A professional photographer takes a photo of an infant boy dressed up as Ralphie in bunny PJs wearing oversized glasses complete with a miniature replica BB gun to replicate a scene from “A Christmas Story” and apparently without thinking posts it on Facebook.
Neighbors in Texas take a photo next to signs of who they supported for the U.S. Senate – one backed Ted Cruz and the other Beto O’Rourke. They were standing in the front lawn of what looks like a nice neighborhood. Like lambs to the slaughter, they posted the photo on Facebook with a notation that they were friends and that relationships are more important than politics.
While each post got positive comments, they both generated a firestorm of comdemnation. With the Ralphie photo it ran the gamut from “how dare you promote the gun culture by using a baby” to “how do you think the parents of babies killed in Newton would feel looking at this photo?”
The political signs photo triggered an avalanche of “white privilege” accusations against the neighbors basically questioning why the supporter of the Democrat thought it was alright to be friends with a neighbor who voted for a Republican which the poster basically equated Cruz’ views as aligned with pure evil.
The photographer said it was a sentimental gesture but was aware in today’s climate where civility means you stop kicking your opponent in the head when they lapse into unconsciousness that she might generate an adverse reaction.
Beyond their original post we have no additional idea why the neighbors wanted to show the world that people can be civil, as they wisely kept quiet knowing they could trigger a virtual lynch mob should you defend yourself for what once reasonably sane people would see as a sincere gesture. That lynch mob might try to get you fired, send threatening messages to your home, or worse.
And this is the Internet Al Gore wanted to take credit for inventing even if that spoken comment was inadvertently not qualified enough by him that it’s now part of political folklore?
We should not blame this on “the times.” Human nature has always been ugly, self-centered, and judgmental. At one time those three traits were arguably survival skills when we had to worry every day where our next meal was coming from or whether we’d be something’s meal instead of searching the bowels of the Internet in a bid to find any excuse to make it look as if “wit and wisdom” are being blocked by the censors at Facebook, Google, et al.
Judging people by what you see, who they support, and even reading just 144 characters of what they text is about as shallow as you can get. There is absolutely no context plus you assume what you see as a hideous sin is how everyone else sees the world. Humans are complex creatures that have the ability to reason with the caveat that a mass murder certainly reasons differently than Mother Teresa. We are not Mayflies that – once the reach adulthood – live for 24 hours or less with only one purpose which is to reproduce.
Close to 30 years ago, a friend related an encounter outside of Sunrise Mall in Citrus Heights where what appeared to be a healthy 20-something man parked in a handicapped zone with the prerequisite blue placard in his windshield. The vehicle had Nevada plates.
The friend said she thought it was odd and was going to go about minding her business when the man was confronted by another woman about his age who demanded to know “what kind of scam was he pulling by parking in the blue zone using someone else’s placard” and then walked off. Long story short, when my friend engaged the man in a conversation after he had become visibly upset, she learned that he had a congenial heart disease that led him to tire easily.
All that the self-righteous woman saw was what was visible. From that she not only jumped to a conclusion but decided to get in a stranger’s face about it.
That’s the bad part of social media in a nutshell. It is one dimensional. If you are a complete stranger you have no idea what is behind the image or the words. You can even take it out of context if it is texted to you by a friend or relative since you are only processing what you see on the screen without benefit of the inflection or tone of voice or any other sense we rely on when interacting with people face-to-face.
The Internet Age has amplified what’s good about people and what’s bad about people. That also goes for postings that inspire acts of kindness or acts of evil.
What is making the Tower of Babel on Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms so infectious to the point it overwhelms our perspective and judgment of how the world is, stems from it being a conduit to millions upon millions of people. And when you latch on to some of those screen names and develop a virtual relationship you have no real inkling of who they are. It is why the MTV show “Catfish” will never run out of Internet romances of people pretending to be something they’re not.
People do that in real life interactions with strangers but once people get to know each other face-to-face it becomes extremely difficult to continue the charade.
It’s too bad people on social media don’t direct the energy they spend on condemning into the pursuit of trying to understand others. They might actually learn something.
This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt and does not necessarily represent the opinion of Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.