The examples are too numerous to even begin to list, but the story is always the same: a family suffers a terrible tragedy only for the victims to come under attack from the armchair commentators, the self-righteous know-it-alls who have nothing better to do than launch nasty attack campaigns against their fellow human beings. The method of torturing the victims varies from conveniently timed blog posts that ‘just happen’ to cover the same topic to full-on terrorism campaigns on their social media profiles.
What people forget is that behind that smiling photo on Facebook, the daily inspirational tweets on Twitter, the fun-loving photos on Instagram, and the tell-all blog posts, there is a human being. Someone who can disguise the hurt inflicted by the cruelty of anonymous commentators with a brave avatar, or a cute emoticon. Even if they respond in kind and enlist the support of their social media friends, the damage has already been done.
What happened to empathy and basic human decency? How has social media turned people into sensationalistic journalists who profit from other peoples’ pain? Weigh in on the latest hate campaign and you are certain to earn yourself a spike in traffic. How is that any different from the obnoxious reporter who sticks a microphone in the face of a mother who just lost a child and asks her to describe how she feels for a few million viewers?
And it isn’t any different from the bullying we teach our children not to do to each other and to report if it’s happening to them or their friends. The only difference between what happens on the playground and online is we are adults, the ones who are supposed to know better. But somehow the ability to divorce ourselves from responsibility, the power that anonymity gives us is too tempting to remember that we are all human beings.
Louis C.K. shared why he hates cell phones in an interview on Conan (watch the first minute of the video below). He talks about how children need to test out their meanness, but when after trying it out, they are faced with the impact of their actions — when they see the faces of the people who they hurt — they decide that being mean doesn’t feel good. He compares it to trying out meanness via text messaging where they don’t get that same feedback. Because they aren’t faced with the hurt they inflicted, they learn to enjoy their cruelty.
Sound familiar? Exactly.