It is that place where you can talk to your long lost friend, see pictures of a gorgeous winter day in France, research why your toe may be hurting and maybe laugh at the latest viral video. It can be used for research, to stay in touch, to stay connected to the people and things we care about.
However, all too often it can be the forum for reckless communication with no accountability.
It is very easy to type something hurtful, to criticize someone, to make fun of another from the safety of your computer or phone. How different it would be if we had to say such things to faces and actually see the effects of our words or intentions on another human being.
Last week Justine Sacco abused the freedoms of the internet by tweeting a hurtful, racist remark. This tweet was wrong in so many ways. It promoted a sense of otherness. That she is not the same as the people of Africa. That their pain is not her pain. That she is somehow superior to it and thus can make fun.
While this is very wrong and the public outrage that ensued is understandable, what happened as a result is just one more thing that is wrong with the internet of no accountability. 1000s of retweets. Hashtags. Instagram shares. Tweets that she would lose her job. Tweets that her “life was over”. News crews waiting for her to get off the plane. While I can fully support outrage against racism, I cannot support the whole world basically bullying a woman, no matter how unfounded and wrong her tweet was.
Where is the public outcry and action for the young girls who are tricked into the sex trade daily in San Francisco? Where is the help for the people I walk by every day who are shooting up right on Bush street? Where is the outcry over the fact human rights all over the world are being violated in much larger ways than a tweet?
There are theories that she was in some way making a joke about the racism that exists today and trying to be self-depreciating. If this was the case it brings to the surface another method of our society to deal with things we cannot understand or pain we cannot face, we just joke about it.
Yesterday a blogger posted a video of her toddler and dog in a pretty natural setting of the dog pulling his little scooter. Comment after, outraged comment poured in about how wrong this mother was for not using a harness. Seriously? Are you kidding me? Ok, she should get a harness, but what is with the outrage? Would you use such intense words if that woman was sitting right in front of you? And for that matter, if you are so concerned for the welfare of animals, go volunteer at your local shelter. Put your efforts where your mouth, or in this case, keyboard is.
Freedom of speech, freedom of expression. Freedom of opinion. These are all valid freedoms. These are important freedoms. These freedoms are put in danger when people abuse them and say mean or hurtful things for the sake of a laugh or to feel better about themselves with no heed to how the person receiving that communication will feel. People feed those hurtful things by saying more hurtful things and the end result is just a big glob of inactivity and no real change to the underlying problem or real issues that are actually happening right in your home, out your front door or on the other side of the globe.
I have learned firsthand what saying hurtful things on the internet will do. I have sent emails that I have later regretted. I have said incredibly hurtful things that I am pretty sure will never be forgiven. Things that I would never have said to their face. I have fallen prey to the deep end of the shark infested internet of unaccountability and for that I am sad.
Maybe one day kindness and forgiveness will be the next trending topic and volunteerism and community building will be more important than public outrage over a tweet.