Imagine a world where verbal trolls couldn’t hide beneath a Twitter handle bridge. Conceive of a planet where every person was actually held accountable for not only their actions in the Really Real World(tm) but also for their actions in the digital one.
Visualize a social order where people are actually people — not veiled shadows hiding behind an IP address issued to some coffee shop.
Have you read the First Amendment of the Constitution? Many quote it (erroneously) as merely “Freedom of Speech”. Sure, we all probably read it at one point during U.S. History class in Junior High School but let’s revisit it quickly:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
In summary; we can practice whatever religion we want. We can’t have our speech abridged nor can the press. We are allowed to bitch to our government if we’re pissed off — and we have the right to assemble, provided we behave ourselves.
Peaceful assembly. Doesn’t sound like any social media outlet that I currently am aware of. In fact, there are terms in our vernacular that specifically call out this failure. Twitter feud. Flame wars. Trolling. This “gathering” actually appears to be counter-intuitive to what the First Amendment guarantees us.
So which is it? Can we say whatever we want? Or do we have to do it “peaceably”?
I guess the Founding Fathers never considered Facebook. Contextual law is a subject for another article, though.
Since 1789, the First Amendment seems to have been doing okay for us. You have the right to be an asshat — and I don’t have to like it. Fair enough.
But whether you believe “people are inherently good” or “people are inherently evil”, there is one thing I can be sure of.
People without the accountability of identity are the bottom-feeders of our social order.
I’m not talking about protecting silent witnesses to murders. I’m not talking about exposing the identity of investigative journalists uncovering secret government plots to kill innocent civilians.
I’m talking about making “DaBadAss1337” on Twitter accountable for calling fathers of slain children, “Pussies”.
When I was teaching martial arts to kids, we spoke every class about the “tenets” of our organization. One of the words we used was “integrity”. Seems like a simple concept but teaching a 6 or 7 year old what this means can be challenging. We taught the kids that integrity means, “Behaving the same way when you think nobody is looking as you would if they were standing right there.”
Somehow that resonated with them. Would you steal a cookie from the cookie jar if Mom and Dad were standing right there watching? Of course not — so you shouldn’t do it when they are absent.
Social media and the anonymity it provides are the textbook example of Mom and Dad being absent and behavior running unchecked.
Up until about 15 years ago, I was like so many others. I used nicknames or screen names on public forums, “social media” sites, etc. I never used pictures of myself for avatars or signature blocks. I had issues being bullied growing up — and I felt a sort of warm comfort in being shielded by these monikers.
I gained a small amount of fame due to being one of the original “internet radio shows” (long before there was a term called “podcasting”) and I realized something. I actually had more power, voice and earned more respect by not being “Darkuni” or “Xan” or “Sir Scruff” (yes, that last one is a real nickname I carried just out of high school; some names just stick) — that by being “Shane R. Monroe” my words carried greater weight. I wasn’t some blowhard that had not only an asshole but an opinion just like everyone else. I owned my words. I owned my beliefs. Right or wrong, good or bad — stand or fall, “Darkuni” wasn’t absorbing the blame or accepting the praise.
People demand leaders be accountable. People demand that their representatives offer full disclosure. Yet, “The People” (en masse) don’t appear to be interested in demanding that of themselves or their own peer group.
They hide behind screens — big and small — while commenting on situations they have no clue about. They prosecute others of whom they do not know. They offer advice on situations they really have no stake in or contribute to.
Reach out to your favorite social media platform and grab 100 or so questionable and/or hurtful posts, comments or content. Ask yourself if these would exist if the person that wrote them had their actual name attached to it.
Go ahead. I’ll wait. <insert some Muzak elevator music here>
Fine. There are ignorant asshats out there that will Tweet whatever comes to their so-called mind; unfiltered, without thought and without anonymity. I could name at least one example, but I’d rather not get into political debates. Identity exposure isn’t a silver bullet for the restoration of social order but you gotta start somewhere.
But if you remove this “drug of choice” from the masses … this feeling of invincibility offered by the curtain of ambiguity … maybe we can restore some accountability into the human race.
… and just maybe with accountability we can get a little more respect for our fellow man.