If you’ve been keeping up with this Fighting Fair on the Internet blog series you know I believe that: the Internet sucks (well, it can suck); we as a society have lost the human connection and manners; opinions are like poop (we need more courtesy flushes); no one really likes the person who crosses the line online; words DO hurt; and that my hope is that people can dig down and make America KIND again…and that really goes for the rest of the world caught up in the three-ring circus without a ring-master that is life. This of course begs the question: what is the root cause of the problem? I could run a poll of 1,000 different people and I suspect I could get 1,000 different answers to that question. So let’s look at one concept: Freedom of Speech.
I know this is a huge topic and there is no way I could touch on all aspects but recently a situation occurred that made me look at both sides of the freedom of speech coin. Sure, I have thought about it a lot – especially given the nature of my line of work – but this was different. You know, the funny thing about freedom of speech is that rarely does one dislike it unless and until something is said or written negatively about them or it otherwise provokes negative emotions within. And, I suppose it goes without saying, that what one person finds offensive will often not be the same, at least to the same degree, as the next person. I believe that each person and their perspectives are shaped by their unique set of circumstances in life – upbringing, religion, education, and personal life experiences. For example, one who may have been brought up in a family where there was domestic violence in the home may have a much deeper and more passionate emotion on the subject than one who didn’t have such trauma in their life growing up. Someone could joke about it to someone that hasn’t experience it and it may come across funny. However, the same joke to the person who has experienced it may not find it so funny. The thing is, there really is not a “bright line” rule and therefore leaves a lot of room for disagreements.
Let’s look at freedom of speech in a social context: Typically if something is said more generally – it’s likely to be less offensive to an individual. Someone might say “I don’t like the president!” and while some people may disagree with that opinion they are not likely to take it personally. That’s because it’s not about them personally. But what happens when criticism is directed towards a specific individual? I don’t know a single person that likes criticism of any kind. True, some people take criticism better than others but still, even constructive criticism, can take a toll on one’s emotional well-being depending on how the information is presented.
I don’t think Newton’s Third Law: “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction” applies only to motion. Think about kids on the playground; one kid says something mean or does something mean to another kid, the first reaction, right or wrong, for the kid on the receiving end is to do something mean back – whether it be harsh words or physical violence. The internet has, in many respects, become a giant sandbox full of bratty little children – except, most people interacting online aren’t “children.” Someone expresses their negative opinion, or worse – maybe makes up some kind of total BS, about someone online and then what happens? The person who got called out, out of hurt feelings and anger, will likely come up with something equally as mean, or worse, back. It’s like a perpetual fight that never seems to end, and, worse yet, the playground fight is online, for all to see, FOREVER. Then what sets in is the fools remorse that I talk about in my presentations and briefly in my article that speaks on the topic of crossing the line online…and many times there isn’t much that can be done about it. You can’t un-ring a bell.
Final thoughts: Be careful with your words in person, and especially online. It’s okay for you exercises your free speech right to voice your opinion about things, but if you do it about someone specifically, right or wrong, you should be prepared and understand that there is a good chance that the person who you wrote about may exercise their freedom of speech, possible with “playground tactics,” to come back with the same, or even worse, reaction. And remember, not all opinions are created equal. Sometimes it’s okay to give an opinion a “courtesy flush.”
Until next time friends.