Ah, the First Amendment. People can say whatever they please and government with a big “G” can’t do squat about it, right? Not exactly. The U.S. Supreme Court has said, in essence, “Well, yeah, you can pretty well say what you want, kind of. It’s okay to express your antiwar views by burning your draft card or yelling, ‘war sucks.’ But you can’t yell, ‘Fire!’ in a crowded theater, among other things. In many instances, the speaker’s interest in his/her freedom of speech is outweighed by the public interest in not permitting that speech to take place.”
I strongly recommend that anyone contemplating writing and posting something controversial that you believe involves exercise of free speech READ Elonis v. United States which was argued late last year. (http://www.scotusblog.com/case-files/cases/elonis-v-united-states/) Although the facts of Elonis are somewhat narrow, the Court never takes on an issue without seeing a much bigger picture. The interesting aspect of this case from a social media and writing standpoint is that it focuses on what the Defendant said in social media to establish the intent to commit a crime. Think about that for a minute. Now, no longer would you have to, I don’t know, write a letter threatening someone; or scream at them in person before whacking them with a drop gun pulled from your sock (anyone dumb enough to put one in their shorts deserves what logically comes from that poor decision).
Some of my colleagues used facebook posts as evidence in a number of cases because people say things online they shouldn’t have if common sense had not been lacking. This got me thinking about the latest trend of shaming. We all roll when we view the dog and pet shaming sites because animals don’t sue you for mental abuse. Some should consider it, but they don’t. And many of us laugh at funny family photo memes from long ago (as in the 1970s) or other memes depicting faces of people we’ve never met and who might not even know their photo is being run down online.
Then we cross over into, say, blasting people who make poor decisions and record it either via video or photo; or who look or behave differently than “the norm” – whatever that is. Here’s a classic example of the latter: http://www.psmag.com/nature-and-technology/the-dancing-man-is-example-of-both-fat-shaming-and-the-internets-glory Shoot man, I would have been right there dancing with him. He’s cool as hell and obviously has a good time.
I am reminded of a time when folks were put into stocks or worse for saying and doing stupid things. Yeah, the internet is supposed to be free, but it does not eliminate the requirement that you nonetheless try to remain decent to others regardless of whether you disagree with their viewpoints or find them patently offensive.
The theory is that if someone posts something the collective “we” (whoever they are) finds offensive, it then gives the trolls the “right” to shame them back….meting out a very medieval form of vengeance. Vengeance is never justice. Make that distinction early on in your writing career because if you confuse the two, you could end up arrested; sued; and shamed by people supporting the shamed. It becomes a vicious cycle where no good is served and a lot of damage is done to someone for doing something so monumentally stupid like this (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/20/lindsey-stone-facebook-photo-arlington-national-cemetery-unpaid-leave_n_2166842.html)
I honestly could never, in a million years, understand how or why one could contemplate posting thing such as these two women did; but perhaps we should figure out how that thought pattern expresses in that manner. I think that is more bothersome than the actual images and words. It reflects a trend of not caring what you say, and how and to whom you say it. Like, oh my God, seriously? Yeah, seriously.
As writers, you have an obligation to use your words in a good way. Hate speech is so common and destructive today that I cannot even begin to say how awful it is. Frankly speaking, isn’t there enough hate in the world and do ya really want to add more to it? Internet shaming is often indistinguishable from hate speech. This is especially true when it deals with people who look or behave differently. Maybe they’re overweight or extremely thin; short, misshapen; or handicapped, and they get shamed. The “normal police” blurt out this hateful stuff and, “BLAM!”, you’ve just trashed someone in way they often internalize. I know for a fact that bullying causes kids to commit suicide. Shaming is internet bullying to me. You shouldn’t do it, period. And that means on either side of the fence. Look at the post, shake your head, and go to another page. Paying attention to it gives that behavior power it doesn’t need. And don’t even think of calling it activism. It isn’t. Activists use speech to put a message out there that can lead to positive change. Internet shaming is a destructive force. Ne’er the twin shall meet.
I’m going to tell you why: people take the internet social media so seriously today that employers patrol their employees to see how they “really” are, then HIRE or FIRE them based on that content; the FBI cruises individuals’ sites looking for patterns to indicate involvement in terrorism or any number of federal offenses; law enforcement looks for evidence in facebook posts to support criminal charges; civil attorneys study posts and pictures to destroy the other side’s credibility in divorce and child custody cases.
If what you post isn’t true, well, you could be sued. Ouch – that can cost you lots of money in some instances. The internet is an awesome tool. It gives people access to a world so vast and diverse it is staggering. BUT as human beings regardless of race, religion (or lack thereof), sexual/gender preference, economic and social status we all deserve equally to be treated decently by each other. Pity the fools who post stupid stuff but don’t magnify stupid by responding. I can’t say it any more clearly than that. I’d rather see you set the world on fire with brilliant prose and poetry painting this life as real as it gets than being shamed back.