This is a kind of scary article to write, but somebody has to say it. You all are close to my heart and I know that this can be a temptation for you – it's been tempting me, too - and a regret to make your heart sick later. If any of you reading have participated in this, I understand that it's almost impossible to go against your own nature and do the right thing instead of the popular thing. I just want you to be aware of how it starts so you can catch yourself before it's too late.
If you think this is in response to Situation X that got all that publicity awhile back, or that blowup on such & such social media, or that other person who did this and then all their friends jumped in... no. It isn't in response to any one of them. It's in response to the greater pattern I've seen online. This is everywhere.
People will do things in a mob that they would never do in their right minds. For example, you, by yourself, wouldn't stalk somebody and send them harassing notes just because they disagreed with you. You, individually, probably wouldn't even raise your voice in a disagreement. Most likely, if asked to interview someone you disagreed with strongly, would behave like a civilized person. You'd sit down, have a coffee, hash out exactly what the points of difference are, discover what you have in common, and either compromise on some points or shake hands and walk away, still in disagreement. There would not be name-calling or punching in any direction or any doubt that you are both human beings with equal rights.
Yeah, that doesn't happen online. Online, it's too hard to look at words on a screen and think, “That's a fellow human being, with innate human dignity and worth. They did not arrive at their perspective for no reason or for a hateful reason. They are probably pretty decent people overall and not so different from me.” Nobody thinks of that. Instead, they let their imagination and preconceived ideas run away with them – and most people tend to be worst-case scenario thinkers. With no evidence to the contrary, it's too easy to believe that somebody who disagrees with you, a decent human being, must not be a decent human being themselves.
Cue the Outrage
Somebody posts something about how offended they are, how wrong “those” people are, how “that kind of people” shouldn't be allowed whatever the topic of the hour is, and within a few minutes, more outraged people join in. It feels kind of fun to join in outrage – there's a morally superior little high that we, as humans, almost instinctively seek out. We all get together and start jumping in unison, stomping harder together than we ever could apart... and ignoring that we are stomping on somebody, a real human being with the same rights to live and speak and believe that we have. If we catch a glimpse of that fellow human being, we justify to ourselves that they deserve the beating they are getting, that they had it coming as soon as they opened their big mouth.
Does this sound like something sane individuals do? Not when they're at home by themselves, it isn't. It only happens when a group gets together and feels powerful, godlike even, so that they begin to believe they must have the right to dictate what is and is not acceptable to be said, who is and is not allowed to speak. It is the demon of groupthink, that pits groups against each other and starts wars and ruins lives. There are people who are now blacklisted from every job they apply for because of one thoughtless comment on Twitter, and it doesn't matter if they are sorry or if they've changed or if they were being sarcastic and didn't mean it the way it was taken. Their reputation is destroyed forever and the apology will never go as viral as the transgression.
Avoid the Trap
You might be tempted to post outrage against someone, for the attention, for the feeling of belonging, or because your conscience genuinely rebels against letting those people or those actions go without speaking up. If you are, examine your motives. Examine your method. Examine each word before you post and stick strictly to facts that you got straight from the original source, and if you must speak up, then post only truth and be prepared to monitor the comments afterward for fairness and truth to the best of your ability.
Because when you post in anger or outrage, it's like declaring open season on “those people.” Other outraged people will join in, and they'll bring rope for the noose. If that isn't what you wanted, they won't care. They won't leave until somebody gets hurt, because that's what they are there for – to hunt down dissidents and get their high from beating them up.
If you don't want that on your hands, if you don't want to wake up in the morning appalled at what you put into motion, then don't post outrage.
And maybe someday, there will be more truth than outrage online, and we will all be better for it.
First up, Penance Copper - a graphic narrative about a girl with superpowers trying to turn her life around.