Miss Communications – Trolls, Free Speech and Trying to Get Along

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The Intersection of 36th and Troll

The Intersection of 36th and Troll (Photo credit: sea turtle)

It seems like every few days I hear another story about someone being trolled online to the point that they’re being threatened with rape and/or death. Threats that are so vile and filled with hate that people go off-line and underground because not just their names get splashed across the web, but the names of their spouses and kids along with home addresses and phone numbers. It blows my mind that people go online to express an opinion and suddenly they’re in fear for their lives and the lives of people the love. To be honest friends, I’m a little worried to even write about this topic should it cause Hell Fire to rain down upon me and mine. But, how do things change if we’re all too afraid to talk about it?

First and foremost, I respect everyone’s right to free speech. I respect the right of a person express their opinions. Any opinions. The ones who speak out against people spewing hate, and even the people who are spewing the hate. Everyone has the right to express an opinion.

But where I run into a moral dilemma is when someone uses their right of free expression to make someone’s life a living hell. When you threaten to rape or kill someone because you don’t agree with them. Or because you think it’s funny. And since no one can stop you or do a damn thing about it, then so much the better.

One of the best things about the internet is the ability to be anyone you want. You can take on a whole new personality if you want. You can have the courage to say the things you wouldn’t normally say in real life. And there in lies the rub.

Suddenly people can say whatever they want because they don’t have to look anyone in the face when they do it. They can threaten death and rape and destruction of property and never have to see the fear in the eyes of the people they’re spewing their hatred at. They don’t feel bad about it because it doesn’t hurt anyone. It’s only words on a computer screen by someone (probably) miles away who (most likely) would never (usually) follow through on any threats (that you know of).  It’s letting off steam, it’s a little fun, and no one is actually getting hurt.

But the people making the threats seem to forget that there are real life people on the other end of those words. Somewhere there is a person who suddenly has their address appear online with messages about breaking into her home, or following her and raping her. Somewhere else is trying not to look worried walking their kids to the car that someone will make good on the threat and come after him with a baseball bat. There’s a teenager somewhere afraid to leave their house and afraid to tell their parents why.

And that’s supposed to be ok? Because it’s words on a computer it’s ok? Because someone said it on Twitter instead of to your face you’re not allowed to feel scared or worried? If someone says that they’re scared or worried they get blasted again. They’re told not to talk about it, not to engage or interact because it’s what the trolls want.

It seems like high school all over again to me. And honestly people, how many times did ignoring the bully and going about your business make the bully realize the error of their ways and walk away? Not that getting in the bully’s face worked any better – everyone just ends up battered and bruised this way. I don’t know that there is a good way to deal with it when it happens. Maybe the answer is for it not to happen in the first place.

I think most people would agree it is not good manners to threaten bodily harm of another human being, no matter how much you disagree with them. It’s just not polite. Maybe we should all start there. Let’s try to be a little more polite. If you see someone you know being stupid and impolite enough to threaten someone, call them on it. Ask them if they would say the same thing if their Mom or Grandmother or child was holding their hand and while they talked to the person face-to-face. If you can’t say it to someone’s face or in front of someone you respect, you probably shouldn’t be saying it.

So let’s start there, shall we? Let’s try to communicate a little better. Let’s try to be a little more polite and remember that words have meaning that there are real live human beings out there reading them. It’s not much, but maybe it could help.

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