A Broken News Story and the Social Media Panopticon

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I’ve been trying to remember what life was like before the Internet — specifically social media.  Specifically fights and arguments.

It was much more difficult, back then, to say extremely stupid things to people you didn’t know.  That was true not only because of the greater effort required to transmit any message, but also because most of us have natural safeguards in our personalities that lead us to make better decisions when we have to pause before taking action.

So, a person might express a vile thought about some stranger who said something disagreeable in a random conversation.   At some point, though, others would break the two apart, or the heat would cool enough to stop the escalation.  As a general rule, somebody’s aggression toward you would have had to be chronic before escalating to the point of, say, trying to get that person fired from his or her job.

Nowadays, it’s far too easy for somebody to say something extremely stupid and offensive to a person he or she doesn’t know and has never seen face to face, and then it’s far too easy for the target of that offense to gather details about the offender and seek to hurt him or her IRL (in real life).  Then, companies are far too skittish about the effect that their employees’ behavior will have on their brands, and online publications are far too desirous of click-bait that makes stories out of the lowest level of personal interaction.

GoLocalProv has posted a case in point:

A graphic, sexually harassing post during a Facebook argument in Rhode Island has led to New York Life terminating the employee who made the post. It all took less than 24 hours.

These aren’t public figures or prominent personages.  The two people involved were just two folks arguing about President Donald Trump and the late Senator John McCain.  One posted a picture of the other’s son (found online) with an allegation of incestuous rape.  This wildly inappropriate and certainly condemnable post brought hundreds of rebukes, but that wasn’t enough for the father:

“I want [him] fired and I want a public apology from [his employer]. I tweeted them already. If these are the people they hire then they should go out of business,” [he] said.

That’s when GoLocalProv became an active part of the story:

After GoLocal contacted [the company’s] corporate communications office for comment, the company reviewed the social media posts and confirmed to GoLocal that [he] was terminated. …

Rhode Island State Police have begun an investigation into the posts.

To be sure, common human decency and a general sense of perspective will probably ensure that episodes like this are the exception, but we should take the opportunity to think about expectations in our society.  Is this how we want to live?  Shouldn’t we want to encourage good behavior and give each other off-ramps from fights as they spiral?  Shouldn’t society and its standards be designed to deescalate?  It is easy for a person to walk away from a feud with a lesson learned when the punishment for an online offense consists of hundreds of strangers condemning it and having lost the social media account.  When the fight breaks into everyday life, learning and moving on is manifestly not so easy.

We can only hope that the man who lost his job and is under investigation by the police takes the lesson and quiets down.  But if this incident triggers other explosions in this life and follows him like the mark of Cain, the story might not be over.  GoLocalProv, no doubt, will be happy to publish further stories about any violence that occurs and trace the utter deterioration of a man’s life… all the while taking credit for having broken the story.

“Broken,” indeed.

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  • Rhett Hardwick

    “I’ve been trying to remember what life was like before the Internet”
    I did a little thinking about “changing times” the other evening while watching a WWII classic “They were expendable”. Remarkably the movie opens with “In the year of our Lord, Nineteen Hundred and Forty One” . The battle hardened military refer to the nurses as “swell girls”. Several times the men sing a little gospel, and even a much sanitized version of “Monkeys don’t have tails in Zamboanga”. The movie stars Robert Montgomery and John Wayne, in the credit crawl, Montgomery is given his naval rank. According to IMDB this is intended as a slight towards John Wayne, who didn’t serve. In the only nod to “diversity” one of the Filipinos appears to be Muslim. BTW, the movie is based on a “true story” of the PT crews who took MacArthur from Corregidor to Australia. I have read the book, it is fairly accurate. The author also referred to “swell girls”.

    What I thought was that the movie displayed “values” that we would like to have. This has been completely abandoned in favor of “reality”. Are there any “values” on the internet? Is there anything you “don’t say in public”? “If you don’t have anything nice to say, sit next to me”.

  • Justin Katz

    I do no such thing.

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