run-up, blow-up, aftermath, and upshot of what American Journalism Review dubbed an “Internet Drubbing.”

Their actions at the time, and their more recent reflections, form a journalistic playbook of sorts for how to handle what Anti-Defamation League national director Abraham Foxman and others call viral hate.

Bumper Sticker on a Ferrari

The crisis began with a bumper sticker on a Ferrari.

Inspired by a spirited debate during a Spectrum editorial meeting, Khoury agreed to produce one part of a point-counterpoint for the paper on the relative merits of body ink in modern times.

Lisa Khoury, current managing editor of The Spectrum at the University of Buffalo

Lisa Khoury, current managing editor of The Spectrum at the University of Buffalo

The main point of Khoury’s column: Women are beautiful without permanent body markings. She compared a tattoo on a woman to a “bumper sticker on a Ferrari,” a line she once heard on TV that scored big laughs when she repeated it in the newsroom.

“An elegant woman does not vandalize the temple she has been blessed with as her body,” she wrote. “She appreciates it. She flaunts it. She’s not happy with it? She goes to the gym. She dresses it up in lavish, fun, trendy clothes, enjoying trips to the mall with her girlfriends … She enjoys the finer things in life, all with the body she was blessed with. But marking it up with ink.  That’s just not necessary.”


In response, readers worldwide pounced, a majority condemning Khoury and her perspectives. Chicago Tribune op-ed columnist Eric Zorn labeled the pile-on nothing less than a veritable “Ink Stink.” The “tattoo community” reacted most harshly — cutting into Khoury with invectives that left her “flamed, blasted, and just about driven out of school on a rail.”

The headline of a post from one angry tattooed blogger: “Hey Lisa Khoury, you’re what’s wrong with this world.”

As Khoury wrote in response soon after her column appeared online, “I woke up today and had 938 hate mails, 646 nasty Facebook comments, and dozens of mean-spirited tweets. I’m a 19-year-old college sophomore, I help run my family’s restaurant, I’m a writer and editor at my school’s newspaper, and a woman from Australia says I’m ‘sexist.’ A professor from the University of Illinois wonders about my mental stability. A man double my age is calling me ‘ugly.’ In the past 48 hours, authors, war veterans, mothers of small children have told me I’m ignorant, worthless, brainwashed, classless, disgusting, hypocritical, and judgmental.”

She called the experience, simply, “The Day I Met the Internet.”

In their recounting of that meeting roughly a year later, Khoury and Parrino said they learned six main lessons from the viral hate they faced and the steps they took to cope with and counter it.

To read the rest of the piece on PBS MediaShift, click here.


Comments are closed.