On September 10 of this year, Amy Phillips posted on Facebook:
“I…I am becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the lynch mob that social media seems to encourage. Our high-horse moral outrage is ruining lives before people accused of crimes/ transgressions have the chance to defend themselves.
Don’t forget that most people curate their feeds to be an echo chamber, to parrot back the things they already believe. I challenge you to read a piece that holds a differing opinion than the one you have. We can’t walk a mile in someone’s shoes, but we can perhaps think about things beyond the black and white way we do.
Don’t be the pitchfork and torch mob after the ogre. Sometimes the ogre isn’t the terrible monster that we expect. (I am not defending people like Ray Rice or Darren Wilson, not at all, but…social media is not the justice system and even the most heinous person deserves their day in court and the chance to defend themselves.)
Just remember, once one ogre is slayed, the mob will look for another. Could be you.”
Before I became an Apple worshipping, Amazon Kindle loving, multi-gadget owning chick, I was “that person”. That person who had to have her then three year old daughter boot up a computer and open a browser so I could search for song lyrics or look at the gruesome pictures of dead celebrities. As I became savvier at using the computer, I taught myself to knit, learned how to make lasagna, and begin to participate in Yahoo groups. I made many virtual friends through those Yahoo groups, but I also met some horrible folks as well. I could spend the rest of this post waxing poetic about the great people, but this isn’t what I’m on my cyber soap box about. Like Amy, I’m concerned at the mob mentality that has become the new normal when differing opinions and emotions collide. I remember when “flame wars” would erupt in one of my knitting groups and even after the “List Mom” would plead for an end, someone would throw one last virtual jab to show who had the biggest guns.
I wasn’t always as eloquent as I am now. When I peruse earlier postings on Facebook and Twitter, I cringe. There’s the 2007 Barack Obama victory when I questioned “who the hell is Barney Frank?’ This coming from an NPR loving, CNN perusing, self-appointed political junkie. I went through an emo phase on Facebook, complete with cryptic status updates and not so subtle shade. I could list a slew of other incidents that show how much of a neophyte I was but why take the trip down awkward lane? If I REALLY want to stroll down memory lane, I can google myself and find an article I wrote in 1987 (GOT-DANG?!) about abortion. In 1987 I thought it was cool to have a jheri curl, so what the BLOOP did I know about abortion?
Accused of being loquacious (per The Mister. I still love you, honey), I’ll get to the point. The internet is like the living breathing monthly action plans I used to create for Positively No Communication (I haven’t used that one in a minute. It must be my turning 41 and this unplanned trip through my history of Facebook). Yes, I may have tweeted about my 8:57 AM temper tantrum, but after gabbing with my ESL students or using my fractured Spanish with a willing participant, I have forgotten all about my morning meltdown. Social Media, like the mythical elephant, never forgets.
And Social Media wants to make sure YOU never forget, either.
Rayven-Symone is the most current example I can give. In an interview with Oprah, she said that she doesn’t want to be labeled as an African American or as gay. (I’m paraphrasing big time, but Google it, and you’ll find all kinds of memes and articles about her interview.) When I first heard what she said, I was all #TeamRayven! No labels for me either!
That was Monday. Monday, I was basking in turning 41 and my new role as President of my Toastmaster’s Club. I was also talking ginger remedies for my lingering flu symptoms, harassing my mechanic for my car, and keeping tears in check as my student from Lebanon talked about ducking mortar shells as she studied for her nursing exam. Today, I’m not so team Rayven. As flawed as America is to some of her weakest denizens, America is also the place I call home
Today I worked with one of my advanced students as she crafted an essay the Middle Passage. I can’t help but feel bamboozled about the history of my country. Rayven-Symone’s dismissal of the burdens that she is an African American is hurtful. To get to the place that I am, here’s some perspective: think of how you felt about the slavery that is portrayed in Roots, Django Unchained, and a score of other period pieces. Compared to the reality that I read over the last two days, that’s minutiae when compared to descriptions and Google searches of the actual places that slaves were forced to live until they crossed the ocean to America.
In a span of two days, I went from no labels to fully embracing my heritage, the good and the bad. With Social Media, one must fully embrace a position and that’s it. In an attempt to clarify a casual remark, or put context to a statement, that’s seen as backpedaling.
Whatever happened to a good ole “My Bad!”?
Amy sums up my frustration with the internet so well. I love that a helicopter hovering over the nearby park can be explained with the tap of a few keys. But I dislike that in a span of minutes that same incident can become the fodder for jokes, misconceptions, and rumor mongering.
This post was inspired by Dataclysm: Who We Are (When We Think No One’s Looking) by OKCupid co-founder Christian Rudder, where he analyzes online data to find out that people who prefer beer are more likely to have sex on a first date. Join From Left to Write on October 9th as we discuss Dataclysm. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.