The poisonous nature of too much of our online dialogue

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Yesterday, Boston.com’s Charlotte Wilder, writing against the backdrop of severe controversy and unrest over the deaths of black men in police custody (especially current events in Baltimore), claimed that Facebook is the best medium for identifying one’s racist friends and family members. Here’s a snippet of how Wilder (a white female, if anyone is curious) started:

Facebook is the best tool for sniffing out racists among your friends and family.

It’s like the metal detector of who’s a total jerk. . . .

The recent uprising in Baltimore over the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody—as well as the national protests over the police killings of Mike Brown and Eric Garner last year—showed that a lot of the kids who sat behind you in high school are actually kind of terrible.

The piece goes on to describe the kinds of posted comments that Wilder finds racist and offensive.

I could’ve predicted what the online responses would sound like. You know when you read something on the computer, and you’re thinking, uh oh, this is not going to go well. If you scroll through the comments, you’ll see that I was not disappointed. A heartfelt but somewhat snarky column predictably is yielding a lot of sharp and angry responses.

Sadly, we’ve become used to that level of uncivil online dialogue. That’s bad enough, but the comments that really give me the creeps are those that validate Wilder’s bigger concerns about race and difference, such as this one posted in response to her piece:

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Whoa! And get the person’s nom-de-Net, which I’m guessing has been inspired by Germany of the late 1930s. (Nice “picture” too…)

And that, folks, is what we’re too often dealing with in our online world.

Personally, I find these deaths of black men involving police officers deeply disturbing. These situations, plus the widely differing public reactions, prove to me once again how claims that we have become a so-called “post-racial society” are way off the mark. The topic of race remains one of America’s biggest challenges. That said, I won’t attempt to stuff all the dynamics of something so difficult and complex into a few hundred words here. There’s too much that I don’t know.

I have yet to unfriend anyone on my Facebook account for what they’ve said about these deaths and the subsequent protests and destruction, and I hope that no one has done so for me. But when feelings run this hot, and social media platforms allow us to instantaneously share them (often anonymously), the loaded, hostile tones of exchange are not surprising.

5 responses

  1. This kind of divisive incivility seems to be accepted as normal now, and is disturbing to say the least – it seems to exist everywhere (in the media, in government, in schools, or at the office – you name it), and for me I trace the uptick back to the last decade, particularly during the 2008 election, and even prior to. I think there are a number of causes as to why: some political, some economic, some cultural. But when our leaders model divisiveness, hostility towards the “other side”, and a win-at-all-costs mentality that justifies one side’s non-cooperation and vilification of the other, it seems really no surprise that the rest of us would follow suit. And we see it playing out daily, if we were to step back and just look in our own environments. It almost seems we’re at war with ourselves, and I wish more people could plainly see the negative effects of dealing with one another in such harsh and unproductive ways, and choose to simply honor the golden rule – not because we have to, but because we recognize it as a better way to interact with one another. BTW – I really enjoy the articles and comments posted on your blog!

  2. Constantly remember we are all equal in God’s eyes.
    Constantly remember to treat others the way you want to be treated.
    Constantly remember to care for the poor, the widows and the orphans.
    Constantly remember this great country protects freedom of speech.
    Constantly remember a peaceful protest is more effective.
    Constantly remember to pray for America and its leaders.

  3. I have unfriended people because of what they have said about our P
    resident and some gun issues. The article is correct in that it does bring out some peoples on the edge ideas.

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