The night is black, without a moon — the air is thick and still.
The vigilantes gather on the lonely torchlit hillWitch Hunt, Rush, 1981
When was the last time you saw something that got you really angry? Really twisted you in knots?
Odds are, if you are clicking over here from Facebook or Twitter, it wasn’t that long ago. (Those of you getting here from email might be safe.)
Lord knows there is plenty in the news already to get your blood boiling. I’m sure you saw those things in your feeds as well. But interspersed with the big stories of bigger importance are smaller things – life events from people you know. A friend of mine rushed home in time to say goodbye to his mother after she fell. Another shared candid insight into his job search. Others posted Valentine’s Day memories, or made new ones.
Yet something happens when your aunt and your high school crush scroll by in the same column with Tucker Carlson and Rachel Maddow and Ben Shapiro and CNN and Fox and WaPo and whomever else happens to be in the frame. You see things differently.
Features distorted in the flickering light, their faces are twisted and grotesque. Silent and stern in the sweltering night, the mob moves like demons possessed.
Quiet in conscience, calm in their right — confident their ways are best.
I’ve written about echo chambers before. In fact, there is a brilliant TED Talk from a few years back that resonates even more today.
One of the downsides of living in your bubble is how it reinforces certain ideas. You train yourself to see certain things. And once you have jumped in with a frame of reference, it’s hard to see anything else.
- Was the dress black and blue or white and gold?
- Was it two faces, or one vase?
- Was the punch you saw premeditated, or provoked?
Social media makes it very easy to go after screen-shot justice.
The righteous rise with burning eyes of hatred and ill-will;
Madmen fed on fear and lies to beat, and burn, and kill.
Earlier today, I came across a comment on Facebook that deserves your attention. Here is the context of the post:
….and the comment:
They say there are strangers, who threaten us in our immigrants and infidels. They say there is strangeness, too dangerous in our theatres and bookstore shelves.
Pretty vile stuff
I have deliberately blurred out some of the identification, because quite frankly there are people who would have stopped reading already to start looking this guy up, and doxxing him.
Part of my communications job is dealing with the occasional person who forwards my employer a post, wanting us to do something! about this employee of ours who has posted or commented something they didn’t like. (And in the past, I have been called in by our compliance and ethics people, to verify screenshots – including a case where the “evidence” had indeed been photoshopped.)
Those who know what’s best for us must rise and save us from ourselves.
Still, “visa man” up there deserves a punch in the face, right?
Well, there is other context. Before “visa man” made his amazingly racist and hateful comment, this had been posted:
So, as it turns out, the “animals” that “visa man” was referencing were — you know — actual animals. Coyotes. Prairie dogs. Birds. Bobcats.
Not Mexicans, or illegals, or human beings in any context.
A near miss
Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed, and no one rushed in with screenshots to Twitter, or “put this guy on blast.” Had the hate-storm started rolling, this guy would probably be under police protection by now. He’d either be unemployed, or the owner of a previously solvent small business. His name would forever be tied to search results that would disqualify him for any job that requires an HR director with internet access.
Even if every participant in that conversation had filed notarized affidavits clearing this guy, there would still be people online who never got the back half of the story, or would accuse other racists of making excuses.
And I get it. These are trying times. There are legitimate things going on that require our attention. Unfortunately, those float by on the same size screen with the same size font, and shared by the same friends who root for our college, go to our churches, and share birth and wedding announcements.
It’s not like I can drive to wherever that Nazi guy is and punch him in the face. But hey here is VISA MAN and he is a racist dirtbag and I don’t have to flex but four muscles to save and share a screen capture! (And only one muscle to share or retweet someone else’s.)
Welcome to Rubicun III
Remember “Star Trek, the Next Generation”? One of the first episodes back in the mid-80s involved a planet that seemed like Eden. So peaceful, so beautiful, and not a hint of strife.
That crazy little Wesley Crusher, always stumbling into the plot device. In this case, jumping over a little fence to catch a frisbee or something, into the punishment zone.
I fear that an unintended web of social media, news, paranoia and tribalism has turned our internet into Rubicun III. A place where punishment is binary – you’re either okay, or you are dead to polite society.
And we are all guilty of banging the drum for justice.
…and now to do some drumheads some justice.
Quick to judge, quick to anger, slow to understand
Ignorance and prejudice and fear walk hand in hand.