I avoid conflict more than I should. But online, I feel like I avoid conflict exactly as often as I’m supposed to. (Read: most of the time.) The internet, in my opinion, is the place to go for cute, fluffy puppies, free how-to videos, and Facebook pictures. Not the place to debate a topic of importance.
Ethan, on the other hand, seems perfectly at home in a debate. And I get that. But he still seems to expect everyone else on the internet to know the rules of civil debate. Frankly, most people don’t. Or they choose to ignore them. That means that Ethan will jump onto a thread looking for enlightened, respectful conversation, and end up getting shouted down.
Most of the time, it doesn’t make sense, either. I had a (Black) friend point out the other day how often Ethan gets called racist online…by White people. I don’t think he’s ever been accused of being racist by anyone of a different race than his own.
One time, he had simultaneous conversations with a strange woman and her alter-ego on a different Twitter account. One personality praised his progressivism and feminist attitudes. The other criticized some other guy’s fashion blog for having the gall to tell women what to wear. (Plot twist: the “other guy” was actually Ethan – he knew that attaching his name to a fashion blog would get him abused by strange women with alter-egos. No, but really. This happened. It was his blog.)
Most recently, Ethan read a news story about a guy who was arrested for abusing animals (and doing drugs, but people seemed more up-in-arms about the animal abuse.) The guy had set a kitten on fire and left it in the gutter to die. That’s despicable. People in the comments were threatening to set him on fire and see how he liked it.
I get it. You read something horrible, you get angry, you want justice. But Ethan jumped on and just commented that it was inappropriate to threaten violence as a means of preventing violence – and hoped the guy got the help he clearly needed. He immediately got attacked on all sides by people who believe that all serial killers begin as cat-killers, and we should just get rid of this criminal before he goes any further.
Long story short, after several days of preaching sanity, forgiveness, and the pursuit of appropriate mental help, my husband has a small cohort of animal rights activists who fervently believe he is a serial killer in the making because he doesn’t want to set a man on fire and watch him slowly burn to death.
Now, guys. These people are crazy. Setting a cat on fire is crazy and awful. Setting a person on fire is crazy and awful. Accusing a stranger of being a serial killer is crazy and awful. But I just want to point out that we should all take a minute to check ourselves before hitting “post.”
Back when Fifty Shades was all the rage (and I do mean rage) on Facebook, I was caught up in the anti-porn side of the debate, spending a lot of time and energy and angst and jimmies telling people that they needed to boycott, ignore, fight this horrible, harmful, moral plague of society. Sexual abuse is not okay, I said, and Fifty Shades is a glorification of sexual abuse. I believed it. I still believe it. Which is why I haven’t read the books, nor did I go to see the movie.
But in the midst of all this, I had a friend from high school comment on my page and ask if I had read the books. (I hadn’t.) She then came to their defense, explaining why she felt people were being unfair, and why she felt the relationship depicted became functional at the end of the story. And you know, I still wasn’t totally convinced. But I saw my other friends – most of whom didn’t know this woman – start to tell her she was a horrible person. I remembered times when strangers called me names online. I remembered how Ethan gets treated all the time, just for speaking his mind. And I realized my Facebook post was becoming a witch-hunt, and I already knew who the target was.
And the thing is, she was right. None of us had read the books except her. Of all the comments, she was the authority on the subject, and we were throwing tomatoes at her.
I replied to her comment, thanking her for bringing first-hand knowledge. I thanked her for being brave enough to disagree with the wave of insults I was launching, as well as my other friends. And then I told my other friends to back off. Some did. Some didn’t. Whatever. But I suddenly realized that sometimes I’m the crazy one online. And this brave, dissenting soul had shown that.
Today’s moral, I guess, is this: if you need to be the brave, dissenting soul, go for it. And know that there will be crazies. Brace yourself for that. But most importantly, if you see some brave, dissenting soul getting thrown under the bus, show some respect. Disagreeing is fine – but insulting someone personally just because they disagree with you is a great way to end up becoming a real jerk.
Don’t be a jerk. Listen to people. And if it’s none of your business, step off. ♥