I've only ever blocked/unfriended one person on social media, because I was genuinely worried about the man. He insisted on characterizing the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings as a "false flag" operation staged by the U.S. government and was posting a lot of similarly bizarre things on my timeline while being extremely rude to other folks in the cyberhood.
That, in itself, wasn't too big a problem; vigorous online debate can be a good thing even if a person is arguing something that is objectively untrue. Not because people involved in online debates often (if ever) modify their positions in light of new information, but because other people can see these online exchanges and decide for themselves what's going on. It's helpful that they get to see not only the points made, but the way that people make the points.
For instance, most of the time I feel like the first person to employ memes or emojis or anything else they picked up off the Web forfeits a bit of credibility. I can't imagine why any adult who means to be taken seriously would ever type "LOL" in the context of a would-be substantive discussion. So I'm not all that concerned with policing posts for ad hominen attacks or lies derived from fake news posts. Employing those sorts of tactics says a lot about the person sitting at the keyboard--while it's pretty easy to conceal your identity on the Internet, it's usually not too hard for lurkers to see who you are.
But in this case, the person I eventually blocked had trouble when the people he was rude to were rude right back at him. He complained to me, and I explained that if he'd moderate his tone, he probably wouldn't experience such vicious blowback. While he should still expect people to scrutinize his sources and to disagree, he'd probably find his online experience enhanced greatly if he'd just change his method of presentation.
Unfortunately he just couldn't do that. He'd call someone a name or totally misrepresent something they had just written, and they would crawl over him in that unkind and sardonic way that some social media comment-makers have perfected, and he'd complain either to me or publicly that he was "being persecuted" and that his rights to "free speech" were being abrogated by other people who were really just better at being mean to him than he was at being mean to them.
It got real cringe-worthy because I understood that the guy was experiencing some real-life problems, financial and physical, that may or may not have contributed to his need to go on social media sites and make a swinging fool of himself.
I'm not trying to signal any virtue here; I kind of liked watching a would-be bully get touched up on social media, at least for a little while. Eventually I came to worry about the state of his mental health, and finally warned him not to suggest Sandy Hook "didn't happen" or that the mourning parents whose pictures turned up in the press or were interviewed on the news were "crisis actors." I told him he was not to do this even if he really believed it, for it was a demonstrable lie which upset people to the point they wished grievous mental injury (or worse) on whoever repeated it. And I honestly worried he couldn't withstand the sort of abuse he was inviting.
Of course he couldn't help himself. He said the magic words and he disappeared--but not without sending me one last unsettling plea not to be thrown out of the brier patch. I told him if he wanted to refriend me after the election I'd give him a second chance. He didn't and I don't blame him. I hope he's found a measure of peace.
There are a lot of issues reasonable minds can differ on; we'd go a long way to fixing our culture's problems with firearms just by requiring gun owners to carry liability insurance on their weapons, enforcing the laws currently on the books, and acknowledging that at least some of the problem lies with American eroticization of guns. We have a lot of gun porn in this country, some of it created by Hollywood and some of it supported by weapons manufacturers.
And there might be room for other refinements, for after all the Second Amendment is not scripture and the Founding Fathers were not the Super Friends or Olympian gods, just smart guys trapped in their own time. I'd be willing to listen to a debate, because while I firmly believe that if guns are outlawed only the government will have guns. Other countries have answered this question without destroying their citizens' quality of life.
But here's what I don't want to hear: Any fantasies about these Parkland kids being "plants," or these shootings being fake. Because in addition to being untrue, that's obscene. If you repeat it, you're either stupid or cynical, and you forfeit your right to be taken seriously by the grownups.
And you might get your feelings hurt too.
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Editorial on 02/25/2018
Print Headline: Paranoia evolves into crisis mode