Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Problem with Unlimited Self-Expression

Hi everyone...this post is a little different than many of my others, and it deals with self-expression in an age when you can let pretty much everyone know what you're doing and how you're feeling at any given moment.

I'm a huge fan of the Internet. I can't get enough of it. I believe that everyone has the right to say whatever they want on their Facebook, Twitter, or other social media site, web site, blog, or other Internet-based medium. But very much like Dr. Malcolm from "Jurassic Park", I also believe that just because you can do something doesn't necessarily mean that you should.

As an example, if you're angry with someone, I don't really need to see your passive-aggressive "YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE!" rants on Facebook. You should probably take it up with the person you're angry with or send non-public (private emails or texts) to people you want to vent to. This is also because people will be able to comment on anything you post.

I love reading news articles on the Internet, and my axiom is that the comments are often more funny, revealing, and interesting than the original story. I'm a huge fan of culture and I'm always fascinated by how people comment on stories; those comments tell a lot about who we are.

My hometown paper is the Patriot Ledger, and the example I'm going to provide below is from that paper. But let's be clear: This happens everywhere.

An article appeared a few weeks ago in the Ledger about two muggings in Quincy, MA, the city where I was born. The second of these muggings involved a young Asian woman who was walking home; she was pushed to the ground and her cell phone was stolen. This is something that unfortunately happens a lot more frequently than we would like.

Commenter A wrote (and I am copying and pasting, so any mistakes are that of the author):

I think the guy that stole the phone may have been trying to make a point here. Sounds like he was annoyed by an Asian talking loud into her phone in manderin drivel. I see it all the time at Stop & Shop there's NO bounderies with these people - they get right in your face while screaming on their phones.
Definitely not a nice thing to say. Not only is he advocating theft, but his use of "these people" is a clear indicator of his racist attitude in this instance. I suspect he's had some negative experiences. Anyway, the point is his comments make him look like a racist asshole.

Two comments later, another person takes him to task for it:

[Commenter A] you should be sterilized for comments like that. God forbid you are raising children with that attitude and teaching that train of thought. What a waste of life you are. You are more than likely the heavy set idiot running around stealing phones and wallets. I can see how a person might tell another that s/he doesn't want someone to be able to reproduce because of the values they might be teaching their offspring. Again, not nice at all. That I can get behind. But then it goes too far. In addition to accusing Commenter A of being the perpetrator, Commenter B refers to him or her as a "waste of life". Really? How much time did Commenter B waste posting that comment? Neither one showed a lot of character in my book.

This exchange doesn't end anytime soon, folks, and I'm not going to give you the lengthy and vivid detail of every back and forth, as scary and as amusing as it might seem. Other commenters jump into the fray, most of them ganging up on Commenter A and generally expressing a "What is this world coming to?" attitude about the whole thing.

Here's my point: This stuff lives FOREVER, even when you don't want it to, so please at least try to be civil when you write things online. Debates are healthy, but when it degenerates into stereotypes and name calling it's time to stop the nonsense. I mean, do you really want people to see you told someone to "DIE IN A FIRE!" on a social networking status update? Sadly, I have seen it.

I am thrilled we live in a society that we have more freedom of expression than anywhere else in the world. But I'd love it if we could at least try to treat each other with respect, not just in person but in the online world, especially when the other person is making it hard to do so.

Thanks as always for listening! Now back to your regularly scheduled blog. :)


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